Insights From Our First Summer Intern in Sierra Leone

By Jane Thurow
Senior in Communications at Carthage College
Wisconsin, USA

This summer I was fortunate to be Media Matters for Women’s first volunteer intern. It gave me an extraordinary opportunity to learn first-hand about Media Matters for Women’s innovative concept for delivering information to underserved women and girls in Africa. The highlight was working with their excellent team. I stayed in three places: the capital city of Freetown and the regional towns of Kenema and Makeni.

The highlight of my summer experience was meeting and working with Senior Journalists Alinah Kallon and Ndeamoh Mansaray, as well as Interim Project Coordinator Sybil Bailor. These women provided me with exceptional insight into Sierra Leone’s culture and challenges as a nation, as well as the important ways Media Matters for Women’s projects are addressing many of Sierra Leone’s most pressing problems.

Two things made my visit to Africa unique and wonderful: the privilege of meeting and interviewing listeners from three different regions and being welcomed into Alinah’s and Sybil’s homes. I was able to talk directly with many female listeners about our audio programs, My eyes were opened to how few options and opportunities these women have -- and how few options their daughters are likely to have.  Media Matters for Women brings hope and empowerment by providing much needed public service broadcasting in places where women and girls easily congregate – and it’s free!

When I stayed with Alinah in Makeni she was producing a program about epilepsy that ultimately reached about 500 listeners that week. Her program countered the local myth that the disease is contagious. It was a fascinating ten-minute program (you can hear it on Media Matters for Women’s archives on SoundCloud). The women I met appreciated the topic, and there was a strong connection and a sense of community when they discussed what they heard and shared the ways they had seen people with epilepsy ostrascized. This conversation spurred the women to talk about other medical misconceptions they had, for example about how
birth control works. Specifically, it was news to many of these women that birth control is completely unrelated to epilepsy. With this new information the women asked other
questions that revealed further misconceptions about other health issues.

These conversations among listeners in response to Media Matters for Women’s
programs brought out interesting stories, and some perplexed me. Alinah and I
discussed these later, and she demonstrated her wisdom and deep understanding of
how women in Sierra Leone think and how they relate to, and assimilate, new
knowledge.  When I asked Alinah how she had come up with the idea to report on the
topic of epilepsy, she said that misunderstanding through lack of information is a big
problem, and she knew epilepsy was an important topic to cover through talking with
her listeners about their problems and also observing what went on in their
communities.

Like Alinah, Sybil was generous in sharing wise cultural insights and her understanding of what women know and don’t know.  Sybil also taught me a great deal about where Media Matters for Women fits into the sphere of development projects in Sierra Leone. She was a great role model as I watched her manage routine Media Matters for Women managerial tasks, something she does with her whole heart and her unique knowledge of the context of Media Matters for Women’s work.   Sybil, Alinah and Ndeamoh took extreme care to teach and show me as much as they could about the serious challenges faced by women and girls in Sierra Leone.

I feel so lucky to have met so many women during my stay. In my view, it is the listeners and staff that make the Media Matters for Women’s concept work.  Above all, I learned that Media Matters for Women is extremely important because learning is the first step for women and girls to improve their lives and communities, and high-quality and relevant public service programming is essential to that process.

By Jane Thurow
Senior in Communications at Carthage College
Wisconsin, USA