Araba Patricia Annan is learning how to drown out her naysayers and sustain her work as a girls' health advocate.
Self-care is luggage we all need to take with us on our journey as changemakers.
It isn’t easy to be a reproductive health educator in Ghana. Some religious people have created confusion about the topic. Some people don’t understand why I want to give girls a thorough education on abortion. They misunderstand me and presume I promote abortion.
People say to me, “Why bother? Knowledge would make girls want to experiment.” But I am here to give a comprehensive reproductive health education, not a selective one. I tell my critics it’s better for girls to learn and decide what is good for them than to live in ignorance, influenced by their peers. I am on a mission to equip young women and girls with the information they need to own their bodies, make their own choices, and raise their voices against all forms of abuse.
I know other activists who have called it quits because they could not stand the heat from their adversaries. They ran away because they did not want their names dragged down. For some, the opposition—from within and from without—is too much to carry. Some choose to focus on their survival rather than the stress of making change. They bow out, frustrated by opponents who do not want the status quo to change.
There are times when I, too, fight within myself. I tell myself I don’t have what it takes. But then another voice nudges me on.
We all have times when we want to give up. If we are lucky, we also have golden moments when we find people who believe in us. They shine the torch, lighting a path for us, motivating us to continue.
Sometimes, I’ve found, I have to shine that torch for myself. I have to carry my own sunshine. I have to dance to my own rhythm and make merry even on a rainy day.
In turbulent times, when I feel burned out and wrung dry, when I need to recharge, I look to other women who are making impacts in their communities. I look at their confidence, even when people misunderstand them. I tell myself I must carve out my own style to suit myself without copying anybody else. I must create my own space to survive when the trusted flee, when I feel like giving up.
My first self-care weapon is prayer. It simply calms me down whenever I believe there is a supreme God who has my back. I read quotes for confirmation and inspiration every morning. One of my favorites is the popular expression, do your best and leave the rest to God. Whenever I am stressed out, I exercise. When I am at work and I feel my ideas have been almost defeated, I go into the washroom and say some positive affirmations to myself.
There are so many ways we can care for ourselves as activists and this looks different for every individual. But however we approach it, self-care is luggage we all need to take with us on our journey as changemakers.
It is easier to care for ourselves when we are caring for each other. I am working on creating a space in my community and in my country where like-minded young women can come together, share their struggles, express themselves, and get encouragement from sister changemakers. When a like-minded sister shines the torch for us, we see better. When she laughs with us, we laugh the best. When she cries with us, the tears dry up faster because it shows that she is with us in solidarity. And when she criticizes us, we know she is bringing out the best in us with no malice.
My sisters remind me I cannot give up when I face false criticism from anyone, even from within the community where I want to create change. I can’t give up when I hear criticism from fellow women. I can’t give up just because my own ideas are out of tune with the norm. I can’t give up when I fall flat on my face. No, I must march on, because this is who I am. The satisfaction I get from positively impacting my community with information and knowledge cannot be measured against my opponents and detractors.
When I hear that young girls in my area are reporting the family members who rape them to their teachers, I know my work is making an impact. I rejoice when I hear of girls quitting abusive relationships, refraining from sex to focus on their education, and when I see pregnant girls overcome efforts to name and shame them by returning to school after delivery. I can see how much my work is needed and I know I must continue finding ways to keep going.
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