Manty Sulma Marah

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Summary: Manty Sulma Marah founded a nonprofit organization in Sierra Leone that empowers women and girls with entrepreneurship skills, helping cultivate a community of resilient and ambitious women capable of fulfilling their dreams. She faces financial difficulty in promoting and expanding her work as well as political opposition from those who don’t understand the hardships that women and girls face in Sierra Leone

Profile: Manty Sulma Marah is the founder and CEO of Sulma Design and Empowerment Initiative (SULDEMI), a nonprofit organisation whose goal is to empower women and girls with entrepreneurship and help cultivate a community of resilient and ambitious women with an interest in developing skills.

Marah—who hails from a poor background in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone—started her craft of designing when she saw old worn-out trousers and later came up with innovative ways to transform them into beautiful skirts, trousers, and hats; that attracted many people to her work. As she continued with her designing, her father unexpectedly contracted an illness; life suddenly became much more difficult. Marah dropped out of school and was unable to fulfill her plan to complete higher education. She also discontinued her work as a part-time teacher. Despite all these things happening at the time, she never stopped creating new designs.

In 2021, an admirer of Marah’s talent decided to help her study home economics at the local YWCA, where she could acquire more skills. Eventually learning tailoring and upholstery, Marah improved her craftsmanship. She decided to share her knowledge and skills with young women, and this is what led to her establishing SULDEMI. From its Facebook page: “Beyond the joy of creation, crafting can also be a source of livelihood and economic independence. By turning their skills into profitable ventures, these women break free from cycles of poverty and dependence, paving the way for a brighter future for themselves and their families.”

With support from Restless Development through the 4HER Initiative, a prominent organisation dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls, SULDEMI has spearheaded initiatives in Makeni, Sierra Leone. She has empowered more than 70 girls in various crafts, including the art of repurposing old tires into chairs and mastering the intricate art of Gara tie-dye. Her extraordinary effort demonstrates the true spirit of transformation and women empowering women. Marah's leadership and commitment have solidified her as a formidable force for positive change in Sierra Leone.

In 2024, Marah is focusing on recycling tires, chairs, and similar items to transform them into beautiful furniture. This not only fuels her passion but also protects the environment by limiting waste. A 2021 report from the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that if plastic pollution and other waste in oceans and other bodies continued to grow at the current pace, pollution would double by 2030.

Marah’s greatest challenge has been her inability to get financial support from either humanitarian organisations or the government of Sierra Leone. In her efforts to empower women and girls, Sulma has stood firm and has advocated strongly for appropriate policy reforms around domestic violence; some of this advocacy has angered people. As a result, her condemnation of the abuse of women and girls has sometimes been ignored or even disputed; this in turn has hindered her work to secure assistance. What financial assistance she does get comes from friends and relatives who believe in what she does. As she acknowledges, “Acquiring materials used for my work sometimes proves itself a herculean task.”

Marah also condemns the abuse of men: “Lots of men are going through domestic violence and have resorted to drugs and alcohol. Because men are traditionally thought to be physically stronger than women, they might be less likely to report domestic violence in their heterosexual relationships to avoid embarrassment.”

Regardless of all these challenges, Marah continues to support SULDEMI with her own finances. Her work is contributing in no small measure toward paving the way for a brighter and more empowered future for countless women and girls in Sierra Leone.