Maryam Montague ’84 returned to campus on October 4 as the Wannamaker Lecture Series featured speaker. She shared details about her work with Project Soar with students, faculty and staff as well as alumnae of the classes of 1955 and 1958 who were celebrating Fall Reunion.
Montague opened her remarks by asking a question that she first contemplated as a Dana Hall student: What is your life purpose? “No one will tell your life purpose,” she told the assembled group. She credited Dana Hall’s supportive environment, her father, who told to live a life of service, and a chance meeting with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who told her to invest in girls and women, as the influences which guided her to find her own life purpose.
In 2013, Montague founded Project Soar, a non-profit organization with the mission of training underserved teenage girls to be the leaders of today and tomorrow. The organization’s girl-centered, feminist curriculum helps girls understand their value, voice, body, rights and path. Project Soar helps keep girls in school, breaking the cycle of girl marriages and early motherhood, and preparing girls to have productive and fulfilled futures.
Every Project Soar meeting starts with the girls making five declarations. Montague asked the Dana community to stand up and repeat after her. “I am Strong. I am Smart. I am Capable. I am a Leader. I am a Feminist.”
We caught up with Montague back in 2016 to learn why she started Project Soar and how Dana Hall helped her get there.
Why did you start Project Soar? How did you identify this need?
When I moved to Marrakesh, I noticed that girls in my community did not have as many opportunities as boys. Although school was mandatory until the age of 16, there were many girls who dropped out of school and became girl brides. I started Project Soar to help keep girls in school and break the cycle of child brides. We provide a set of activities that include sports, art, empowerment and health classes as well as language classes and academic support. We also provide innovative period kits because many girls drop out of school because their families can’t afford supplies. Additionally, we provide eyeglasses for girls who need them to see the black boards. All Project Soar girls take the Project Soar pledge to stay in school.
How did your time at Dana Hall help nurture your passion for girls' education and gender equality?
My time at Dana Hall was instrumental to my seeing myself as a girl who was smart, strong, capable and worthy. It cemented my outlook on the world as a place where nothing could stop me.
What is your message to a young Dana girl who wants to change the world?
It’s all possible. Being an agent of change is within your grasp. Raise your hand, be disruptive, make your opinions known, take action. Stepping up to the plate to protect girls’ rights is more important now than ever before. It can and should start with you. Never think you don’t matter.
The Wannamaker Lecture Series, in memory of Lyall Wannamaker Plumb ’55, invites distinguished leaders from different walks of life to Dana Hall. The series is an endowed fund made possible by the generosity of the members of the Class of 1955, friends and the Wannamaker family.