By Pius Sawa Murefu
Haddijatou Touray, Sally Dibba, and Isatou Jallow are Gambian Mastercard Foundation Scholars and among the few girls from a country where girls’ education is seen as unimportant. They were among the best female students in their country in 2015, which earned them scholarships to study at Ashesi University in Ghana, from which they graduated in June 2019. Haddijatou holds a degree in mechanical engineering, while Sally and Isatou graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business administration.
Having studied at the same high school, experiencing the challenges that girls face in The Gambia, the trio were inspired to create a social venture called HERFuture to provide leadership opportunities to underprivileged girls in Serrekunda, Gambia through mentorship, capacity training, and scholarships to girls aged 12-19 who lack access to formal educational opportunities.
“An underprivileged Gambian girl is brilliant, with a huge passion for education and smart goals to develop her society and nation at large. She is a girl born to illiterate parents and to parents with a strong cultural belief to support and train only the male child into a leader and defender,” said Haddijatou.
Despite her daily struggles proving to her parents her capability and strengths to excel, showing good leadership qualities and with an outstanding academic record, the underprivileged girl still lacks the courage, guidance, and financial support to fulfill her dreams. “From experience, the underprivileged girl ends up choosing the wrong career, settling for less than she envisioned, or dropping out,” added Sally.
On the contrary, a girl born into a stable family is open-minded and is always empowered to achieve her dreams and goals in life. Such a girl grows up with courage and confidence.
Through the HERFuture program, the underprivileged girl will be assigned to a mentor for direct mentoring on academic and non-academic challenges and will be allowed to attend training on capacity building with experienced facilitators. She will be observed and guided through taking leadership positions in her school, taking charge in her community/family development, and attending career guidance sessions to assist in career choices and university application processes.
This will, in the long run, enable the girl to be accepted and smoothly transition into university or any higher learning institution and hold leadership positions in any school or community activities, thus building the confidence to convince her parents and society on the importance of empowering the girl child.
“HERFuture is targeting a maximum of 15 girls in high school to incubate the first phase of this project, which would last for six months. Ultimately, we hope to have up to 60 girls in our program in the next two years. The first project phase is free for the girls. However, towards the close of the project, there will be a two-week residential summit to which girls from all around The Gambia will be encouraged to apply and pay a small sum to attend this enlightening summit facilitated by experienced external female leaders,” said Isatou.
At the end of the first phase, HERFuture is optimistic that it will have achieved the goal of moulding girls in Serrekunda with a unique mindset that inculcates the ability and confidence to make critical decisions and take up leadership positions.
“We want our girls to have the spirit and mentality to give back to their societies and we hope to achieve this through our intensive leadership and capacity building training. As well, we hope to assist our girls in attaining their career aspirations by exposing them to opportunities for tertiary education and internship through the partnership we hope to have with organizations in The Gambia and even beyond. In the long run, HERFuture wants to establish the first female boarding school in The Gambia,” said Haddijatou.
Currently, the project is recruiting 10 mentors and 15 mentees to onboard the first project phase. It has already signed MOUs with partners like Nusrat Senior Secondary School and the Give1 Project.
HERFuture won the 2019 Resolution Social Venture Challenge, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders and change-makers earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Isatou is happy that the project will give a voice to underprivileged girls in The Gambia. “The SVC is a prestigious opportunity for young leaders doing outstanding work in their various fields. Knowing that I am a part of community of passionate change-makers from across the globe gives me confidence in what am doing. My message to the world is that we need to be bold enough to tackle tough problems in our communities, and in doing so, we should never comprise our integrity and moral values.”