At 33 years old, Mamie Drammeh describes herself as “an African woman who has overcome a lot of challenges”—including forced marriage, childbirth complications, family and in-law problems, and the painful losses of loved ones. But despite those challenges, Mamie has risen above her circumstances to become a supervisor in Tostan Gambia.

When Mamie was 11, her father took her out of school and arranged for her to be married to one of his friends; her mother had no say in the matter. “The first day I saw the man I was to marry was on my wedding day,” she said. “I went to live with him in his family’s large compound. I was taken out of school and did all of the housework—sweeping, laundering, cooking. But I was not happy. I watched all of my friends going to school while I had to stay at home and work.”

Mamie gave birth to her first child at just 13 years old. When the baby was six months old, Mamie ran away to her grandmother’s home in Senegal. “She knew I had been married, but was unaware that I had a child,” Mamie said. “She felt very bad and cried when she saw me.” Mamie’s grandmother allowed her to stay, insisting that the breastfeeding and care of the child be handed over to Mamie’s aunt, who had a young son herself that she was still nursing. 

After a week of searching for her daughter, Mamie’s mother came to Senegal and was shocked to find Mamie living with her grandmother. “She told my mother that the marriage was going to end, that I was going to get a divorce,” said Mamie. In The Gambia, she said, in-laws are highly respected, and her father had to do as her grandmother wished. “He was not happy, but he paid the money back to my husband’s family to get the divorce,” she said. “They demanded the dowry back in order to end the marriage, even though I’d already had his child. They never even asked about her.”

A month later, Mamie returned to The Gambia—without her daughter. “To this day, my daughter thinks that my aunt is her mother,” she said. “We have never told her. When I see her, she calls me ‘Auntie.’”

Finally free from her marriage, Mamie was looking forward to going back to school. But just days after the divorce was finalized, Mamie’s father fell ill and died. She started Class Eight late, having missed the first term due to her father’s passing. After she finished grade nine, Mamie went to vocational school for a secretarial course and then to a technical school with a more advanced secretarial program.

That’s where Mamie first heard about Tostan. She was hired as a facilitator over the very first Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in the Gambia in 2007, and in 2010, she was promoted to Tostan Supervisor.

Mamie is passionate about her work with Tostan and greatly enjoys teaching others about harmful practices, equal rights, and the importance of education. “The communities are sometimes surprised to see me working alongside the men,” Mamie said. “But I believe that what men can do, women can do.” 

Mamie uses her story to inspire and teach others. She tells women and girls in her community about her struggles, explaining the dangers of child marriage and early pregnancy. She encourages girls to stay in school and is proud to teach them about their human rights and responsibilities. “My dream for the African woman is to be aware, not to be humiliated by any man,” she said. “Let us all know how to raise our kids, go to school, have higher positions, and be presidents, vice presidents, even Tostan coordinators!”

Story by Beth Roseman, Regional Projects Assistant, Tostan Gambia