Working with girls in Sierra Leone gives Fatima Babeh a glimpse of what is possible for her country.
“I envision these girls becoming the confident women of tomorrow.”
My vision for peace and security has been shaped by my lived experiences growing up in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. This vision begins and ends with girls.
In my country, many girls never enter secondary school and very few make it to college. A great number of girls are sexually exploited and given away to early marriages. This keeps most women in the lowest socio-economic and political status, unaware of their human rights, and conditioned to seek salvation through men.
My vision recognizes that when girls experience peace and security today, they will become women who tomorrow will ensure the peace and security of their families, communities, and nation. Women are the first teachers in the home, the first responders in the community, and they pay the highest price when the nation is in any kind of crisis.
Change starts in the home, where I envision every girl having a chance to grow up in an enabling environment, with adults’ support, care, and nurturing. In this peaceful and secure world, every girl will be able to live and thrive. She will have no barriers to education, health care, or adequate food. She will have the opportunity to read books in her home and study for school, without being overburdened with housework. Without the exhaustion of non-stop duties, she will be able to focus on her lessons and develop herself and her talents.
When a girl steps outside the home and into the community, I envision a world in which she can securely walk to school or the market. She can play without being sexually molested or otherwise exploited by predators appearing in the guise of trusted adults. I envision a community that protects girls' dignity and respects her freedom and personhood.
If and when a girl falls prey to violations of her rights, I envision a government that enforces the laws of the land to serve justice, protect her, and prevent further violations of her personhood; a government that knows she is worthy of attention and care.
A secure world for girls is more than a vision. I am working every day to bring about this world by educating and empowering girls in Sierra Leone. Through my blog, Mama Salone, I address issues that affect girls and women in my country. As the co-founder and executive director of Girls LEAD Change, I work to educate adolescent girls about the sanctity of their bodies and minds.
I see attitudes beginning to change as the girls in our Salone DIAMONDS Girls program say a daily affirmation: “I am a DIAMONDS Girl, precious and worthy!” They pledge: “I promise to care for my body and mind, be kind to others and the environment and live by the DIAMONDS Girls’ Code of Conduct!”
Through this program, we are mentoring rural adolescent girls and creating awareness about their rights and responsibilities to pursue their highest potential. They are on a path to become self-sufficient women who can contribute to the development, peace, and security of their nation.
Currently, 50 adolescent girls from remote villages in southern Sierra Leone participate in the program. To make my vision a reality, I need resources—including financial, technical, and human resources—to expand the program to all regions of the country. My dream is for the program to eventually become a leadership development school for young women in rural Sierra Leone and beyond.
I envision the Salone DIAMONDS Girls as the next generation of educated, self-sufficient women, who not only know their rights but fight to ensure the rights of every child, man, and woman. I envision these girls becoming the confident women of tomorrow, who will not wait for men to call them to the leadership table, but will boldly rise up, bring their own chairs and take their rightful place at the table, where their voices will be valued in discussions about peace, security, and nation-building. Only with their contributions, will there truly be lasting development, peace, and security in the home, community, nation—and in the world.
Peace & Love to All!
Fatima Babih, Doctoral Student
MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
Baltimore, Maryland, USA