After overcoming rejection and emotional abuse in her adolescence, Lillian Uwanjye knows what it takes to help girls in her community rebuild self-worth.
“We give each other natural therapy using our ears, our words, and our arms.”
The woman of the house snarled at me that I was just a poor girl, abandoned by parents who were no good. I was a burden to her, though I was working hard to take care of her four children, help her elderly mother, and answer every time someone needed something.
This was my life when I was just 12 years old. My parents had divorced, and I lost the ability to live with my loving siblings and my parents. I was sent to live with distant relations—people who were free to express that they did not appreciate me. It was routine for me to be reminded that I was a poor girl whose parents had divorced. Even the kids hurled all kinds of insults at me—the most hurtful were comments about my family.
This experience is not just particular to me. In Rwanda, kids with educated parents usually stay with their mothers in the case of a divorce. But other kids with divorced parents are likely to live with distant relations like I did, or even on the streets.
My life in that house was miserable. I was in charge of too many choresand sent to school without a transport stipend. My school was very far from home so I was always late for classes; I couldn’t get my best scores in class. In this home, I usually only ate once a day at dinner. Instead of being nurtured and shaped, I was insulted, discouraged, and held back from improving my life. There were rules for everything, and it was easier to respect them than to face the painful consequences of disobeying.
The hardest thing was that 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 about what was happening to me.
One day when I couldn’t take it any longer, I went and talked to my aunt about my situation. She offered for me to move in with her family. I was 20 years old when I moved in with them. Now, a year later, I am thankfully living with my wonderful aunt and uncle who treat me like I am their daughter. They encourage me to study, and they give me enough time to complete my schoolwork. I participate in activities and 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 things I have been through.
The emotional abuse I went through has led me to understand that problems like this affect the whole of a person’s life and can go on to affect society as well. Only those who have been through abuse can comprehend it. Low self-esteem, anger, bitterness, hatred, and loss of self-worth are often a result of this type of abuse and may lead to crimes that affect communities and the world.
Because I experienced this abuse firsthand and understood it, I was moved to create a club called Mother Daughter Empowerment Club. We are 12 girls and 12 mentors who listen to each other, talk to each other, and hug each other.
According to my initial research, the teenagers were more comfortable being mentored by people who are only slightly older than them. I recruited mentors who are in university, and those first mentors have gone on to recommend other potential mentors to our club.
We also invite mothers to some of our meetings to share with us their knowledge about specific areas of interest. In Mother Daughter Empowerment, we give each other natural therapy using our ears, our words, and our arms. Role model women visit us and answer questions we have about life. The girls in the club come to understand themselves, to love themselves, and to extend their knowledge of the power of emotions to a crowd of at least 20 at every gathering.
Our club is in its initial stages, but seeing how my past experience has helped so many other girls 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.
If we are to promote anything, let us promote peace, creativity, success, and invention. Let us start with building emotional wellbeing so that together we can transform the world.
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