My name is Mariama Cora, the 2016 finalist representing the smiling coast of Africa, home of the Mandinka Warriors, The Gambia in the first ever Miss Africa Washington State pageant. I want to take this time to speak about myself, as well as what I stand for. I am a nursing student and very involved in the world of geriatrics, as well as a beauty and fashion fanatic. Although I have never participated in pageants before, I really saw this as an opportunity to raise my voice, and be backed by such a prestigious organization, in order to bring awareness, results and evolution to my country. I recently had the privilege of visiting The Gambia this past year, and seeing all the wonderful yet devastating things that were taking place. I thought about what it was that I wanted to stand for, what could be an umbrella platform that could not only target specific issues but also have major effects on surrounding issues as well. I chose to bring awareness to the detrimental effects of early childhood marriage. Now in The Gambia as with many African countries, early childhood marriage is what I like to call a silent problem. The issue is there, it has its terrible effects, yet it is difficult to speak on and to essentially “fix” because it isn’t a solid issue, such as HIV or malaria etc. That is why I need to work harder, in order to show people that this issue is not taboo, it is real and it is harming our young women. This epidemic is preventing them from rising to their full potential. Some of these girls being married off, don’t even know what sex is sometimes, are not even sure of what a period is, yet they are told they have to go tend to a man twice or even thrice their age for the rest of their lives; many of which marriages only last as long as the lifespan of the elders who tied the knot. I met a young women, whom I hold dear to my heart. She is on her second marriage, with three children. Both marriages weren’t just arranged but forced. She doesn’t get to see her husband, because he lives in Europe with his second wife. Now this friend of mine, has her children no education no means of money, he doesn’t send her money, and she is stuck in this marriage, due to lack of knowledge and liberation. Should I win and claim this crown for The Gambia, I will return home, and liberate my women, teach them what I know, and create support groups where they will get the necessary education. I intend to open up more opportunities for jobs by opening a hospital that can actually help sick people, because the hospitals in Gambia need upgrading and that is from a firsthand experience. Employ these women, give them a voice and restore the power they were stripped of many years ago. Marriage is a beautiful thing when done right, when both parties have a say, marriage is not meant to give your daughter another father. The goal is to help this generation but to prevent it from happening to the next generation, it is time to take a stand. The first step is for them to acknowledge that there is a problem. Lets raise our children not brides.