Today we share with you the leadership experience of Ms.Ann Marie Caulker. An African Feminist, Founder of Royal Kings International School, Katanya Women’s Development Association (KaWDA) and Katanya Vocational Institute for Vulnerable women and girls. She is an alumni of the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI (2010). In her story Anne narrates how she connected with amazing sisters, honed her feminist facilitation skills and shares thoughts on women’s empowerment and rights.
Ann-Marie Caulker is a leading advocate against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/FGC) in Sierra Leone. She is the founder and proprietress of the Royal Kings International School based in Freetown, including Katanya Women's Development Association (KaWDA) and Katanya Vocational Institute for vulnerable women and girls that are not fortunate to go to school or continue their education. She is currently the Executive Director of the National Movement for Emancipation and Progress (NaMEP), a coalition campaigning against harmful traditional practices.
“In my teenage age, I was forcefully initiated into the Bondo society and cut at 6 years old. Regardless of the childhood struggles - child labor, forced sex, teenage pregnancy and street child labor, I was able to complete my education and ensure that my siblings stayed in school. Today, my passion drives me to protect young girls from having to suffer what I went through. Therefore, I made a commitment to end this practice by founding Freetown School to give refuge to girls who were abandoned by their families for refusing to undergo FGC and for orphans whose mothers died in childbirth as a result of complications because most women who died during child birth had already undergone FGM/C. The school also supports children orphaned as a result of the Ebola outbreak.”
The school is strongly against Female Genital Cutting, and as a result does not get any government support. Despite this, Anne is committed to ensuring that her students get an education and are protected from FGC. Apart from the school, she also takes care of fifty (50) children most of whom are girls and majority are living in her house. On that note she has been recognized by the community as a mother-figure and all the children in her school call her mummy too.
As someone who has experienced and worked closely with FGM victims, Anne relates her character to a Lioness because she is a Leo born on the 28th July. She says “Failure will never overtake me; my determination to succeed is strong enough. As a result in whatever I want to do, I plan it carefully just like the Lion because I do not want to miss my prey. Women and girls across the globe go through a horrific form of violence; a problem we all must address. Failure to expose practices of FGC shrouded in secrecy for centuries, child labor and sex trafficking scandals greatly impact girls and equally threaten their live s. “If I had the second chance to expose more of this vice, I would do it even more than I did the first time”. This is because as a victim, I still remember the extreme physical and psychological suffering I went through as a child. The impact AWLI placed had on me in 2010 made me realize that I have great potential, and am fearless. The lioness in me makes sure no one takes advantage of children and women under my care and I am unstoppable.”
Recounting her AWLI experience Anne noted that the African Women Leadership Institute was an investment in the enhancement of her personal leadership capacity that has had a trickledown effect on many young women and girls in Sierra Leone. Through the institute she has created jobs for many youths through different programs that she has established
Before joining the AWLI, I had high expectations to learn how to succeed. The institute lived up to these expectations because since then I am always excelling despite the struggles and obstacles. I believe I will reach to the highest level as long as others before me were able to make it. The AWLI experience widened my intellectual muscle, giving me more ideas to grow and move forward. “I gained lots of ideas to promote women and children but I was afraid of how to bring them forward due to fear of what people will say. I had a lot of fear but with the institute I became bolder and today I have done a lot with my talents and am even mentoring young women and girls and even the boys I stay with in my home.”
The program gave me an opportunity to interact with amazing trainers majority of whom were willing to answer to every question that I asked. They taught me tolerance and that has helped me greatly in my work today.
I will forever cherish the sister hood and networking that has exposed me to what I wouldn’t have found elsewhere” she noted.
Following the AWLI Anne was among some of the Alumni sponsored to participate in the 2011 CSW in New York where she boldly spoke about her story and how AMwA made her realize her potential. “Since the training I have always excelled higher and higher in my career no matter what circumstances I face or go through, I always push my way and keep reminding other alumni in my country to keep the sisterhood network created in the AWLI.
When asked about her role model, Anne was quick to identify with Madam Zainab Bangura noting that as a female activist, the woman she identifies with is Madam Zainab Bangura; a Sierra Leonean who is now working at the UN as UN Representative of the Secretary on Gender Based Violence. “She is one person who fires me up, she has campaigned against FGM in Sierra Leone, her determination courage and charisma draws me to her. She also identifies with her greatest African female author Mariama Ba of “So Long a Letter”. Like the author Anne was able to leave all her other colleagues, relocated to the city with determination to acquire an education and continued to push herself just as story in that book.
Among her many achievements, Anne is the first woman to win Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in Germany. One wonders how Anne has managed to beat the odds to leadership and so she shared a few insights of how she has managed to make it. Anne Marie reaffirmed how she hates failure and is more motivated to continue what she started. “I cherish sustainability because it leads to continuity this is one of the principles that inspire me to carry through an initiative that I embark on. When I go through challenges, I take a break to discuss with some of the sisters who we share the same ideologies with. Most importantly, I treasure the lessons I learned from AWLI, and look to other women leaders for inspiration.