*Reveals why she left US job

BY JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA

Nigerian-Sierra Leonean Marie Hassan-Dugbe is a US-trained nurse who has just relocated to Africa after decades of professional practice in the US. Marie says she is in Africa to pursue her dream of bringing solace to women who, according to her, are faced with too many challenges. Dugbe was in Nigeria months back where she met the founder of Uplifting Women through Farming, UWTF, Afoma Adigwe.
She was impressed about the achievement of UWTF in touching the lives of rural women and swore to take UWTF to Sierra Leone. Driven by passion, she came back to Nigeria her fatherland to learn the rudiments of farming before the launch of UWTF come September this year in Sierra Leone. She spoke with Feminista on her passion for developing women in Africa.

You are about setting up UWTF in Sierra Leone; what was the attraction for you?
Last year I was on vacation in Nigeria and I met the founder who told me few things about the organization and immediately I got interested. Getting back to Sierra Leone, I wasn’t too happy with what was happening in the country and I decided to embrace this. Sierra Leonean women really need help because about 98% of them are single-handedly running their homes.

At this age where people want to make quick money, do you think farming is the best option for poverty alleviation?
Farming is the best because our ancestors fed us through farming. If we all rely on white-collar jobs, who will go to the farm to feed us? We have good soil in Sierra Leone which can feed our people conveniently. We just need supports from agencies and government and I am very optimistic that it will be successful because women succeed in anything they embark on. We will teach them modern ways of farming.

What makes you think that this project will be successful in Sierra Leone; is it because it is successful here in Nigeria?
It will be because I have spoken to some of our women and they are so eager to start doing something. Our president is a very good man and he is willing to help us. He has greatly empowered Sierra Leone women and he has done that more than any other president. He has also done very well with gender issues. I love him because he is taking a cue from President Jonathan in developing and empowering women. I am just coming to help reach out to more women, especially those at the grassroots. So far, I have visited over 35 villages in Sierra Leone because of this project. I see the hopelessness in our women’s faces as some of them didn’t even have cloths to wear. I also realised they don’t want charity but want to be able to cater for their families conveniently. We can never go wrong with agriculture.

Some people think women empowerment is all about showcasing women as helpless; do you agree with that notion?
That is a wrong perception of women. Though we sometimes are harsh on each other in an attempt to get the job done, we do excellently well in different fields. Tradition is still militating against African women because some of us still believe that it is a man’s world. We should give women the chance to excel. Nigerian women are doing well now in different fields all because they have the support of President Goodluck Jonathan.

How do you intend to fund this project?
Through local funding but presently I am using my own money. I close friend in America also intends coming back home to support the project. She got some seeds for the project. We have people in Sirrea Leone who believe in us and are also helping us achieve our aim. For me, failure is not an option because I am going to succeed with this program.

What’s sowed in you the urge to support Sierra Leonean women?
It pains me when I see young girls on our streets, selling their bodies to eat. This was heartbreaking for me. So, I went back to America where I was practising as a nurse, packed my things, donated some and decided to return home to empower our women. I was very comfortable in America but I couldn’t abandon our women. I am going to bring back what I have learnt in America to our women.   I want it to go down history that I helped our women. I know it is a hard road but I am ready to scale through because I am very passionate about it. We are running this project to outlive us and we intend to take it across Africa.

You are a Nigerian-Sirea Leonean but you seem to lean more on the former; is it that you are not proud of your Nigerian root?
I am proud of both. My father was a Nigerian while my mother was a Sierra Leonean. I love both because they are both homes for me. My children are Nigerians and their father was from Zamfara State because my father ensured we married Nigerians.

So yours was an ‘arrangee’ marriage?
Not really but I was introduced to him and we got along well. I wasn’t forced into it.

Can you share with us your experiences while growing?
I grew up in a very good home; my father was a diamond merchant and my mother was a business woman. My father brought us back to Nigeria so we could learn the Nigerian culture. Now, I read, speak and write Hausa.

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