Photo: Menna Shahin, She Travels / Courtesy of She Travels
When you’ve been shot down by your parents and society too many times, “no” becomes your biggest motivation to change those around you. For Menna Shahin, a 29-year-old pharmacist from Egypt, that meant breaking away from the stereotype of the ‘good girl’ in the eyes of her society.
Menna wanted to travel and explore the world and was eager to learn about new cultures, meet new people, and to actively change how people saw Arabs. “It all started three years ago, when I decided to go on a month-long Euro trip all by myself,” Menna told My Salaam. “It took a lot of effort to convince my parents to [give me permission to] travel, let alone travel solo, but after months building trust and fully supporting myself financially, I proved to them that I’m capable of carrying my own weight and that there’s nothing to worry about.”
LAUNCHING SHE TRAVELS
After travelling to seven countries across Europe, Menna decided to share her experience with those around her.
“Girls used to ask me how I managed to persuade my parents, [about] budget travel tips and safety concerns all the time; that’s when I realised I needed to create She Travels, a Facebook page that gathers women travel enthusiasts from all over Egypt to help them plan solo trips,” she continued. “And, most importantly, to help them become the self-dependant, reliable women they really are.”
She Travels went from travel-centric group on Facebook to a support group for women who wanted to become better versions of themselves. With daily motivation quotes, facts about women’s oppression worldwide, and travel destinations that are safe and worth visiting, the Facebook page, which now has more than 140,000 members, soon turned into a melting pot for everything catering to a “strong, independent woman”.
Menna recalled even giving her mother some self-development books to read. “I love to read; it helps me broaden my spectrum and helps me escape my realities. I believe that I’ve changed my parents—and a few others—with me, and to me, that’s the biggest reward. To be able to positively affect one person’s life: that’s all I ever wish for.”
PROVING HERSELF TO THE WORLD
Menna added that besides her goals of making an impact on other girls’ lives, she wants to be able to represent Egypt to the world. “Whenever I travel, I take souvenirs to hand them out on the streets. I want people to know what we’re really like and how Islam teaches us to be forgiving and kind. Every girl who travels with us is an influence, and we make sure we leave a good impression wherever we go.”
It’s a sentiment that she’s had to live up to herself. “I was on a trip to Denmark, and it was right after the Paris attacks,” Menna recalled. “I was invited to dinner at a friend’s house when the subject of the attacks was brought up over dinner. You could cut the tension with a knife, everyone was on the edge and being the only Muslim Arab there, I sort of had to prove something to everyone that night.” What started as an awkward situation for Menna soon turned into one of her most memorable nights in Europe and the beginning of a lifelong friendship with the people she met that night.
Moving forward, Menna’s greatest goal is to encourage girls to travel solo, which will build their confidence, broaden their minds, increase their self-worth and strengthen the community within the She Travels circle.
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