By Jennifer Montgomery, Rotary Peace Fellow and Co-Founder, President and CEO of Magenta Girls Initiative.
Someone wise once said that discomfort is the price of admission for a meaningful life. My experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow has taught me that stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to live your dream. When you’re gifted this opportunity to be a peace fellow, you have a responsibility to carry the work forward.
“Carrying it forward” motivated me to form Magenta Girls Initiative, an international non-governmental organization equipping Ugandan girls and young women with the support and tools needed to overcome harmful gender norms, generational poverty, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), trafficking, and trauma. For me, it’s also personal. As a survivor of sexual violence, I’m deeply committed to helping others find peace and transformation.
I formed Magenta Girls with Gorett Komurembe, a peace fellow from Uganda, and two Ugandan Rotarian women who are experts on gender and education. Gorett and I have more than 25 years combined experience creating and implementing effective interventions for vulnerable girls and women around the globe. In May, I decided to dedicate myself full time to expanding our new organization. I want to create evidence-based programs that can be implemented in other vulnerable communities in Africa.
At Makerere University
This work began during my year-long Rotary Peace Fellowship in peacebuilding and conflict transformation at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. It’s a requirement of the program that each fellow starts or expands on an initiative for positive social change. While visiting an informal urban settlement in Kampala with my fellowship class, I met a group of women working in a brothel. They expressed a strong desire to get out of the brothel and gain education and skills for safer livelihoods. I used my professional expertise and new partnerships gained during the fellowship to create an initiative to empower the women. We worked on resilience building through mindfulness, expressive arts, and leadership training with 70 women. The women were living in extreme poverty and facing pervasive sexual violence, human trafficking, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, and unsafe housing.
What started as my fellowship project evolved into Magenta Girls Initiative, a nonprofit organization I founded with the help of local Rotarians in Uganda and support from Rotarians in my home state of Kansas. Next came a global grant project between the Uganda Rotary club that hosted me during my fellowship and an international partner in District 6080 in Missouri, USA, as well as support from both international Rotary clubs and clubs in my home district in Kansas.
Magenta Girls empowers at-risk women and girls through training and education, enabling them to work outside of commercial and coercive sex and support themselves and their children in safe and sustainable ways. We provide educational assistance, local mentorship, gender violence crisis response, improved food security, and psychosocial support.
Through the generosity of a few individual Rotarians, last year we enabled 10 women from the project community to receive training in tailoring and hairdressing. Each one of these determined women overcame serious life challenges to complete the six-month training program and graduate with a professional certificate. Magenta Girls will provide them with funds to start a small business to achieve self-reliance and economic independence.
At Magenta Girls, we’re guided by United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including lifting women and girls out of poverty and unlocking their potential to be self-sufficient and productive members of their communities.
Ubuntu is the African concept of humaneness: putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours.
Let’s continue to work together as peace fellows and Rotary members to lead change and build peace through our compassion, action, and shared humanity.
Jennifer is the President and CEO of Magenta Girls Initiative and currently serves as a subject matter expert on human trafficking and Gender Based Violence with the Attorney General Alliance-Africa Programme, Africa Partnership for Justice. She served for 10 years as the director of human trafficking education and outreach for the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and chair of the Kansas Human Trafficking Advisory Board. She’s also a writer and film advisor with Capture Humanity, a collaborative of artists elevating the voices of victims of global human rights abuses.