NitDoffKillah – Challenges to Development in Senegal

AG: Tell us a little bit about you.

NDK: My real name is Mor Talla Gueye. I grew up in Louga, Senegal and spent my entire childhood and adolescent years there. I got into Hip Hop as an adolescent and used to break dance with a group of friends. We went by the name BMG (Bokk Mboloo di Gestu). That was the time RapGalsen was starting to gain momentum and most breakdancers started rapping, myself included. We used to participate in national competitions and even won a couple of them. Over time, we dispersed and in 1999, I traveled to France to join my father (my father and brothers were all pretty much abroad).

I spent 14 years in Paris. There was a period of time I traveled back and forth from Paris to Senegal but officially decided to launch my rap career with my first album in 2007. I kept up the momentum and released by second album in 2009 and started Show of the Year, which is an annual event for all hip-hoppers in Senegal. I released by third album in 2013 and a double album (call it my fourth and fifth) in 2017. I went international in Europe and can always looking for ways to produce new music, increase my fan base, and do more for the community. With the current situation, a lot of things are stalled but we’re continuously working on additional projects. I stared a record label and am producing other rappers as well.

Outside of my music career, I use my voice in the political realm and in Pan-African conversations to share my humble point of view.

AG: If you had to summarize the challenges to development in Senegal, what would you say?

NDK: My opinion is we had a terrible start at independence. When we “got independence,” it was just a “flag independence” but we didn’t gain economic independence. We had a “faux depart.” When the French left, they left behind pro-colonial personnel who were supposed to basically continue the French agenda. Then you had folks like Mamadou Dia and Ousmane Blondin Diop who were discredited, imprisoned, fatally silenced because they spoke out against this behavior.

The first presidents (Senghor and Diouf) weren’t what we would call corrupt today but they didn’t have the vision, patriotism, Pan-African mentality, and wherewithal to remove colonial stains and implement their own, Senegalese agendas that benefited the Senegalese people. We lost about 20 years where we were just pleasing the French still – it showed in our contracts and economic engagements at every level.

Their replacements and their respective entourages were even worst. Liars. Thieves. Misappropriation of funds. Nothing moved us forward. They aren’t even political actors who have the knowledge and expertise. Some were former teachers who were just given posts by incumbents.

We missed the mark early on. There was no investment in research and development, fueling the youth to be prepared for a bright future and be autonomous, investing in engineers so they are the in-house producers in our country! Universite Cheikh Anta Diop was a great university but there wasn’t enough investment to maintain that excellence so that leads to students with diplomas not having jobs to show for it. There is no support of our people so that we can stand on our own and not depend on others.

We’ve had terrible leadership. We are a small country with a lot of richness but we didn’t invest and take advantage of that. 60% of the population is young! Water outages. Power outages. We should have been past this but leadership has failed us. Senegal today is a victim of all of that lumped together.

AG: Give one suggestion of a realistic solution that could be implemented in Senegal to get us one step closer to a more developed state.

NDK: It’s good leadership. We need a real leader with morals, ethics, good ideas, God-fearing characteristics, and conviction. We don’t have leaders with integrity. We need to get rid of corruption, of leaders who misappropriate funds, of throwing things under the rug. We can win back 50 years of loss with one solid, good, exemplary leader/presidential term. The population is easy to guide – we have religious leaders who have a voice and can influence the people. But for the right messages to go through, we need that leader. Someone who isn’t’ afraid to say no to external forces who try to take advantage of us. Someone who takes education and agriculture seriously! We can leverage our natural resources to benefit us, once and for all, before opening our doors to the rest of the world.

AG: Some observations about the COVID-19 situation?

NDK: It’s worrisome. There is fear. Not only because of the current situation but because of what it could grow into. Until we find a solution (cure, vaccine, sustainable method of preventing further spread, etc.), it’s going to be like we’re sitting on eggshells.

If another World War was to happen, it would be economic. There are different speculations but there are a lot of things going out and we don’t have all the answers. The world is surely overpopulated and with every crisis that comes up, we are left with two choices: (1) the naive approach where we just say this is a natural occurrence or (2) the more curious approach of asking “what’s really at play here?”

In Senegal, people are still out and about during the day. Giving out aid is a good initiative but it’s not enough to combat everything. During the day, people are out as if nothing is going on. We don’t have masks, antiseptic gel, etc. so it’s scary.

I salute our doctors, Minister of Health, and everybody working hard to fight this virus. Personally, I am scared it will spread even more and we as a nation cannot handle that. We don’t have the infrastructure but I pray we don’t even get to that.

AG: Responsibility of rappers/influencers/singers/public figures in informing the public?

NDK: That is God-given and it’s important to understand that and be humble about it. God will ask you how you used your voice and gift. Did you use it to do good? To educate others. To guide others who listen to you and are following you?

My opinion is that with a gift and a platform, our mission is to serve God and serve the people. And be aware of the impact we have so we can use our voice/gift to do good in the world.

Some people use it in a bad way to just get money. No matter the cost or sacrifice. Taking positions that they don’t believe in. Acting on behalf of others who aren’t courageous enough to do it themselves.

How we use our powers matter.

AG: Influence of Hip-Hop in our society?

NDK: Hip Hop Galsen is known for the messages we put out there. We are known to be “too Hip Hop, not commercial” and that’s a point of pride for us. We strive to send good messages out there that are relevant to our people. AIDS epidemic. Fighting corruption. Family relations. We talk about current events and educate people.

Students listening to Hip Hop reminiscence about how it helped them get through school by re-energizing them. Empowering them! That’s amazing.

We don’t talk about drugs, alcohol, trash talking or disrobing women in our videos. We pride ourselves on uplifting and not tearing down. It’s the soul of RapGalsen.

We are known for being honest beings. Even if it’s undervalued here in Senegal, RapGalsen has proven to be multi-dimensional. Rappers are generally well-traveled and very educated and use their voice to talk about issues that matter.

I respect the industry. The movements we have created. The education we’ve shared with the population. The positive changes we have imparted.

AG: Who is your role model?

NDK: There are many I could list. I look up to people like Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, and Malcolm X.

But my ultimate role model is my father. He influenced me the most in my life. Before he passed and up until today, he’s on my screensaver! He taught me a lot and helped me to know who and how I should be. He’s always been my point-of-reference, my superstar, and my role model. I know I can’t be like him but he’s someone I strive to be like. We had a powerful relationship. Hard-working, family-oriented, discreet, forgot about himself for the sake of his family, modest, honest, didn’t let his kids do whatever, he raised us with integrity. He’s a respected man. He never had a life because he was so focused on giving us a good life.

When I grew up and went to France with him, I saw how he was living just to maek sure we had a comfortable life back in Senegal, it reinforced my love and respect in him. I knew then that that’s how a man is supposed to be. If you want to be respected, you have to be this person of integrity!

While I can list many people today, I will say with pride that my father is the one. He’s my everything.

Beauty & Brains: NDÉYE <3

Shameless plug, she’s my little sister!!! 🙂

**Who is Ndeye?**

Ah, I really hate this question. I usually have to answer it in this formatted elaborate elevator pitch so I’m going to take this chance to just freestyle. I’m a 24-year old Senegalese woman who has an immense hunger for human interaction and a thirst for success. I was born and raised in a small town in Senegal called Ngaaye, Meckhe until the age of 7 when we moved to the U.S. My dad was a Calculus professor at the time and my mom was the quinsecental housewife and mother extraordinaire. We started in Florence, Kentucky and soon ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where I spent my teen and early adult years. I’m currently in medical school in Atlanta, GA. I like to think I’m the type of person who puts my mind to something and doesn’t stop until it manifests for me. This has lead me to be where I am today but also serves as one of my greatest weaknesses and entering my 20s was the slap in the face I needed. Having spent literally my whole…entire…life… in school, I reached a point where I began to have better discernment in what I place value in and what really makes me feel good. This explains my need for human interaction, for meaningful relationships and experiences, for meaningless activities, for a closer relationship with Allah, for the need to just lay down and do nothing. So yeah, thats me.  I just be chilling, though 🙂

**Who is your role model?**

My mother. She embodies strength in every fashion and form. She’s become my best friend in my adult years and I see myself in her in so many ways it’s actually funny to me now how much we argued when I was younger. She works harder than anyone I know and would do anything for her family. 

**What do you do currently?**

I’m currently in my third year of medical school wrapping up my clinical rotations. Essentially this means I’ve gotten a snippet of some of the major fields in medicine including surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, to name a few. I have been able to participate in the care of patients in inpatient units, in the OR, and in clinic. A little over a year from now I can call myself Dr. Guisse!

**How did you become passionate about medicine?**

I was always good at math and science and I love to use my hands and stay busy (to a certain degree) so once I realized human beings are actually not so bad (lol), I found medicine to be the perfect fit. I think there’s something special about human interactions because they stick with us in a very memorable way. Medicine for me was where I felt I could both be challenged and stimulated by tough clinical decisions while forming relationships with patients. Additionally, traveling back to Senegal I saw opportunity to give back to my home which only strengthened my passion. 

**Scaling things back to Africa/Senegal, what’s your biggest qualm about how medicine is perceived/practiced?**

There’s a lot of mistrust in the medical system in Senegal, a lot of which is merited and based on anecdotal experiences. Healthcare is simply not a priority in the way that it should be and that coupled with all that comes with being a underdeveloped nation AND questionable government policies leads to an infrastructure that is not for the welfare of the people. It’s unfortunate but it’s a problem that won’t be solved overnight and I hope to contribute in my own small way to hopefully make an impact to even a small population.

**What practical advice do you have for anyone who wants to get into the medical field? Actual steps they can take and some non-negotiables like standardized tests, expected test scores, etc.**

When it comes to the medical field and medical school, there are so many things that are out of your control.The best advice I can give is to identify things that you can control and be excellent in them. For example, if you are studying for the MCAT or board exams, understand that it comes with sacrifice and it takes time to learn how to approach these tests. Give yourself the necessary 2-3 months to study for these exams and stay focused. It’s helpful to understand early on that there are just going to be things that you may want to do that you will have to miss out on but it will make your life easier down the road. For the Black prospects reading this, you will feel defeated often and it’s easy to beat yourself up or question if you’ve earned the merit to be in these spaces. The key is to recognize that it is okay to feel that and process that, but you have got to pick up and keep going. One of the best ways to do this is to identify mentors of all types and keep them a phone call away. I could go all day but every student is different so you all know where to find me!

**In leveraging your education, what do you want to be your contribution to the development of Senegal?**

I think about this almost every day. I think Senegal, like any developing nation, has a true need for tertiary care. I’ve seen in my own family and loved ones unfortunate outcomes due to the lack of adequate healthcare and resources. My goal is to aid in the alleviation of this through organizations and collaborations providing medical devices and excellent surgical care as I feel an inherent responsibility and desire to see my home country grow. First, I have to pass these boards though, lol. 

**When I think about medicine, I think of human life and the value attached to it. What does medicine mean to you?**

Medicine to me means opportunity to empower and to connect. There is an inherent power dynamic because of how vulnerable patients are with their physicians and this is why it’s important to build genuine rapport with your patients but the beauty in all of it is that you get to help a fellow human being get back to feeling like themselves. I’ve learned so much about human nature just through my few years as medical student and I can’t begin to think about all of the things I’ll learn from my future patients as a surgeon!

ESTHER ADU – Peace Corps in Senegal

**Background on Esther**

I went to school with an undergraduate focus on health. My degrees are in Kinesiology with a minor in Nutrition. I was always interested in traveling and being abroad outside of US; I started thinking of ways to make my dream of being an expatriate (expat) a reality.

During my time at Miami University, I visited the career center and I spoke with a Peace Corps advocate. This got a little more interested and in the spring semester of my senior year, I applied for Peace Corp. I chose Senegal because I wanted to be in West Africa. I’ve traveled to Madagascar in the past and maybe I’m biased and no offense to anyone who may disagree but the food wasn’t really hitting it; there’s a lot of rice in Senegal but Madagascar is a different story, they drink rice! The fashion wasn’t hitting it for me either – I felt like the cultural fashion was lost in the colonial era.

West Africa is so vibrant to me- I was born in Nigeria so I wanted to maintain the familiarity. Little did I know that Senegal would be SO different – every country is different I learned. I still think Nigerian Jollof is better than thiebou jeun (haha). But in all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot about Senegal and the culture so much, it’s been great. The traditional music and dances – I’ve tried so many times to copy – the footwork is amazing to look at. So yeah, I would just say the culture here drew me and has kept my attention during my time here.

I plan to continue down this path of being an expat and learning about new cultures!

**Volunteer experience in Senegal**

I am a health volunteer here. I was assigned to a village and you work with a counterpart (someone from the village) and health post in the village. I’ve gone through different projects, some failed, some succeeded. My current projects include working with different mothers who have malnourished kids and hosting a health club at the middle school; my main goal is to reduce deaths due to preventable diseases in children under 5 and pregnant mothers; In the States, people have the option (and privilege) to choose weather to vaccinate their kids while it’s needed so badly here but not readily accessible – the contrast is stark.

**More specifics about Peace Corps**

So Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment. My time in Senegal as a volunteer will come to an end in April 2020 so it’s right around the corner.

The process to join requires some clearances and training. Once accepted, you’ll gone through the medical clearances. For me, this was followed by a trip to Philadelphia for Peace Cops introduction. This is a one day session where I got to meet fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) who would be in country with me. Then we flew out to Senegal. This might be specific to Peace Corps Senegal but we got to stay at a training center for 2 months; we learned the language we were assigned (based on village assignment), learned about topics related to your area (I did health while others did business, economic development, etc.); what you learn during training is what you will use for the next 24-25 months; it’s a good foundation and then you learn on the job. There’s no schedule – you are a self-motivator. For example, if you look at your health post and notice a lot of cases of diarrhea, you might host a session on proper hand washing or proper meal preparation. So you look at what your village needs and flex your project plan.

A big component is integrating yourself into the community. You can’t come in as an outsider and look down on the people. You have to do your best to not be that foreigner that’s coming in and be the savior. There are Peace Corps volunteers who have gone out of their way to build a health post – but once they leave, it’s basically an empty shell, there is no one to maintain it because the proper steps weren’t taken to ensure it would sustain. Health post is one level below hospital. The setup is led by sage femme/wet nurse – the ICP is the head nurse – they work together (and they’re typically not from the village, they go back home on weekends usually) and below them are matrons who help out around the post.

**Overall opinion of Senegal**

While living in Senegal, I went to The Gambia on a trip and what I noticed was that pollution wasn’t as prevalent. There was more regard for using less plastic, following certain traffic laws, etc. I remember thinking “this is so beautiful and different from Dakar.” In Dakar, you have the plastic ban but it’s not heavily enforced. Water sachets is a big contributor of this pollution but I would say, outside of this observation, I’ve seen equal parts positive and negative.

I’ll talk about the health system since that’s what I’m most familiar with. The way it is set up is smart in my opinion, it helps to reach communities in rural areas who may not have ability to reach district hospital in a big city. You have your primary district hospitals, centers, health posts, etc. – just multiple ways to make healthcare accessible. Now, this is in theory; in practice, it’s a little different. Because of so many breakdowns in the system, the money may not trickle down to the communities.

When I first arrived to my village, the health post was on strike – I kept hearing “dafa greive” – I heard it all of the time and I was wondering why. Turns out, the personnel wasn’t getting paid so they went on strike. Unfortunately, this is common.

**Developmental issues**

Senegal has so much potential and I want to see this potential live through in my lifetime. There has been a recent discovery of oil and I’m so scared about the outcome of that (i.e. the oil curse); there’s been so much good that I’ve seen but there’s room for improvement; it’s so peaceful (except for robbery, I’ve not had a big issue). The economy is not the best but it’s pretty stable from what I’ve seen. I just wish the development and positive aspects were widespread. Like Dakar is such a beautiful place! If you leave, you wonder “what happened?” and that’s just because there’s disparity and that’s unfortunate.

Favorite part – the experience overall. The other day, I had a taxman that I had a good conversation with throughout the trip and at the end, he pulled out his guitar-like instrument and started playing for. Where else are you going to get that? The small but meaningful interactions will be what I miss the most.
Least favorite part – the pollution! It’s everywhere and just so hard to miss. Also, the creatures I’ve seen in my village, I’m not a fan! It’s just soo creepy sometimes when you see them haha.

Our Deen: Oustaz Pape Hane

**Who is Pape Hane?**

My name is Macoumba Hane but people call me Pape Hane. I was born in Thies, Senegal. I’ll summarize my childhood by saying that I learned the Quran at a young age – my teacher’s name was Makhtar Cisse. I finished the Quran and then moved to Kaolack to learn “kham-kham” or knowledge beyond the Quran.

**Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming an Oustaz?**

When I was 12, I was part of a dahira (congregation). I was the youngest in the dahira and often played around with speeches and listened to Ibou Sakho (Google him). I practiced preaching to my peers and taught them what I was learning. That was before I went to daara (Quranic school) to learn kham-kham so from an early age, I had the desire and just pursued it with the additional learnings required.

**Speaking of additional learnings, what does it take to become an Oustaz?**

You have to learn from different books after learning the Quran, such as Fiqh. Once you learn the many books, you must then learn how to interpret (firi in Wolof) so you can relay the message to someone who doesn’t speak Arabic or hasn’t learned those books. The process is hard but Masha’Allah when you have the love for it and the love for the Prophet (pbuh), it becomes easy.

**In today’s society, we hear that there is a “crisis of values” in Senegal, especially the youth. What is your take on that?**

Yes, it is a grave and sad reality. The way that people educate their children is not the same. The values have shifted and people care less and less about the well-being of the entire community so everyone is acting just on their own behalf. Nobody seems to be concerned about the next generations to come.

Kersa (Wolof word some modesty) is no more. Not in the way people talk, dress, or behave. In the old days, when a man tells a woman he likes her, she is shy or may smile coyly to say “I like you back” but today, everyone is bold and stares directly in the eyes of others and says whatever they feel. You used to be able to count the number of people who drink or smoke in one neighborhood but today, it’s widespread. The list of things goes on and on.

Another thing is that there is pressure today with time. Everyone is rushing and wants to make it overnight – there is a lot fraud going on to make easy money. The hardworking values are diminishing and worst of all, nobody does anything for the sake of Allah anyone, it seems. There is still good but a lot of bad indeed.

**How can we reverse this negative trend then?**

We have to back to the basics. Al-Quran and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet (pbuh)) were given to us as a guide and we have to remember that Allah doesn’t care how you start, he cares how you finish. So let’s clean the hearts and love one another.

**Now, Oustaz, I have to ask you because people keep talking about it. What is Azhirou Zamane (end of the world) ?**

The prophet said: I won’t lay 2000 years in the ground.
1,441 years since his passing.

Do the math.

Now beyond the timing aspect of it, there are a lot of signs of Akhirou Zamane. The diminishing values I mentioned before is one sign, natural disasters is another, lots of discrepancy is another, and the list goes on. It’s essentially a time when things will be very complex and messy and it’s leading us to the end of the world as we know it. It’s not a decade long process – it’s centuries and centuries of signs all culminating to that fateful day when we arise from our graves and answer to our Creator.

Aissatou speaking mainly out of urgency LOL: I guess that means any day now for the end of the world. May Allah (God) guide as all back to him!

**Okay so now, I have to ask you some burning questions on the highly-debated, controversial topic of polygamy. What does the Quran say:**

First, the Quran says you must be able to do it. That means financially and being responsible enough to keep your household(s) in order. You need to yamalei (keep things equal). If you can’t keep things equal, then Islam has freed you of the burden of having multiple wives.

There is a way to do it and each situation is different so it’s important to seek knowledge and advice from those who have learned what the books say. Ignorance of any guidance is not an excuse.

** How can we work to maintain our deen while living abroad?**

Work hard. And not just in the professional sense but invest the time into your deen (faith) to learn more and act on the things you learn. It’s your ultimate responsibility and you will be questioned on the Day of Judgement.

——-

A very special THANK YOU to Oustaz Pape Hane for this refreshing interview. I’m humbled and deeply motivated each time I hear you talk about the beautiful religion that is Islam and your profound love for our Prophet Muhammad (saw). Yallah na sa diam yagg Oustaz. Jerejeuf!

MIGNON GARÇON – GORA BARHAME

**Who is Gora?**

I was born and raised in Guediawaye, Senegal. I went to school in Mame Maria and then dropped out because I wanted to go live with my father; I wanted to spend time with him because he was split from my mom. While I was there, I learned the Qu’ran but didn’t go to school. I went back and forth between my mom and dad and eventually I stayed in Guediawaye to go back to school full time. When I restarted, I was able to take two years worth of classes in one year. I was always pretty smart. I went to Lycée Seydina Limamou Laye. While there, I had an incident where I didn’t finish my second semester so I was expelled!. My mom begged the administrator to let me back in and he said “if he comes back, I will leave.” My mom was so sad and was obligated to transfer me to Gaston Berger. I became one of the best students and took 3rd place for my BAC cohort. I graduated from the US Embassy and was decorated in front of the guy that kicked me out of Lycée Seydina Limamou Laye . My mom asked him if he recognized me and he said no. My mom reminded him of who I was and she was so proud to be able to have that win; I could see how happy she was.

After that, I went to University Cheikh Anta Diop where I took the normal course of classes up until my Masters. I was in the English Department. In 2012, I attended ESM. I actually was in three schools at the same time: University British, Formation Microscholarship des Ambassades des Etas Unis and ESM. Specifically for ESM, my mom called the administrator and asked if I could go there; my sister was already due to enroll. She told him she didn’t have any money to pay for it but she really wanted me to attend. A man named Amadou Diaw sponsored my entire tuition from first year to Masters. I owe him a lot and will forever be thankful for what he did.

**Tell us about your early professional carer and journey**

Without outing too many names, I will tell you a little about it. I was hired to a company and resigned the next day. Samsung hired me after that and 8 months later I resigned; Birago Diop also hired and after 2 years, I resigned. I say all this because I always believed in my abilities and knew I couldn’t stay somewhere I wasn’t valued.

I created the TWA (see below for more information). I teach as well as do personal coaching (1-on-1). I do some school tours and lead my program, which is all about empowering people. When working with Universities and Enterprises, what I do is offer my first session for free and then administrators would come and see what I am capable of and that usually worked a lot better/faster than giving them my resume. It’s a unique strategy to get their buy-in.

**Personas**

Talking about myself, I say I have “selves.” I am a son, teacher, friend, etc. Each persona has a different story. I left home 2 years ago because home was too easy; I said I have to go out of the house and make it on my own. If I stayed, I would be babied and that wasn’t going to work for me long term.

I have been acting, modeling, and teaching for a long time now. I have acted in the Idoles series since season 2 and I also acted in Belle Mere.

Outside of teaching and coaching, I am a shareholder pf the Granola Cereal House business. I am Director of Sales and Marketing

**Going back to TWA – Teachers With Attitude**
What made me want to start was that I hated how my teachers were teaching. They didn’t do it based on passion, just out of obligation. They didn’t care about the content. Michael Jordan said something important, that it’s not about the # of hours, it’s about what you do while you’re there. For that, that is critical.

My biggest dream is to have my own school. Ironically, I hated school but I have always wanted to have my own school. Maybe it’s because I had my own vision for how to interact with my students. I wanted my teachers to have a certain attitude: not sleep with students, not yell at students, not just be there for the money, etc. The group Niggaz Wit Attitudes encouraged me – I switched it to Teachers With Attitude because I want to influence and change the attitudes of educators! We teach English and soft-skills at TWA and we have plans to expand that to other focus areas.

Throughout the journey, there were two main stages. First is the enthusiasm to bring your dream to reality. This stage is full of fire and excitement. Then you have some challenges. You might be tempted to quit when things don’t go as planned and at this point, you’re no longer in your comfort zone; it’s the fear zone. You start to have doubts. For me, I decided to find good people to work with. I went back to my high school and find people I believed would align with my vision. My vision is to keep the students in the classroom. They’re adults and have responsibilities so they cannot always be there. So I’m there to remind them of their “why.” I tell them if they quit right now, they’ll regret it later.

TWA is a system – a network. We want to change the game.

My former institution, ESM, wants me to tell my success story. For me, it’s all about where I come from. When I think about my early experience with school, I think of what Albert Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I knew I had to create my own entrepreneurial path to success and that’s my “success story.”

**Who are your students?**

My students range from elementary school kids, high schoolers, older ladies and gentlemen, and corporate folks. We have several programs for each demographic and cater to their needs. We also have in-home classes as well as online formats. We cater to everyone. We recognize that not everyone is going to be able to work with the typical workweek format so we remain flexible to have a larger audience reach.

We also partner with schools and companies to bring the content in-house. A new program we’re getting ready to launch is that exclusive partnership with corporations.

**Importance of learning English in today’s global climate**

Before, people would study English because they wanted to travel. Today, things are different. Even if you’re not traveling, foreigners are coming to Senegal. When they arrive, you want to be able to communicate with them. For example, if you work at a corporation and English-speaking partners arrive, if you’re the person who speaks English at that enterprise, you become that much more valuable to the company. It is a differentiator. Sooner or later, people will need to learn to speak it. It remains the most common official language in the world and facilitates cross-country communication and travel, especially in business.

**Barriers for advancement in Senegal**

A few things come to mind:

Not believing in themselves – some people have skills and have passion but they grasp onto the jobs that they have because they have familial responsibilities;
Family – family is a burden in Senegal. They hate what they do but they feel stuck; My mom didn’t know that you could apply for jobs online, she always said I was sleeping too much. My first job was paying me 150K CFA and she was like “that’s it?!” and from there, I progressed
Not knowing what we get ourselves into – we don’t do research or have any idea of what we want to do; we don’t have vision. They give up easily. I’m not 100% on any of the things I am doing. My time is split across my activities. But I don’t give up on any of them. I know that all of those things can go on their own but I prioritize.
Learning to say no – if I can’t do something, I say no.
Superiority Complex – no respect for people! – banking example. It’s your money! If you have a small bank account, they treat you like shit.
Workplaces don’t value their employees – not respecting agreements; If you don’t respect me, I just leave you and make it easy for both of us.
Sokhor – people are mean! There are people who just don’t want what’s best for you.

**Mignon Maman**

That’s my baby!! We are 11 in the family so it’s a competition. She doesn’t have enough love for all of us so I push all of them aside and take that top position. I call her all the time and make myself present. We never had that type of relationship where we talked about things and didn’t have barriers. But growing up and learning and reading, I realized this woman is BAE, I have to make her happy.

I realized she sacrificed a lot for us. She didn’t buy gold or clothes, she didn’t go anywhere. Whatever she has it’s for us. One thing I would recall is if she was ever upset, I would dance for her. Moma rewal. I say crazy things just to hear her voice. Seeing her happy makes her happy. She’s got my back and I have hers! She’s my best friend.

May Allah give her long life!

LOLOTALKS: LOLO CYNTHIA

Let’s talk about S-E-X!

Did that get your attention? 😉 Today, we have one of my favorite Instagrammers, Lolo Cynthia, talking to us about various topics, such as sexual health, the role of women in a developing society, and much more! She’s a force to be reckoned with and her content is thought-provoking, insightful, and delivered in a manner that allows us to have dialogue!

Instagram: @lolo_cy

Hello! My name is Lolo Cynthia and that’s what I prefer to go by! 
 
I have my Bachelor’s in Public Health Sciences and a post-graduate in HIV & Health Management at Monash University. I resided in South Africa (SA) before coming back to Nigeria.
 
Growing up in Nigeria, issues about sex and sexuality were covered with secrecy or portrayed negatively to deter people from it – you’d see in movies things like a girl has an abortion and she dies or if she gets pregnant out of wedlock, their mother is shouting at them. No one talks about condoms or really anything related to sexual health and sexuality.
 
Living in South Africa, I noticed it was quite the opposite. They were very outspoken about sex and HIV – these were topics that people did not shy away from. In bathrooms in my University, condoms were available for picking so it was engrained in the society really. The contrast and linked experiences opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we could do in Nigeria for sexual health. That’s something that triggered my passion for sexual health and sexuality.
 
My upbringing is pretty simple – I am the first child of six. I have four younger sisters and one brother. Some live in SA, some live in Nigeria. My last sister is 12 years old so I’m like a second mother! I went back and forth between SA and Nigeria, lived in boarding House, was in SA for University, where I lived alone for 5 years then finally got back to Nigeria. 

Importance of talking about sexual health, especially in African societies

It’s painful that it’s a taboo topic because our sexuality is literally one of the biggest factors of being a human being. Of the driving forces of every human being, sex is always in the top three. So when you take away that element that makes us whole, it strips you of other parts of you. In Africa where they believe that only men should have (they only strip it from women – and when they give it back to you, it’s for you to serve men, it’s never for your own enjoyment or use) – for men, they have been given that right and privilege, it’s their birthright actually, that’s the way it’s portrayed to see themselves as sexual beings.
The way you see yourself as a human being and the way you connect with other people because sexuality is not just about sex, it’s about how you connect with other people.

When you have been robbed of that – let’s take the example of when you’re walking down the street and your body moves. It’s taken as something that’s bad – it’s not understood that your body is meant to move. When you create shame around that and make women feel guilty for things their bodies naturally do, by slut-shaming essentially, you rob them of their full spectrum to be human.

The reasons why we need to talk about sexual health are endless. If we take HIV as an example, the fact that Nigeria has the highest rate of HIV-born kids on the continent – talk about maternal mortality with abortion being the major contributor – these are preventable deaths. It’s because people don’t have access to contraceptives and they continue to be infected or die from abortions because they don’t have access to safe care (i.e. abortion services).

Teenage pregnancies are avoidable too- girls, not just boys, have access to condoms and boys are taught that sex is not something you take. Having these conversations allows for a healthier society.

Lack of information and knowledge has given room for stigma and ignorance. A young girl going through puberty and is more developed than some of her peers will be seen as loose or a bad girl because it’s assumed if a man touches your breasts, then they grow. So that lie is perpetuated and used to slut-shame developed young girls for no reason. Ignorant beliefs lead to shame for young girls who don’t understand. Again, it goes beyond sexual health and sexuality – it goes into how we connect with other people. The sexual script is that women are meant to not initiate or want sex – even if a man approaches her, she can’t give in too easily and she must be persuaded or coerced. She’s not allowed to want sex on her own or she’ll seem loose. 
 
When we think about things like consent and the MeToo Movement – there’s a reason why things like this have been going on for so long (it’s still very Hollywood and hasn’t reached the non-West by the way) – is because dangerous social norms are being perpetuated. That’s why discussing sex and sexuality and sexual health is so very, very important. We can talk about virginity concepts and so much more. For example the idea that if you put an egg into a girl’s vagina, the egg will drop — all to shame women. It’s never-ending.

How I got started with my videos and educational content creation

I started in 2014 – with a webcam (while I was pursuing my 2nd degree) – I wanted to do a talk show which failed horribly (laughs). But I was inspired by people like Makinwa – I saw her video blog and thought I could do that too!

At first I was talking about relationships and throwing a little bit of sex in there (I talked about how to masturbate – haha I went all out). Topics like how do you masturbate and dealing with being an independent woman who still gets lonely. Those were some of the things I talked about at first in 2014. As I began to grow, the topics became more complex. I started to talk about feminism and social norms – I felt I could do more. I wanted to talk about the roots and causes of things, not just be superficial.

Over time, I realized that people were eager to learn about sex and sexuality. To be honest, I shied away from it at first because I didn’t want to be put into a box of “oh look at her, she’s talking about sex na, how does she know?” You know how they are! It’s a stigma so I would always dabble and talk about the educational aspect of it too. I realized that was my calling. I was good at it and I enjoyed it. It’s taken a few years for me to get here but it’s been since 2014.

Handling negative feedback

If you look at my Facebook, I get called names like prostitute, cheap. I am pro-choice which is something I wear boldly, and because of that, I hear things like I hate children and I am teaching women to be loose. But I know that when I’m talking about sexual health, people receive that knowledge. They’re eager to learn about STIs, how the penis works, how the clitoris functions – more of the educational aspect of it. There’s a disparity – they want the facts but not necessarily commenting on the cultural aspects of it. But like anything, if you’re talking about taboo topics, you’re going to get negative and positive feedback. I’m used to it all now. 

Role of women in society

Women are the cornerstone – I cannot overemphasize – in most countries, women make up almost 50% of the total population – it doesn’t make sense to eliminate or silence the voice of 50% of your population. There is no way the country can develop. Apart from talking about feminism and sexual health, it’s literally just common sense. Women have a huge part to play when it comes to development. Our realities, views on life, and perspectives are very different from men. We widen the perspective – economic, health, financial, all of it. It’s no coincidence that some of the most developed countries have women’s right at the top of their priorities – it’s common sense, it just makes sense. 

If half of your population is not empowered, you cannot get to the top of your game. Period.

Role Model & Life Mottos

I know it sounds narcissistic but I am my own role model.

Of course, there are other people that I look up to like Linda Ikeji (her experiences are similar to mine); she’s a Nigerian, serious business-woman that stands strong despite the backlash she receives. Oprah Winfrey of course is an inspiration of mine. I also admire Mo Abdul for how she shapes media and carries her business.

But I really am my own role model – I admire people and respect and follow their work but I am my first role model.

My two life mottos are:
The only constant in life is change 
Connect the dots

The two are inter-connected. No matter where you are in life and how things are going, you can be somewhere different tomorrow and when you look back, you realize that everything happens for a reason and everything that happened is what got you to where you are today.

I’d like to share a little anecdote with you.
Growing up, I wouldn’t say I was crazy but I was quite wild/outspoken! No one who knows me now would have guessed this is where I would end up or believe that I was a girl when I was 17. People made their assumptions that I was going to end up pregnant and cut me off, assuming my future would be bleak. After a few years and maturing, I realized that 17 year old me led to me being who I am today. It’s why I have insights into some of these taboo topics – I’ve been there and lived with it. I have chilled with sex workers and thugs and not be afraid to engage in conversations with them. Those guys used to be my friends and I had influence with them. Now, I’m channeling it into the right way and educating others. So I was able to connect the dots and my life now is certainly influenced by who I was a few years ago. I had the power to change and the power to say “no.” I’m not gonna be who everyone is assuming I will be because I know I can do more. Those are my two mantras!

——–

I am so honored to have had Lolo Cynthia with us this week share her story, passion, and wisdom with us! For far too long and still to this day, topics like this are considered taboo in African societies (with the exception of a few). The idea that talking about sex promotes it is something we need to eradicate in our societies and it all starts with talking about it! Thank you again Lolo Cynthia for your time. For continuous and amazing content on sexual health topics, follow her in Instagram at @lolo_cy!

Learn. Preach. Share. Educate.

LA CITRINE HAIR: NDEYE DIENG

Over the course of the interview series, I have gained some new inspirations and friends. Ndeye Dieng is one of them! When I tell you guys she is the epitome of exceptional client relationships, I mean it! She does everything with heart and follows through until you’re 100% satisfied. She leaves no stone unturned and we’re so honored to have her this week as she tells us a little about herself and her hair business, La Citrine Hair! ❤

My name is Ndèye Dieng; I am from Senegal. I have two beautiful girls and I am married to my best friend. I am the founder and CEO of “La Citrine Hair” created in September 2018.

Since becoming a mother, I find that my children have become my greatest motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to grow and get better for myself as well, but feeling the need to realize things for them and becoming an example to them keeps me going. I had to go for my dreams. My girls in fact inspired the name of my business. They are both November babies and the Citrine stone is one of November’s birth stones. The Citrine stone which is also called “The lucky merchant stone” is believed to be a healing stone and is associated to many positive affirmations one of my favorites being “I create the World that I want”.

My ultimate role model is the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. We are taught that he was as perfect as one could be with the all characteristics of an exceptional human being, so there is no greater role model. But I do have a more realistic, more attainable one. Someone I get to call my family, my Cousin Diélé whom I couldn’t have built la Citrine Hair without. She is everything I would like to become: a wonderful wife, mother, sister, business owner, philanthropist! The list goes on. She inspires me.

My motto is : “If you are going to do it, then do it with your heart” ; I am proud to say that I am a very honest person and to me honesty and heart go hand-in-hand, which actually translate into my business which I unequivocally run with integrity. I believe in treating every client as V.I.P. I actually enjoy all their questions, mainly those they consider “silly”. I’m all about providing a whole experience and not just a product.

Getting into the beauty industry was definitely fate mixed with passion! I’ve always had a strong love for everything beauty! I always enjoyed dressing up and doing my hair and others’ when they let me! Coming to the U.S ( Dallas, Texas) as an international student majoring in Finance working in african hair braiding salons became my part time job. It wasn’t one I particularly enjoyed but unbeknownst to me, God was preparing me for what was ahead. I learned a lot even when I wasn’t conscious of it. After moving to NYC I got into the hospitality industry and was lucky enough to work in 4 and 5 star establishments which have instilled in me unparalleled customer service skills. God works in mysterious ways! These jobs that I accidentally fell into armed me with everything I needed to start a successful business. This is not the path I imagined for myself when I left my beloved Senegal, but Im absolutely loving the ride.

Senegal, the country of “Terranga” (hospitality)! You’ll find that most Senegalese are open and very generous, especially with food. Senegalese women are particularly beautiful; we come in such a wide range of beauty. I believe we posess a certain sensual charm and elegance. Our men are strong in character and hard working. We are a very proud people. In the next 10 to 20 years, and hopefully before, I see our people loving ourselves more and I mean as a unity because it all starts with self love. Love so great we won’t accept living in a beatutiful mansion and normalize trash piling up in our streets; love so great we won’t be able to sleep in a comfortable king size bed with Talibés famished and sleeping on the ground around the corner. Which brings me to Theforgottenchildren.org created by a senegalese family residing here in the united states. They are doing a wonderful job building a boarding school for the kids but they cannot do it alone and I’m inviting anyone who is able to assist them in achieving this goal.

——–

I am just in awe at her tenacity and determination to make her work stand for itself, and it truly does. If you’re looking for great customer service and amazing hair, hit up Ndeye! I personally made an order with her where she was with me every step of the way, helping me pick the best shape and color for my face and when I opened my professionally packaged unit, I had extra goodies waiting for me in there! You will not be disappointed working with her. You can also check out her work (which includes tutorials and Q&A on our most pressing beauty questions) on her Instagram page @la_citrinehair.

Ndeye, THANK YOU for sharing your precious time with us! Keep on Shinin’ sis!

MALICK: BUUR COUTURE

In this interview series, we pick the brain of Buur Couture’s founder, Malick! Before we get into the interview spotlight, read on to learn more about Buur Couture overall!

Overview:

BuuR is an African luxury fashion brand founded in 2014, which produces ready-to-wear clothing and accessories. The word BuuR is originated from Senegal, and it means “Royalty.”

We’ll stop there! You can read more at buurcouture.com and buy some cool merchandise as well! I personally own several pieces and have never been disappointed. High quality and durable!

Now for the fun part! Let’s learn about Malick ❤

Instagram: @buurcouture

MUCH LIKE MANY OF US HERE IN THE STATES, I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN SENEGAL.I MOVED TO THE STATES IN 2009 FOR SCHOOL. I AM CURRENTLY LIVING BETWEEN MIAMI AND HOUSTON (TRAVELING BACK AND FORTH). IN UNIVERSITY, I STUDIED BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION AND ALWAYS HAD AN ENTREPRENEURIAL FLAME BURNING INSIDE OF ME.

I GREW UP WITH FASHION AROUND ME. MY MOM IS A FABRIC VENDOR SO I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTRIGUED AND INSPIRED IN MANY WAYS – THE TEXTURES, THE FABRICS, ALL OF THAT.

IN 2010, I STARTED A BUSINESS CALLED MIABIZZY. IT HAD A PHILANTHROPIC BACKSTORY TO IT; I WANTED TO HELP THE CHILD BEGGARS (TALIBES) IN SENEGAL THROUGH THE PROFITS FROM THE BUSINESS. I REALIZED THOUGH THAT I NEEDED TO BUILD A BRAND AND REALLY DEVELOP IT IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE WHAT I WANTED IN OTHER NON-PROFIT PROJECTS I WAS WORKING ON. THAT’S HOW BUUR CAME ABOUT. IT’S A BRAND AND A MISSION.

THE MEANING OF BUUR IS A NATURAL BORN LEADER WHO GIVES TO THE PEOPLE WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING IN RETURN. WE ARE ALL BUURS IN OUR OWN RESPECTS. IT’S A UNIVERSAL MEANING.

SOMETHING THAT I LIKE IS THAT OUR NEW GENERATION OF SENEGALESE TALENTS HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF ONE ANOTHER THAT PREVIOUS GENERATIONS DON’T HAVE. IT’S A LUXURY THAT WE ARE ABLE TO SUPPORT AND EMPOWER ONE ANOTHER.

I HAVE THIS CURIOSITY AROUND DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. WHAT I MEAN BY THAT IS THAT KNOWLEDGE IS LIMITLESS AND THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO LEARN. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A DEGREE OR FORMAL KNOWLEDGE (OR BY THE BOOKS) – YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY. I LOVE SURAH AL-KAHF IN THE QU’RAN. THERE IS A PART ABOUT KNOWLEDGE WHERE BASICALLY MOUSSA HAD IT IN HIS MIND THAT HE WAS THE MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE ON EARTH. ALLAH TOLD HIM HE WAS NOT AND GUIDED HIM TO KHIDR SO HE CAN LEARN FROM HIM. IT’S A VERY GOOD STORY TO REFLECT ON – IT SHOWS US ALL HOW MUCH ROOM WE HAVE TO LEARN AND GROW.

ROYALTY IS A GIFT WE ARE BORN WITH; IT’S A BLESSING. WE SHOW OUR APPRECIATION BY LIVING AND BEING THE BEST WE CAN EVERY DAY.

——

I personally loved his interview (I love every interview) but I learned so much about Malick’s business, mindset, and life views. It’s humbling to meet such bright minds who want so much better for the world. THANK YOU so much for taking the time with us !!!

FATOU PHOTOGRAPHY

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go viral? I don’t know about you but I certainly have and this week, we got to pick the brain of Fatou, who did a photo shoot that took the Internet by storm!

Aida: As usual, I ask my interviewees to tell us a little bit about your upbringing and background?

Fatou: Uhm, okay yeah so I was born in New York and went to Senegal when I was four years old with my little sister. I went to learn more about the culture, language, and of course meet extended family. I came back to the States when I was 11 years old and started 5th grade. I didn’t speak English, just Wolof and French, and I got bullied and fought a little because of it (LOL). It got better over time though and then I went onto High School. I first started at a regular HS but then transferred to a Charter school. That was a hard transition because I started there in 10th grade. The Charter school started at 9th grade so all of my classmates were already friends and formed their groups – I was the newcomer.

Uhm what else? I used to be really into fashion before I started covering in 11th grade (wearing the hijab). Like I loved it! And that doesn’t mean I don’t love it now but I think it’s a little different! Let’s see, I graduated HS and am now in college, studying Communications and minoring in Photography.

Name: Fatou Mbeguere
Instagram: fatou.photography

Aida: How did you develop a passion for photography?

Fatou: Photography has always been a passion. I used to take pictures for our school’s yearbook. I never cared to be in the pictures, I just wanted to be the one holding the camera. I bought my first camera, which was a Nikon D3400 with two lens! I took pictures here and there but didn’t really get into it, into it until my little sister was putting on makeup one day and I tried taking pictures of her and it sort of re-fueled my passion again. I also found joy in taking pictures outside when I first started, because you didn’t have to do much editing if the natural lighting was really good! I took classes too to learn new techniques and the basics but recently, I’ve been doing a lot of research to become a better photographer!

Aida: What has been your favorite shoot so far?

Fatou: It would have to be the four girls in the hijabs shoot! That really showed the different shapes and faces of the hijab and it went viral! It wasn’t planned at all, I was just shooting with friends one day. We wanted to re-do a shoot we had seen but that didn’t work so we improvised. I brought the background and my camera and they brought their faces! It was the weekend that Black Panther came out actually and we joked around and did the “Wakanda Forever” sign haha. It took awhile to get the shot and I actually had to stand, hovering over them (see pic below). I edited the pictures, uploaded it, and it went viral!

That shoot really helped to promote me and gave me confidence. It was shared by Essence Magazine and TheShadeRoom and just really took off. I was seeing the picture everywhere!!!

Aida: Can you share a little about your journey as a young woman, first generation college student, hijabi?

Fatou: I can genuinely say it hasn’t been too bad. I get the occasional double-take look, kind of like a questioning look! Now as a photographer, it’s a little different. One time, I was booked to do a shoot for a bridal shower and the person that hired me didn’t know I was a woman. I did the shoot and she was satisfied in the end but that’s sometimes a reaction that I get when people first see me and I guess I don’t look like what they thought? Haha!

Another thing is I actually stayed away from the Senegalese community for a while because I feel like they don’t always get it. I used to be scared and shied away from shooting at our events but eventually, I broke out of that and started shooting. It’s been a good journey overall and just required me to kind of put that foot forward.

Aida: What role do you believe women hold in society/our communities?

Fatou: Ahh so let me start by saying I don’t want it to sound like I’m against anyone’s choices but the idea that you get married and stay home is so limiting!

Sexism exists in Senegalese society and while some people do believe in equality, it’s not all. A majority of people think a woman should be restricted. I’m glad that our generation is starting to change that because we don’t think like that. I think it’s okay to be a housewife OF someone who works, just depends on what your preference is. You just have to be with someone who is compatible with you. I recently got married and my husband and I talked about it. Like okay you’re the man of the house but we’re partners. It’s about being independent while also being able to co-exist.

Another thing: I am a big advocate for speaking up. Be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to say what you want, that’s also really important.

Aida: Who is your role model(s) in life?

Fatou: My mom (laughs). I mentioned I recently got married and let me tell you, not seeing her is teaching me a lot right now. She’s everything to me. She’s been through a lot but she’s still so strong. I just think back to when I was getting married – the way she was there for me, it meant everything! She’s definitely my role model!

Aida: What’s your life motto?

Fatou: Always be honest. Be truthful. I cannot lie. If something bothers me, I speak my mind right away. It’s important.

Aida: Fatou, thank you infinitely for your time and thoughts! You’re so vivacious and it’s always a pleasure catching up with you!

Fatou: No, thank you for having me. This is so exciting!

To see more of Fatou’s jaw-dropping photos, follow her Instagram page fatou.photography! You won’t regret it 😉 Thanks again for tuning in, until next interview! ❤

Financial Literacy with Momo Issa

We can’t talk about empowering women without talking about financial literacy. In addressing the many deep-rooted issues in our society, I would be remissed not to address this one because it’s so fundamental to building up our youth, advancing in multiple sectors, and securing our futures. This week, we tackle this issue with Momo Issa.

Aida: Hey you! So before we start, we need to know a little bit more about you. Who is Momo Issa?

Momo: What do you want to know?

Aida: We need to know where you come from, what you do, a little bit about your background. Standard stuff!

Momo: Haha okay. Well, I was born in Senegal and moved to the States when I was 5 years old. I grew up in New York and went to school there up through middle school. Then I moved back home for high school. I came back for college.

Aida: Wait, so how did you transition back to the US school system for college? Did you have to take the SAT and ACT?

Momo: Yeah, I had to take all the standardized tests. It was a tough transition but I just did it, I guess.

Aida: Wow, that’s impressive.

Momo: Yeah so in college, I studied Finance and minored in Math and Communications. I now work in Trading – Derivatives specifically.

Aida: Okay, thanks for the introduction! So we’ll get started with the first question. What do you think is the importance of financial literacy for the young generation today?

Momo: Uhm I would say it’s very important. It’s necessary just to be able to navigate life. But maybe I should start by asking what you mean by financial literacy?

Aida: Well, I mean like being well-versed in financial topics and terms … understanding what you are signing up for, especially with contracts these days.

Momo: Okay, so we are thinking about the same thing. So, I think about it in two ways: (1) having access to resources and (2) being strategic when making financial decisions.

Financial literacy is really about being able to navigate life and not be taken advantage of financially. As you go through big decisions, knowing where to get advice, etc. Like if you wanted to get a mortgage, knowing where you can get the lowest rate – or something as simple as knowing what a normal rate looks like. Doing research is very important so you understand what you’re walking into.

Aida: I think the first point you made is important – having access. Today, we have the internet so theoretically, we should be able to find everything out. So then I have to ask, why do you think financial literacy hasn’t been prioritized by many, particularly in the Senegalese culture?

Momo: We just don’t know about it as well as we should. We don’t know the resources that are available to us. In Senegal, I think the metric is something like more than 80% of the population doesn’t have a bank account. It’s deep-rooted in our culture, we don’t trust certain institutions.

Another reason is that the infrastructure isn’t really there to engage with financial institutions. Something as simple as opening a bank account takes forever. If you go to the bank for a simple transaction, you will likely end up spending your whole day waiting to be serviced. Access at will is a big barrier and people don’t trust banks so it’s cyclical.

Aida: You know it’s funny you say that about the banks – there was a time I went into the bank during a recent visit and ended up spending my whole afternoon just to make a withdrawal.

Momo: Yep and even something as minor as getting a debit card takes weeks.

Aida: So how can someone who some self-teaching to become more financial literate? Are there any tools or forums you would recommend?

Momo: Good question. I don’t know, there’s a lot of different things people can do and it really depends on what you’re trying to do.

For example, I’ll go back to the mortgage thing. There are programs designed to help first-time buyers so that they’re more aware of the process. There’s one called NACA – Google it. It helps you with the necessary documents. Some programs can even help you waive the down-payment.

You just have to be willing to do a little research. There’s a lot of information out there and things are negotiable! Know what you’re signing up for and understand what the common rates are for what you’re trying to do. Be proactive and don’t say “yes” to the first thing you come across.

Aida: Some good information there and a little bit of homework, thank you!

Now I have to ask you: what role do you think women play in society and financial literacy? I ask because you know the natts (pooling of money between people with cycle for withdrawing) many women are involved it. That’s like a major financial structure – how can we apply the saying “when you educate a woman, you educate generations to come” to this situation?

Momo: Well today natts are mainly within one community. It would need to be expanded beyond that community and institutionalized. If the manager of the natt was willing to take the money to a bank and open up an account, it would formalize the process.

Banks really need to make their processes more seamless and people need to start trusting banks. Women play a role in that because they take care of a lot of financial things informally so formalizing the process would empower them to do more! And that starts with educating everyone about the benefits of working with banks.

Aida: Alright, so next question is what advice would you give to young adults trying to bounce back from financial hardship?

Momo: Pay down some debt. Work on your credit and be more aware of how you spend. When it comes to debt, you can find ways to reduce the interest you’re paying by transferring balances or consolidating debt. There are a lot of resources you can leverage – Prosper is a good start for debt consolidation.

Aida: How about when it comes to bad credit scores?

Momo: There are companies that help you repair or rebuild your credit. Again, you have to do your research and start putting more of a healthy lifestyle to your finances. It sounds like common sense and it’s easier said than done but spending less than you make – we could all work on that. I know I need to do better!

Aida: Uhm yeah… I definitely need to work on that! I spend way too much on buying lunch.

Momo: I use this app called MealPal, you can get lunches for $6 or less. Send me your email address and I’ll refer you.

Shameless plug: I got myself the hookup for cheaper lunches now :p Ayyyyy!

Aida: Ah thank you!!! (*sends email address immediately)

Okay so last question is what is your life motto?

Momo: Hmm … hard work beats talent. Everything is achievable with hard work and effort.

Aida: Well I would just like to say THANK YOU for your time and imparting your wisdom on us! We’ll be in touch for more good content – thank you again!

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. A little glimpse into financial literacy from Momo Issa. It’s impossible to cover all topics but I think the major takeaway is: DO YOUR RESEARCH! Ask questions and be conscientious of your financial obligations and choices!