The Frontlines of My Life: Empowering Girls to Stay on Track in School and Reach Their Potential

Marie-Claire Kuja
Posted March 3, 2016 from United States
At the Makoni Kingdom in Zimbabwe
Here with my lovely girls of the beautiful Makoni Kingdom where I was crowned Princess and an unsung hero for my work with women and girls.
Empowerment workshop
Empowerment workshop: Here with students of Government Bilingual High School Bawock after a workshop on menstrual hygiene management and the donation of pads. (1/5)

Before I was crowned a princess and recognized as an unsung hero by the Kings and Queens of the Makoni kingdom of Zimbabwe and BBC Africa for my work empowering young women, I knew what it was to be an outcast. As a young teenager in Cameroon, life was difficult. I became pregnant at the age of thirteen and was shunned by the community for being an unwed mother. The verbal abuse continued throughout the pregnancy and was extended to my son after his birth. With every insult, my self-worth was slowly chipped away. Having a child as a teen and out of wedlock in my culture is taboo, but not as bad as the names I earned. Every time I heard people call me or my son names, it reinforced my feelings of insecurity and shame. I was at war with myself.

The community may not have been very understanding, but my family was another thing altogether. They recognized the importance of forgiveness and were able to reach down into the trash can, pick up all the broken parts, and piece me back together. I was sent away to school. Determined, I worked hard and was placed at the British College of Professional Management where I eventually earned a scholarship to study at Antioch University in Ohio. From there, I applied to study nursing in New Jersey College and, years later, am still a nurse in , New York U.S.A.

While nursing has been a great career for me, it’s not what I feel I was put here to do. For that, I have a plan and am working doggedly to make it a reality. Back in my early days as a nursing assistant, I started keeping a journal. What began as a simple way of dealing with my feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth quickly turned into a healing process as I filled two to three journals a week. I noticed my journals were becoming a journey, not just a simple destination. They were thick and ripe with feelings. Whenever I was down and read from my journals I felt like an angel was talking to me. My own words became an inspiration to me. I was reminded of how important it is to believe in myself and remember that we are all created unique and special. The journals began to have such an impact on me that I wondered whether they could help others. I decided to publish the contents as a book series entitled False Labels, which encourages readers not to be defined by what others think of them. I made a pact to share my story because I believe only shared experiences can help others. Publishing my writing was a way of reaching out to so many who are stuck in darkness and be a point of light for them. I wish there had been stories like these when I was growing up.

The feedback I got from my writing assured me I was not alone and encouraged me to think about how I could impact and empower more girls to have a strong inner voice. I decided to take my books one step further and launched False Labels Global Inc., a non-profit organization that primarily seeks to provide a platform where vulnerable girls and women around the world can be inspired and equipped through self-esteem-building workshops and empowerment conferences like the one I started last year in Cameroon. The conference brought together more than 600 participants. Travelling back and forth to Africa with my own funds, my goal is to support initiatives relating to access to food, clean water, sanitation, income generation and education, but the project closest to my heart is the work I do with young women.

Statistics show that the average school-going Cameroonian girl of menstruating age skips school for three to five days a month during her period. This impacts not only her self-esteem but also her academic performance. To empower girls to stay in school, I started the KujaPads Initiative to supply sanitary pads to vulnerable girls in two big orphanages and secondary schools in the North West region of Cameroon. In addition to supplying the pads, we also lectured on the importance of good menstrual hygiene management, self-esteem, and ending menstrual taboos.

Back in the United States after a recent trip home, I am planning diligently how I can amplify the work of my organization by launching a female-run business that manufactures and distributes low-priced, high-quality, and environmentally friendly sanitary pads in a country where they are normally quite expensive. The women-led enterprise, which will open its doors to the world in 2017, will have many benefits. Rural women will have a source of income through employment opportunities, and school absenteeism due to the lack of sanitary napkins will be a thing of the past. And there will be a boost in self-esteem and confidence of girls and women.

My country of birth is Cameroon, a country in West Africa, and often referred to as Africa in miniature for its rich geographical and cultural diversity and its warm people. Natural features include deserts, rainforests, mountains and savannas. Cameroon have very rich and educated women, yet there are still those who live below the poverty line. And that is where I come in with:

My Two –prong approach and theory to changing as follows:

I will ensure that more women and girls feel empowered and dare to break all the shackles of marginalization and low self-esteem that pushes them to sit on the sidelines of life and live in a world where their vision must inspire them, equip them, and ultimately create a unique atmosphere for them, that will unlock their full 'feminine' potential.

I hope to rewrite the story of the women and girls of today and those of generations to come, laying special emphasis on revolutionizing the sanitary pad industry, ending menstrual taboos and stigmas giving women and girls the esteem they so deserve .

Life has a divine purpose and meaning and I am blessed to have found mine. By the grace of God and my own personal determination, I am going to achieve what I have set out to do and help girls reach their maximum potential.

http://www.falselabelseries.biz/

Comments 11

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GetRude
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

I am awed to be in the same leadership training as you. I had my daughter when i was 28 going on 29, and i am literally still recovering from the name calling, the stigma and low self esteem issues that came with that situation. Reading this post gives me hope and courage that once one has been through a trying time, staying in that place can only lead to destruction. You rose above it, and moved past it by empowering other women and girls. More power to you.

Marie-Claire Kuja
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hello GetRude. Thank you so kindly for commenting brilliantly. You know we all fall at some point in life.The challenge is not to remain down lamenting over the reasons for those falls,but to get up and correct our course. Am so glad that even after all the stigmas you faced when you had your child,you were still able to rise above all.God has given us the power to conquer so many things. I am so blessed to be sharing this space with you.Together we are strong. Hope to get to know more about you in the weeks ahead.Thank you so much sis.And a big hug for your victory.

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

You rose above the pits society pushed you into to rise again and empower others. I have heard about the one million pads project. The stigma on single parents is not relenting reasons why we must speak out. Thank you for sahring your inspiring story

Marie-Claire Kuja
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hello sis Array. When I saw Array I had a big smile. I knew it was my own very sis.How are you sis? Am so glad to be sharing the universe with you at this time of change especially in the world of women.It has taken the grace of God for me to gradually rise from the pit.And I believe so strongly that the reason He redeemed me is so I can be a point of light to my sisters who have been pushed into pits in so many ways but are stuck and do not know how to come our. Thank you so immensely sis for stopping by.Much love.

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hi Kujamac, I am doing great,thank you. You are right, in addition of willpower, we need God by our side when we have to get off these pits. Glad to be on this journey with you sis. Together, with our collective voices, we can be the change we want to see happen in good ole pays :) and the world at large. keep empowering!  

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Dearest Kuja!

     I am so proud of you, and so glad to know you, I feel like doing a dance or turning cartwheels!  This piece of work is beautifully presented and unfolds -- the writing and the video, enhanced by the photos -- organically and with grace. I bow to you for all that you are doing. I thank you for the loving support you bring to all those beloved souls who have been so unjustly  ill-treated and marginalized. The photos of all those beautiful young women, beaming with happiness as they receive their sanitary pads, are uplifting and full of hope. So thank you for your ongoing dedication to empowering these young women who are, after all, the future.  With Loving Support, Rev. Sarah

Marie-Claire Kuja
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hello Sarah,My dearest mentor. I have never felt so overwhelmed with such joy to the point of having tension headache. You know I just had to cry.I had to let it out when I read your words. There was a time in my life when no body believed in me nor the path I was walking. I felt disappointed that people were not supporting my dreams but came to know that I was so naive. Then I came to realize that God gave me the dream and the purpose. I also came to know that at His appointed time He shall position the right people on my path to help my vision to come true. I bow in gentle appreciation to World Pulse and to you for believing and supporting my vision. The words of my mouth cannot say thank you enough, but my heart will always sing your praises. Much love and a big hug for loving, caring and mentoring me. Kuja

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 04, 2016
Mar 04, 2016

Hello Kujamac Your post is a personal message to me and hope to the community you and l come from. Others might read this from a imaginative perspective but for me its real.

It's a shame back in school we called you names because you had your handsome while most of us aborted our own pregnancies. We called your names because you were able to take responsibility for your actions while we were cowards killing ourselves in the process or losing our wombs forever. How destiny plays a trick on us. Here you are leading and mentoring so many of us who use to mock at you. Unfortunately some are not there to see what you are doing for our community because they died during the acts of abortion

Thank you for changing all the false labels we gave you and coming up with a manual to save our community. Thanks to the manual and constant support am able to address issues on bullying among 250 girls in our community under my Every girl for Any girl initiative. With the dream you have on sanitary napkins production I am sure you will further reduce the issues on menstrual hygiene and taboo in our community. The girls are waiting on you. God richly bless you

Marie-Claire Kuja
Mar 04, 2016
Mar 04, 2016

Hello Masalien's.

This is one of the most powerful write-ups I have read about me.You just brought back fresh memories of them good ole days. And yes I call them good for a reason. I have triumphed. My pain has been turned to gain.You know I have a friend from my childhood who mocked me so bad.She was a pretty girl and "liked" by many guys and got so many pregnancies in the cause of that. And yes she aborted all of them.Long story short,she called me recently sobbing and I asked,why are you crying, is everything OK? And she said"Ma friend I have so many regrets. Am in my 40s with no husband or child.I just had my PhD and have no financial problems. I am miserable without a child yet I had a lot of them.I wish I had given birth to just one and gave my grandma to take care of it for me.See how nice your life has turn out to be.See your son.Ma friend I am not worth anything". When she was done,I took a deep breath and start comforting her the best I could.

However, what I also know is that ignorant played a big rule in all the abortions girls were having.If they knew that they will loss their lives or wombs in the cause of abortion which will affect their future,I think they would have done better. Also remember that family background matters a lot.Many girls were afraid of their parents, while some mothers were even the ones who took their daughters to have abortion instead of bring shame to the family by having an illegitimate child. I owe everything my son and I have become today to God who blessed us with my parents. They are one of a kind. Also forgiveness has helped me alot ,reason am empowered to help others. No human being can determine another's future except God.When we mock our brothers and sisters, we mock God. Thank you so much.And let's echo all the glory back to God. Kuja

Ariel
Mar 21, 2016
Mar 21, 2016

Dear Kujamac,

Your writing is so incredibly eloquent! You have a gift of words that grasps your reader fully and enables them to feel what you feel and understand what you have been through. First off, I am deeply inspired by what you have accomplished so far in your life. Your ability to, with the help of your family, put yourself back together after such vitriolic attacks is inspirational. Something I appreciate so much is your decision to tackle a very specific issue within your community that affects many other communities across the globe. I used to work on a tuberculosis project in South Africa that focused on ways in which their health system could improve treating and curing TB patients. We gave out small grants to non-profits and the ones that had the highest impact were ones that had very specific missions that directly worked to improve the lives of people with tuberculosis. You have found this specificty with your non-profits and I can see through your writing and videos how much impact it is having.

I also think it is admirable to be tackling an issue that not many people talk about. Very rarely, even here in the United States, are people open to talking about what women go through when they have their period. It is taboo to speak about, yet women are affected by periods that can sometimes lead to debilitating issues. I hope your work will inspire more conversation about this important topic. I cannot wait to hear more about your endevaors, how you get through your obstacles, your triumphs and your reveleations as you go through the VOF training!

Sincerely,

Ariel

P.S. Your photos/videos are so great! Really creates a powerful visual image for readers. They are all beautiful!

Marie-Claire Kuja
Mar 24, 2016
Mar 24, 2016

Hello ashaapu,

With hands over heart I bow in gentle appreciation to you for the very kind and encouraging words.I read your comment with such emotions.I am so blessed and filled with gratitude at your words.

I also have so much admiration for the work you did with TB patients in South Africa and the idea of giving grants to small NGOs.

My words are not enough to thank you but my heart truly sings for joy at your kindness.I am so empowered.

Thank you so kindly for stopping by and commenting very brilliantly.

Be blessed.

Yours truly

Kuja.

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