I was born free. Unlike some people in other parts of the world, I was born in what would be considered luxury (although I did have and still do have my own problems). Since a young age, I have also had a passion for helping others and strongly believe that everyone deserves equality. It is, after all, a human-born right! Without equality, we are foolish in thinking anything will change for the better and cheat ourselves out of not living our best lives.
Since the age of three, I have been fascinated by other cultures and fell in love with the African continent. Things looked so different and I would fantasize about it. The cultures, music, and food, among many other things, filled my heart. To be honest, it was an escape from my own childhood advertisements and traumas. I have always felt loved and accepted by my friends and family from various African countries and hence my love grew.
Fast forward several years, I have completed several degrees and certificates and served many clients from many countries all over the world. Part of my first practicum for my Master’s of Social Work was serving government-sponsored refugees as a therapist and helping youth and adults cope with the complexities that challenged their adjustments to Canadian living, mental health, and physical safety. I grew more aware of the overt and covert challenges and became an ally in their missions. In fact, I actually went into social work to do international work, but given my own personal and health circumstances I have been unable to do so. I have filled this love by serving formally and informally for years as a consultant for orphanages, and NGOs in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and now Sierra Leone.
I have had the sheer pleasure of meeting a breathtaking individual, by the name of Hannah Kargbo, who quite honestly makes me want to be a better person! Hannah inspires me with how she is able to move hundreds of people to challenge the patriarchal society she lives in and helps people recognize girls as equals. When I first met Hannah I asked her why she does what she does and she responded “Because I am doing better now I know I and others can do better. I cannot sit and not help.” Her words were filled with passion and her soul. I then asked Hannah what her goal is and she responded “I want girls to know, if they choose, they can be more than a housewife or someone who does chores.” At that moment, she had my heart (and I told her so). I know in my culture and living in Canada that this is a given-I have a choice. I then asked Hannah how I can help (thinking she would ask some technical social work questions) and she told me “You are our keynote speaker at our girls’ summit this year.” After I spat out my water in shock and even cried a little bit, I asked her why. Hannah shockingly told me she has been following me on social media for a while, sees the work I do locally, nationally, and internationally, and knows I am an expert in my field. She told me she wants me to come “inspire the girls” and show them another way of living. She even said she thinks the girls will really respond to me and even asked me to come wearing my crown (I am the forever and inaugural Ms. Italy World Universal 2021-2022), and sash and “show them.” After much reflection, sleepless nights, and conversations with my beloved Alonzo, I said yes! I said yes. Well to be honest, I said yes first- I couldn’t contain it, then freaked out (as this is a huge deal to me and a lifelong dream) and went back and forward with it, even though my heart already knew it was happening. I said yes even though the funds were not there, that the travel alone will likely result in my health and physical condition flaring up for months on end and I said yes even though it scares me!
Then the imposter syndrome kicks in- Who am I to lead a group of disadvantaged African girls? What if I cannot get the funds and sponsors I need to help me (I wasn’t planning on this at all)? What if I do a bad job? As I am sure you can imagine- it developed a dark rabbit hole of what-ifs, and anxieties and challenged some hard-core beliefs I thought I dealt with already. After much consultation, thought, and counselling- the question now is – not who am I, but rather how am I going to live up to my duty and honour?
I am happy to announce that my partner, Alonzo, will be joining me and teaching boys who are attending the summit how to treat women fairly. He will focus on issues like sexual assault, and consent, and how they too have a pivotal role in helping to lift women up. My dear friend, Jay, will be alongside us to help with technical issues and to be another amazing male role model as well. I am truly blessed to have such an amazing team!
Over the next few months (and most likely longer because they are awesome) I am going to continue my late and early calls (because of the 6-hour time difference from Alberta) providing advice, support, and friendship to the amazing Hannah Kargbo and her NGO. I will be focusing some of my time (when I am not serving the clients I am honoured to serve) on building awareness of the issues girls and youth face in Sierra Leone and look for sponsors to help with the costs of travel. Quite frankly, I want the National Girls Summit to focus its current limited funds on the sustainability of its amazing initiatives and housing and feeding youth who attend the upcoming summit. As such, I am donating my time, consultations, and expertise and freely giving my love.
I know that our time and volunteering will help make a positive difference to the people there. I am also not foolish to know it will also positively impact us and our lives- as giving creates feel-good hormones as well. Studies show that if you want to change a village you educate one girl. Well, together, with your help, we are educating 400 girls, and 100 boys and providing different perspectives. We cannot, nor should we, do this alone. We need your help.
What I am hoping this story will do is show that it is okay to do things that scare you- I tell clients that every day (so I must do it too). I am hoping this story brings awareness of some of the struggles that our fellow brothers and sisters, not just in Sierra Leone, but other parts of the world face on a daily basis. I hope it ignites a flame in you to want to contribute to such an amazing cause, be socially responsible, and join me on my journey.
My team and I have created this section on my business website as an easy tool to showcase this work and provide information about the initiatives and requests. A link to the National Girls Development Network, my Go Fund Me, and a list of sponsors are here as well. When we are at the event we will post pictures and live videos so you can see what your contribution has helped us do!
We would want to thank the sponsors who have already contributed their time and expertise and look forward to continued support.
We can and must make a difference!
With Upmost Love & Appreciation
Malissa & Alonzo Veroni-Prince