Who I May Become
By Lillian Uwanjyein Rwanda
Food, water, shelter, clothing, and medication are all vital to sustain life. But love, kindness, peace, security, confidence, and mental health are what determines the kind of life you’ll lead and who you may become.
The lady of the house constantly sneered at me: I was nothing, she would say, just another poor girl abandoned by parents who were no good. There was never any mention about how hard I worked, taking care of her four children, nursing her elderly mother, and attending at once to everyone’s needs. I was a burden and I would remain so regardless of my contributions.
This was my life at 12 years old. My parents divorced and consequently, I lost my home, gone were my loving siblings and both my parents as I was sent to live with distant relatives. They turned out to be people who didn’t appreciate me at all; on the contrary, they enjoyed expressing their disdain. I was routinely reminded that I was poor and that my parents were shamefully divorced. The kids too would hurl all kinds of insults at me—the most hurtful ones were comments about how I came from a wrecked family.
Sadly, this is the fate of many girls in Rwanda. In fact, only children of educated parents get to stay with their mothers in case of a separation. The rest of us from low income families are likely to be sent away, or worse even, to end up on the street.
Even though I had a roof over my head, my teenage life was utterly miserable. I was responsible for far too many chores and I was sent to school without money to pay for transportation. My school was very far from the house so I was always late for classes and my marks suffered as a result. Usually, I only ate once a day, forced to wait until dinner. There were rules for everything, and it was easier to respect them than to face the painful consequences of disobeying. So instead of being nurtured and educated like every child should be, I was insulted, discouraged and held back from improving my life. Most painfully, I could go a whole year without seeing my mother or even hearing from her. Many years went by without a visit from my siblings or friends. I was secluded with no one to talk to.
This lasted for eight long and painful years, but the day came when I couldn’t take it anymore. A year ago, I went to visit my aunt and told her everything about my life. Thankfully, she offered for me to move in with her own family. I was 20 years old, and now, a year later, I am grateful to be living with my wonderful aunt and uncle who treat me like a daughter. They encourage me to study, and they give me enough time to complete my schoolwork. I am active in my community and I have friends. Now, I even have a strong sense of worth. I am happy, hopeful, confident, and able to emotionally support other girls who are going through the same ordeal.
The emotional mistreatment I went through has led me to understand how such violence hurts the whole of a person’s life and goes on to affect society as well. Abuse invariably provokes low self-esteem, anger, bitterness and self-hatred but it can also turn people into criminals or future abusers.
Only those who have been through such violence can comprehend the damage that deepens with every insult. Because I understood this so intimately, I decided to help others by creating an organization called The Mother Daughter Empowerment Club. We are 12 girls and 12 mentors who listen to each other, talk to each other, and hug each other.
I quickly realized that teenagers are more comfortable being mentored by people who are only slightly older than them so I first recruited mentors among university students. Those initial mentors have gone on to recommend other potential counsellors to help our members.
In Mother Daughter Empowerment, we give each other natural therapy using our ears, our words, and our arms. We also invite mothers to some of our meetings, they share their knowledge about specific areas of interest. Women that we consider role models come to answer questions we have about life. Gradually, our girls come to understand themselves better, they come to love themselves, and extend their knowledge in the power of emotions.
Our club is still in its initial stages, but seeing how my experience has helped me encourage so many other girls to become better versions of themselves has been immensely satisfying. I have come to terms with my past because I have learned that I can use my experiences to help other girls in similar situations.
Food, water, shelter, clothing and medication are all crucial and necessary for everyone to live. But love, kindness, peace, security, confidence, and mental health determine what kind of life you live and who you become.
And if we are to promote anything, let us promote peace, creativity, success and invention. Let us start with building our own emotional wellbeing so that together, we can build a world free of abuse for girls like me.