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Meet Janet Kallon: ONE’s Mandela Fellow

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Janet Kallon is an auditor, activist, entrepreneur – and a 2023 Mandela Washington Fellow. She calls Sierra Leone home but, for the month of August, she worked out of ONE’s Washington, D.C. office as part of her fellowship, which champions young African leaders. 

Learn more about Janet, in her own words: 

Q: Tell us a little about yourself! 

I’m Janet, and I’m from Sierra Leone. I’ve been a dedicated advocate for 10 years! In my day job I help provide audits and reviews of credit unions in Sierra Leone, but I’m extremely passionate about improving the lives of women and girls. 

I grew up in a low-income community where I often watched parents arrange marriages for their young daughters because they could not afford to provide basic necessities for them. I was lucky – both my parents were teachers and they instilled the importance of education in my siblings and I. 

I started the Girls by Girls Foundation to help advance access to education for girls. I started talking to girls my age about the importance of education when I was in high school, using the few young women in our community who have broken the barrier for themselves and their families through education. I helped organize rallies and discussions in our community. My peers listened and, eventually, so did their parents. When I was 15, my community radio station asked me to come on and speak about issues affecting children and the importance of education.

What is the Mandela Washington Fellowship? 

The Mandela Washington Fellowship program is a signature project of the US government that seeks to equip young African leaders with skills in public, business, and civic management. My fellow “fellows” and I are innovators and leaders in our communities and countries. 

With so many rising young leaders on the continent, this program is vital. I wanted to be a fellow because I felt a need to learn, unlearn, and relearn how to contribute meaningfully to the development of my community and country at large. Being a leader with relevant skills and knowledge requires the transformational training and exposure that this fellowship provides. 

What did you work on at ONE?

I loved working with the other fellows but the four weeks I spent at ONE were the highlight of my fellowship experience.

As an activist, I felt my passions fit right in with ONE’s belief that everyone, everywhere deserves a life of dignity and opportunity. I learned so much about advocacy by working with ONE’s regional organizers and watching how they harness the power of the people to make change. 

I helped the ONE team urge members of the US Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR, the HIV/AIDS relief program that has saved 25 million lives since it was founded 20 years ago. 

To tell you the truth, I was living the dream life of an activist: Experiencing a higher level of advocacy and interacting with amazing and smart people who are as passionate as I am about creating long-lasting impactful change in the world.

ONE helped me fall in love with activism all over again!

What would you tell a new activist who wants to be involved in creating change but maybe doesn’t know where to start?

If you want to get involved in making change, you don’t need lots of resources or a complete strategy, or even superpowers! You just need to care enough to speak up on social injustices and volunteer your time to causes, campaigns or organizations that align with issues you are passionate about. Or, as they say at ONE, you just need your voice! 

The foundation of volunteerism is LOVE. Love must be put into action and that action requires service. Be encouraged to volunteer for a worthy cause and let the change start with you!

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