Rochelle’s leadership journey
When I applied for TuWezeshe, I really wanted to go into international development and women’s rights. I was looking all over the internet and I will never forget when I came across TuWezeshe. I was drawn to it because I wanted to get leadership skills – being a leader is something I always shied away from, I never had the confidence! I remember thinking, wow, we also get funding to do our own social action project. Literally, for me, it looked too good to be true!
The name of my TuWezeshe project is ‘I Have a Voice’, and I think it is hands down one of the best things that I have ever ever done.
My project was about empowering young girls from African heritage, to use their voice to create change. I ran weekly sessions with 10 school students over two months to talk about topics like FGM, race, identity, sexual health, mental health, career options and politics. I made the decision to run my sessions at my old school because growing up I felt like an outcast, I was one of only a few black girls there and I was made fun of for all the features that made me black.
When I first started my sessions, I was nervous that the girls wouldn’t really know me and that they wouldn’t be comfortable talking to me. But they were so open, they loved the sessions – they didn’t even want to leave. We talked about racism, micro-aggressions, and they told me about their experiences in school. One girl talked about how she gets made fun of for being dark, and when she tells the teachers, they brush it off. I spoke to the headteacher who agreed to join one of the sessions and to look into ways to address those issues.
I’ve also arranged for the girls to go to the House of Commons to meet with the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, and the then MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya. It was so inspiring for the girls! They were able to ask them loads of questions about their story into politics. They got to see where decisions are made and witnessed black women like themselves in positions of responsibility.
The girls and the teacher I was liaising with want me to do the sessions again next year, which is amazing! I think from this whole experience I learned just how powerful I can be. These girls really look up to me and are excited about our sessions. I am influencing them and it’s just like woah, it’s just little me, I am making a difference. I’m encouraging them to also make a difference and tell their friends about what they are learning. The experience gave me more confidence and encouraged me to take a stand for the things that I believe in.
Now, I’m working on my social enterprise organisation, it’s called ‘The 3 Es’, which I started a few months ago. I’ve been recruiting for roles and I’ve literally got emails from women in Botswana, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and in the UK who are interested to join, and just knowing that people see my vision is amazing!
I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this if it wasn’t for TuWezeshe. It’s just reinforced my passion for women’s rights. And the leadership skills I gained, just helped me become decisive in my decisions, confident in them!