Memory Banda is an activist I saw for the first time in Bigger Than Us. She has stopped the institutionnalized rape of young girls in camps of initiation in Malawi and changed the Constitution to raise the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18. I expected to see a tall and muscular woman in front of me, just like everything she has carried and achieved. Instead, I found a little woman no less imposing and impressive. This is her interview.
By Carole Zheng, redactor at Verbat’em
Carole : How did you first meet Flore Vasseur? Why did you accept to shoot this documentary? Is there a message you want to send?
Memory : Apparently, Flore met me online because of the Ted Talk I did in 2015 on how I worked on changing the law in Malawi. At that time I was appealing for international resources support to step up for Malawi to see the implementation of the law. She also saw me on a platform, Oslo Freedom Forum. Then I just saw an email popping up. We connected, we had a call and she brought her project up. Later on, she scheduled her coming to Malawi. When she asked if I would be part of the film, I also took it as an opportunity to amplify my voice as a young person and to learn more about what young people are doing elsewhere. In the film, we are 7 protagonists and it’s very interesting to see that we have different causes. It brings up those diverse issues. At the same time, it brings this meaningful point, it made me realize that the world is bathing in a lot of problems that I know we can solve, and it’s very great to see young people do something about that.
The causes shouldered by the other 6 young activists:
C : Would you say our generation is more likely than the previous ones to tackle injustices, to make things change and succeed in it? Why is that?
M. : I think so. The previous generations had their own goals and fought in a different world. I love this post-revolution our generation is bringing in a very different way. I also realized that our generation uses less violence. Our approaches toward change are very different. And even if it’s different, we are still making it happen. This generation is leading to something bigger and I believe that the younger people than us are adopting something that is even way better than what we have adopted.
C. What meaning do you give to the documentary’s title Bigger Than Us?
M. This is how I look at it. As people, we think that changing the world would need the biggest ideas. But, the truth is that, it’s not. It starts with small ideas. For me, it’s the connection and combination of small little ideas from young people all over the world, tinning those little ideas into something collective and then, once we have put it as a collective effort, then it’s gonna turn it into something “bigger than us”.
C. We can see in Bigger Than Us what motivated you to take on this project because of your own personal story. What interests me now is to talk about that particular moment between the split second that you know you have to do something and the moment you have taken action. How and what did it happen?
M. For me, through the part of realization to do something, after the whole personal story, the next step was “Okay, what can I do to bring the changes I wanna see?”. The first thing that came to my mind was “What if you’re just starting with a small club?” It was just a band of young girls ; it was our safe place : if you have a problem and face any problem, just come and chill with us, we’re helping each other on how to navigate the different challenges that we’re facing. The club that I have created made us realize that “I’m going through this situation, I’m not alone and that there is also this certain person who is going through it. Therefore, if this person has gone through it, I can also”. It gave us power and motivation. For me, it has always been an inner voice to believe that we don’t have to underestimate our inner voice. So, if you have that inner voice in you as a young person and that it makes you eager to come out and speak out and take action, do it. That’s how it sprung to me to start to take action.
C. Your inner voice is really powerful to push you to do what you’ve done ! You also know that society constantly labels and categorizes people nowadays. Then, would you say that you are a feminist?
I describe myself as a feminist. I really love to be labelled a feminist. The definition of feminism has been explained in a very upside-down way, people feel like it’s about “these women are gonna take over”, and men feel intimidated. For me, feminism is like “I do believe in equality”. If you believe in equality then, you are a feminist! I feel like that’s where the superpower in me would come from! I’m proudly a feminist. Sometimes I’m an angry feminist because I get to be so angry with issues that alarmed me, especially when you know this is a straight-forward issue that needs justice and justice has to be a straight-forward issue, but that’s never the case in the communities. Actually, we need more feminists. We need more feminists in the workplaces and more feminist leaders. If you think with a feminist perspective, you do you work pretty well, you make the world balances up in terms of equality.
C. According to you, which scale is the more efficient one to lead actions to impact people’s daily lives? Is it the local, national or international scale ?
I’d say local. When it comes to development, I believe in the bottom-up approach. First of all, you need to empower the people that are on the ground to be able to realize their potential and then, the reforms/revolts have to go up that way. It’s the approach I have taken even in my institution : we have programs for Foundation for girls’ leadership which consist of working with communities themselves: what do they want? When it comes to development partners, if they are funding projects, I prefer direct funding to the communities. I also believe in the national level. Recently, most of the work I’ve been doing was at a national level. Let’s say we talk about empowering the girls, what are we really empowering? The question is: do we have projects that actually specially target the girls themselves? For me, it’s about impacting a life at an individual level.
C. In your whole life, you made others your priority. Now, if we go back to yourself, what’s your dream today?
M. My dream ends up linked up with other people. My dream is to have a learning center that I will lead from the background. I know that’s huge! Back in my country, a lot of young people will go up to secondary education, then most of them can’t go up to the university level in the communities. So, I’ve always thought what if I have a learning center where the girls can just come for 6 months and learn how to do computer skills for example or designing. After that, they will leave and explore other alternatives. This will give them room to explore more and discover new things. That’s always been my dream and I hope that one day I’ll be able to do that. I know that it’s a long terme goal, one of the longest goals.