Putting a Smile on an Abused Woman’s Face Gratifies Lenny

ikirimat
Posted December 7, 2011 from Uganda
Lenny Kebirungi Chairperson WIDCCOM
Lenny Kebirungi Chairperson WIDCCOM
Lenny Kebirungi Chairperson WIDCCOM (1/2)

After enduring two years of torture and enslavement at the hands of an abusive husband, Lenny Kebirungi decided she could take no more. “Why can’t you at least do one thing right?” He asked me. “We had been having an uncomfortable protracted supper with my husband, then he made debasing remarks about me, my cooking, my role as a woman, my failure to bear a child, my looks—Oh God, he even sneered about my family,” Lenny emotionally narrated her story to me. This was a daily occurrence which she painfully kept silent about.

“My marriage was characterized by beating, enslavement, torture, abuse; I sought permission from my husband if I had to go anywhere,” Lenny went on. “I was not even allowed to pursue further studies. To add insult to injury, my husband also took away my salary; he was an alcoholic; a womanizer, thus putting me at a risk of contracting HIV-AIDS. But I always thought things would change and gave him ‘one more chance’ until I almost lost my life as a result of the beating.” After two years of torture by her husband, 47-year-old Lenny Kebirungi from Bushenyi district in Uganda decided to break the silence and seek legal redress by reporting the abuse to police. Her husband was adamant. “Now that you have reported me to police, you can get married to them,” he told her.

This was an act of tremendous boldness for an African woman, who was taught to ‘suffer in silence and bear it like a woman.’ What Lenny did next was even more audacious: she decided to dedicate her life to empowering other women so that they would not have to endure what she had gone through. And now, despite the disapproval she attracts even from her own friends for being “too pushy,” she is improving gender relations in Uganda one woman at a time. Her dedication and tough stance on issues of violence against women have earned Lenny the nickname ‘Matembe’ after the fiery and outspoken women’s rights activist Miria Matembe who vehemently proposed castration for defilers in Uganda. “Miria Matembe is indeed my role model,” Lenny remarked.

Lenny Kebirungi (her maiden name means ‘good things’ in her ethnic language) is the fifth child in her family. A woman full of character and charm with a radiant smile, Lenny has raised and nurtured many children in the last 20 years. Fifteen years after her breakup from her husband, Lenny ‘miraculously’, gave birth to a son, Jeffrey; now five and a half years old. “I believe God blessed me with this child because He appreciates my work for the disadvantaged women,” she commented.

After her marriage ended, Lenny decided to go back to school. Originally a holder of a Diploma in Secondary Education, Lenny now has a degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Gender Studies. “I knew that education was the most powerful weapon which could propel me to achieving my dream of changing my community. I decided with determination and focus to pursue further education from my modest resources,” she explained. Some years ago, Lenny endured a new challenge: she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which resulted in a delicate head operation that was successful. “My head and skull was split in six pieces and opened,” said Lenny, as she showed me the scars that seemed to have healed well.

A paralegal aide when she formed the Mubende Human Rights Group in 1996, Lenny has now seen many abuse cases resolved through her effort. “I sacrificed time, money to follow up cases with authorities; the community slowly began to understand that women too have rights and that there is a law protecting them,” she said.

Today, Lenny is at the helm of different women’s activists groups in Uganda. The chairperson of her own community-based organization, Women In Developmental Concerns Coalition Mubende (WIDCCOM), Lenny runs the ‘Women’s Reception Centre,’ which offers legal aid, information, and safe refuge to abused women. Lenny is also the assistant governor for Rotary Club (District 9200).Her belief that women need to be independent and self sustaining inspires Lenny’s work as an entrepreneur and a senior lecturer at Mubende National Teachers College.

Due to Lenny’s charisma, persistence and hard work, ActionAid International is considering partnering with WIDCCOM in reaching out to women in Mubende. “What keeps me strong is the passion for women. I was empowered but overpowered by gender relations. I wanted to work for the overpowered women, create a situation where women are empowered and independent to challenge the status quo,” Lenny asserted.

Lenny’s visionary ideas have created challenges. Her friends think she defies the African culture and feel she is above what she should be. She lacks adequate resources to achieve her dream. She sometimes feels she does not give enough time to her son. “The women I am working for keep pulling me back. One woman once stormed my office with stitches on her neck to report the abuse case, but when action was taken against the husband she came back pleading with the police to release him or else she [would kill] herself.” This is one of the many surprises Lenny has experienced in her work: abused women come back pleading for the release of their abusive husbands. She attributes this to lack of knowledge and empowerment. “The women have inadequate information that can’t take them to the level of decision-making.”

Lenny reminds activists that the journey of women's empowerment has started, but changing and reconstructing peoples' attitudes is a long process. However, she strongly believes that at one point, women will be liberated from social, economic, legal, and political bondage. Despite the challenges and accusations she has endured, Lenny’s dedication to work for abused women is unwavering: “Nothing makes me feel good like when a woman who comes crying leaves my office with a smile on her face.” Lenny concluded.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignment: Profiles

Comments 22

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Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente
Dec 07, 2011
Dec 07, 2011

I admire the strenght of lenny to talk openly about her experience. There are many women in the world who still decide to keep in silence, creating an emotional prison that dont' allow them to empower themselves and develop all their potential. Also, as personal experience, I can tell is not easy to talk openly about abusive situations.Feeling guilty is common because cultural belief, people keen to point you as the one to put the blame on.

And also I admire you sister. It takes a special nature an emphaty to make someone who has suffered that kind of abuse talk openly about knowing her story will be public.Your ability to make Lenny talks from her heart say a lot about the essence of your own heart. This kind of conversations as this you had with her, is just posible when we put our heart in and we assume a human being sight, better than "journalist-target" relationship.

I loved the sentence "Lenny’s visionary ideas have created challenges". That's a good point. You become a visionary when you are able to use your pain to relief the pain of others and also when you use your natural wisdom to encourage others to share their stories to inspire other woman in the challenging process of self-improvement.

ikirimat
Dec 07, 2011
Dec 07, 2011

I greatly appreciate the way you have critically analyzed Lenny's story. Its like you read what was in my mind when I was writing this profile. Thank you so much for your support. I will share with Lenny the remarks. I am sure this comments will make her even stronger in her work for the abused women.

Rumbidzai Dube
Dec 07, 2011
Dec 07, 2011

Lenny has done something that many women are unable to do, stand up strong against personal abuse and take the stance to do the same for other women. We are often quick to judge women who stay in abusive relationships for a long time but stories such as Lenny's show us that it is not an easy decision to make for a woman to walk away and when she does walk away she is brave beyond measure.

And you my dear Ikirimat, have done a wonderful job of showing us the beautiful woman that Lenny has become from the ugly days of her abuse. Your story is not only well written in terms of grammar and structure but it is more than just a story. You created life and brought Lenny from words into a vision of a strong woman. Well done for that!!!

ikirimat
Dec 13, 2011
Dec 13, 2011

Thank you for the encouraging comments. I am sure Lenny will be more encouraged to read all this comments from fellow women. this will boost her morale to continue her work for the abused women.

And to you sister MaDube, thanks so much for your support during this assignment

Okeny-Lucia
Dec 13, 2011
Dec 13, 2011

Reading through Lenny ,s profile brings lots of memories about Mubende,which is like a second home to me.Having visited severally the place has brought nostalgia on seeing that everytime I go it is ever changing.Thanks to Lenny.

It is amazing to note that women like Lenny make life looks so easy to celebrate,wearing so many caps of responsiblity and having the time to help other people in the society.

She gives me courage to know that there is always an extra space ,thought for helping someone in need.That in 24 hrs much can be done when time and focus is well utilised.Lenny has uplifted the morale of women and I believe she is not going to stop there.

ikirimat
Dec 13, 2011
Dec 13, 2011

Good to know that Mubende is your second home. Next time you are in Mubende I suggest you find time to say hello to Lenny and network with her. She will be more than happy to share more with you.

Thank you so much.

Marinieves Alba
Dec 13, 2011
Dec 13, 2011

I admire Lenny's honesty and integrity, and identify with her struggle to raise her son while doing such intense work with the community. It is challenging juggling these responsibilities, even when we have good partners. If she is ever to read these comments (I hope that she does), I hope that she knows that there are so many women just like her all over the world... breaking the cycle of violence for themselves and others, and THAT is not above or below any station in life. It is life saving, and nurtures hope for women AND children. Her community is blessed to have her. May she overcome all illness and misfortune, so that she may continue her work and ENJOY her son. He, too, is a gift.

Kebirungi- "Good Things" to Lenny and her loved ones...

ikirimat
Dec 14, 2011
Dec 14, 2011

Lenny has a strong determination and will. She has continued training/mentoring other women too. Her community has a lot of confidence in her. Infact, she is excited to be reading the encouraging comments (though with limited internet access). May good things keep reaching Lenny.

BlueSky
Dec 13, 2011
Dec 13, 2011

I agree with Lenny's quote at the end of your article: "changing and reconstructing peoples' attitudes is a long process. However, she strongly believes that at one point, women will be liberated..."

Before we can change the world we've got to change our Mind. And it is indeed a process, but it's one that we're giving ourselves over to as much as we know how. And I think the fact that we're doing it together is causing us to come into that new Mind much quicker, which means we'll be enjoying our new world that much sooner. In fact, I'm beginning to see it on the horizon.

I appreciate Lenny's work. Thanks so much for bringing it to our attention, Grace.

ikirimat
Dec 16, 2011
Dec 16, 2011

I am happy that Lenny's story is making meaning and helping us rethink our approaches to addressing women issues around us. Indeed unless we take close consideration of these issues then will be able to see good progress.

Thank you once again for your positive and enriching comments

revchristie
Dec 16, 2011
Dec 16, 2011

Thank you for this example of what courage looks like. To hear about someone who has moved past her fears and into the light of day with her power --is food for the soul. The stamina required to continue walking forward when there is a wave of criticism, surely builds faith and perserverance into powerful muscles. The more women who step out strong as Lenny has the more we can be sure a storm of justice is on its way!

ikirimat
Jan 03, 2012
Jan 03, 2012

I am sure that reading from Lenny experience will enable more women gain the courage and demand for their rights. Thank you for the comments

noreens
Dec 17, 2011
Dec 17, 2011

She is a strong woman who sets a great example. Nice work, Grace!

Noreen

Jana Potter
Dec 20, 2011
Dec 20, 2011

Grace, thank you so much for this story and for recognizing Lenny's powerful spirit. What an amazing story! I hope that the response you are receiving to this article will help Lenny find the organizational and financial resources that will further her work. I look forwrd to reading more of your writing as you continue to recognize your brave and beautiful Ugandan sisters!

ikirimat
Jan 03, 2012
Jan 03, 2012

Thank you Potter . It is my hope that Lenny gains for partners from within Uganda and outside Uganda to foster her efforts to a reality. Lenny is open to partnerships with interested parties. I can be of help in connecting them to Lenny.

mrbeckbeck
Dec 29, 2011
Dec 29, 2011

Grace, what a wonderful profile! Reading this was so smooth and easy thanks to your wonderful writing style. Lenny is an inspiring and admirable woman who is making a big difference in her community. I can imagine being in a room with her is even more inspiring! She is brave and I hope that she will continue to work to change attitudes and raise awareness about legal protections no matter what.

Thank you for introducing us to such an accomplished Ugandan change-maker. I appreciate your hard work.

Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year, Scott

ikirimat
Jan 03, 2012
Jan 03, 2012

Thank you Scott for the encouraging comments. Indeed my experience interviewing Lenny is something I loved and agree was worthwhile the choice of person to profile. It made me appreciate more and more that we can do 'little' things yet create big impact around us.

VOF indeed is bringing out my hidden talent!! Thanks so much

Rachael Maddock-Hughes
Jan 04, 2012
Jan 04, 2012

Thank you so much for sharing her story with us. Lenny is an incredibly courageous women who it sounds like continues to fight an uphill battle! Good for her! You did a great job weaving in quotes from Lenny and talking about her accomplishments. Great job!

Cheers,

Rachael

ikirimat
Jan 04, 2012
Jan 04, 2012

Thanks so much Rachael.

Lenny sighs with relief that a lot of positive change can be seen in her community now. She notes that women's rights are beginning to be realized as existing. Initially abuse in women was a normal thing in the community. She is motivated to work harder.

Rebecca R
Apr 13, 2013
Apr 13, 2013

I met Lenny a couple of weeks ago and she is amazing. I knew her growing up, but only as "Lenny" and as a woman activist. Now that I have grown up, I decided to have a grown-up chat with her. It was inspiring and I left thinking "wow. wow. wow."

I still want to be like her when I grow up (more).

ikirimat
Apr 13, 2013
Apr 13, 2013

Rebecca, I am glad you find Lenny amazing. She inspires many. Im certain she inspires many. Thanks for leaving your comments.

ikirimat
Apr 17, 2013
Apr 17, 2013

The response from Lenny upon reading this story has been the most fulfilling feedback I have got since I started writing. Below is the comment Rebecca got from Nelly (http://worldpulse.com/node/68756)

Lenny truly is an inspiration. A woman like her should be celebrated everyday, everywhere.

I sent her the story you wrote on her and she cried, reading it and the comments that followed. She was re-energised. Here, this is what she said: "It is now that I realize the power there is in ''breaking the silence". I cannot tell you how I now feel after reading such empowering and breathtaking comments! I would read, take a sigh of relief, read again, feel like you mean the world can appreciate the breaking of this silence? and read again as I ask myself unanswered questions......"I thought you would appreciate seeing that message :-)

-Rebecca