Author: BBC Media Action Producer Mariama Sesay, originally posted June 6 2017 - Driving home from work in Freetown one day a young woman caught my attention. She looked exhausted, trying to carry all her school books and her bag on the dusty street. It was unbearably hot and as I sat waiting in traffic I felt sorry for her, so I asked if she needed a lift. "Yes ma, thanks", she said with relief and got into the car.

I’ve three teenage children myself so I asked about her studies and where she lived. Her name was Fanta Sheriff and she chatted away about living with her mother, son and siblings, how she got pregnant at 16 - lighting up as she told me all about her three-year-old son Ibrahim.

In Sierra Leone, stories like Fanta’s are not uncommon and teenage pregnancy is one of the main reasons girls drop out of school. Girls usually struggle to return to education because of the stigma they face after giving birth and often their families withdraw financial and emotional support.

But despite these challenges, some girls, like Fanta, do manage to go back to school. She told me how she gave birth when she was 17 and returned to school just three months later. "Seeing my friends going to school every day really motivated me to go back to school, my mum is my rock and my son Ibrahim is the love of my life", she said just before I dropped her off.

I’d been mulling over ideas for a new BBC Media Action radio programme called Dis Na Wi Voice (This is Our Voice) which aims to get young people’s voices heard about key issues that affect them. Fanta’s story was one I couldn’t forget.

Positive female role models

She became the first young female contributor for the new Dis Na Wi Voice mini-documentary series broadcast by local TV stations and online. In the short video we posted on social media she spoke about breaking stones to earn money, helping her mother support their family and her future aspirations to become a nurse to help her community and society.

The media has a significant role to play in changing stereotypes of young Sierra Leoneans. Young people are often described as lazy, violent or easily influenced and negative stories about youth unemployment, teenage pregnancy and violence by young gangs often populate our news. But Dis Na Wi Voice aims to change that.

We invite young people to tell their stories via our Facebook page. The platform gives them the space to talk to us about their hopes for the future, their frustrations about issues that affect them and how others inspire them or how they have achieved their aspirations. By sharing online our audience can connect and share their comments about the same issues and empower each other.

There are thousands of young people in Sierra Leone with countless issues to deal with but Dis Na Wi Voice hopes to change the way young people are portrayed for the better. Not least when inspirational stories like Fanta’s helps young people to see the important role they play in our country’s future.

As one young respondent who took part in our research said “Wetin na for wi without wi nor to for wi’’ – “What is for us without us is not for us.”

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Sierra Leone.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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