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This blog is written by Iye Conteh, a former volunteer and intern on Restless Development’s Business Brains programme. The Business Brains programme is funded by One Girl, and aims to develop the entrepreneurship skills of vulnerable girls in rural communities, by training Girls Groups on business skills, sexual reproductive health and menstrual hygiene management.

I am Iye Conteh, I am 22 years old, born in Koinadugu District, and schooled in Bombali. I am a Yalunka by tribe, a Muslim and a Sierra Leonean.

I was given birth to by my two blessed parents Mr and Mrs Conteh, but grew up with one parent – my mother, because my father passed away. I am fortunate to have a sister and three brothers.

In 2015, I sat the West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and passed four subjects. But, my mother at that time couldn’t afford to pay for me to complete my schooling. So, I decided to go to the village – Kamabai, Berita Limba Chiefdom, in Bombali District; where I met a Field Officer for Restless Development, who had gone to the community to distribute their volunteer application forms for the “Business Brains” programme.

I filled in the form and I was the only female who applied from our village. After a week, I was called for an interview and was later chosen from the selection process based on how I responded to the questions asked during the interview. I was then called to attend a month-long foundation training in Makeni; where I learned so many different skills to enable me to perform well in the community I was sent to as a volunteer. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot of new skills and knowledge during the training.

We were sent in pairs to deliver Sexual Reproductive Health lessons in schools, work with Community Board Members and School Girls Club Members. I was able to promote family planning to girls and women of a childbearing age, which drastically reduced teenage and unplanned pregnancy in the community. I was also able to help return out-of-school girls to school, and help retain girls in schools who were already there.

Through my business skills sessions with in and out of school girls, I helped them gain entrepreneurship skills that boosted their businesses in the community. After my 8 months placement period in the community as a volunteer on the Business Brains programme, I was recognized as the best volunteer and was also awarded the “best-case studies writer in 2016” by my then Field Officer.

After my graduation as a volunteer, I later sat the West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) with the money I had saved from my volunteer stipend. I completed my subjects and gained admission to the University of Sierra Leone – specifically the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM).

Based on my hard work and dedication as a volunteer, I was again called by Restless Development to serve as a Support Intern on the Business Brains programme. I accepted the offer, because by then I still didn’t have enough money to actually enter university, and I was also inspired to continue working with young girls.

As a Support Intern I worked with five volunteers, 10 communities with one “hub” and five “satellite” communities, 100 Community Board Members (10 per community) and 250 Girl’s Club members. I made several supportive supervision field visits to support the volunteer’s delivery of their job descriptions.

I also conducted “intergenerational dialogue meetings” (where we bring together both young people and elders) every 3 months. In these meetings; we discussed several problems faced by girls in their communities, and profound solutions were arrived at together with the support of the Community Board Members. Special sessions were also held with vulnerable girls on a monthly basis. I submitted reports and case studies to my Field Officer from my visits to the communities.

Through the many struggles, I was able to achieve my biggest goal – to go to university – using the little money I was saving from my internship. I used it to buy some stuff and was able to pay my university fees. I’m currently a second-year student of IPAM (of the University of Sierra Leone) pursuing a BSc in financial services. My plan is not just to complete a first degree, but also to go onto further studies, even a Ph.D., if I can get the support needed.

The training and skills I acquired as a Volunteer and as a Support Intern from the Business Brains programme has contributed a lot in my life in terms of public speaking, huge experience in project implementation with a belief that “young people can”, and being motivated to always want to contribute to national development.

Bob Lamin, Communications Officer in the Sierra Leone Hub, interviewed Iye about her life and the Business Brains.

What motivated you to join the Restless Development Business Brain Girls Club in your school or community?

I was inspired by the content of the programme as it was outlined by the Field Officer at that time, and I wanted to contribute to the development of my community.

What did you learn as a member of the Girls Club?

I learnt about self-awareness, how to support communities, boldness, public speaking, and how to support one another.

What do you miss most from your Girls Club activities?

I miss talking with stakeholders and other people on how to develop our communities, and I also miss the meetings because it was used as a platform to address the problems we faced.

And how has this (what you learned) helped you in life?

It has helped me to be self-reliant and assertive, to save some money for my university education. It inspired me to always go for what I want and believe in. It has also made me understand that “young people can”.

What has been your experience working with Restless Development Business Brains programme as a volunteer, and then as an Intern?

The skills I acquired impacted a lot on my life, with huge experience in working on a programme with other young people and communities. I’m always motivated and inspired to lead change in my locality, and it gives me the inner joy to always contribute to the development of my community.

How do you intend on using these experiences to empower other girls or women in your community?

Being involved in small community engagement activities in my community such as holding sensitization campaigns on issues bothering the lives of girls and women, and organising activities to support girl’s retention in schools. I feel that I am readily available to serve humanity.

How do you think your life would be different now, if you hadn’t joined the Business Brains programme?

I probably would have been a dropout by now, because I don’t know where I would have gotten the money from to go to university if it wasn’t for Restless Development. I also wouldn’t have had the experiences I have gained, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with other young people from across the board.

Since starting your journey with the Girls Club, what has been your biggest success?

My biggest success was being able to motivate other girls to return to school in the community I was working in as a volunteer for Restless Development. Also, contributing the drastic reduction of teenage and unplanned pregnancy in Kamabai Community by discouraging early marriage and promoting family planning.

Was there one person who you met, or worked with, on the Business Brains programme who really inspired you? If so, who was it and why?

Yes! The Field Officer who I worked with from Restless Development. He was so very supportive, and he was always making sure that I saved money from my stipend for my university education.

What do you think that girls in your community need to overcome the challenges in their lives?

I think that they need education on how they can be good – both for themselves and for their communities.

To find out more about our Business Brains programme, go to the One Girl website here.

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