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SIERRA LEONE: My Education Is My Weapon Against My Rapists

Mama Africa
Posted January 12, 2017 from Sierra Leone
Photo by Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After a group of men attempted to silence her through rape, Mama Africa vowed to raise her voice even louder.

As I heard the anger in my voice, I felt the strength to face the world.

Editor's note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.

I entered university believing I could help my school become a peaceful learning environment. Our university was dominated by fraternities that were imposing political ideologies on us as students. This system disadvantages students from different regions—making it difficult to get scholarships and pass exams—depending on what political party is in power.

In my second year of study, I created a campaign to urge our school to strictly monitor student clubs and social gatherings due to the dangers of these fraternities. My campaign led to changes in our student governance structure.

I was proud of my successful activism and had no idea I would soon face violent retaliation.

I was in my room on a rainy Wednesday night in 2013 when I heard a huge bang on my door. A gang of young men entered, dressed as if they were about to kill a lion. Their faces were masked so I could not recognize them. But as I write, I still remember their voices as they discussed among themselves their next action.

The one who seemed to be the leader asked for my name, the name of my university, and what courses I was taking. I answered as requested.

I looked at the men from behind the blanket I was using to hide my face. I could see from their faces that I was their intended target.

I was also hiding my 3-year-old son behind the blanket. I was surprised to find out that they already knew I had a son as they ordered me to hand him over.

My son was fast asleep and I begged the men to leave him out of this. One of the men removed my son from under the blanket and pointed a sharp little kitchen knife at his neck. He told me to do everything they said or they would kill him.

When I put up resistance, they slapped my son’s face. The tender sound of my son’s cries touched my soul.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

“We are here to send you back to where you come from. You can't come to our land, get good grades at our university, and try to stop our activities as clans of this land. Therefore you will face the wrath of our anger.”

I continued watching my son from under my blanket to make sure he was safe. My heart wept as I saw one of the men pull down his trousers while another held a smartphone. I knew something terrible was about to happen.

The man raped me while others took photographs. The more I cried and pleaded for him to spare me and go slowly, the harder he went. I wept until he finished. Then he turned to one of the other men and said, "Me broda go enjoy u sef.” They taunted me and took turns raping me. All of this happened in front of my son’s eyes.

As they left, they pushed my son toward me and they promised that I would see the pictures all over campus the following morning. They said this would force me to go and leave them in peace to continue their activities.

“Mama, are you ok?” my son asked. I painfully held my tears and tried to speak with confidence to drive away his fears. “Yes, I am ok, let’s call for help.”

In the rain, I knocked on my auntie's door for help. Unable to withstand my story, she shouted for help from the neighborhood. Many people came to our refuge that night but unfortunately, it was the story of the town in the morning. People called me names as I passed by their houses on my way to the police station to file a report and to see a doctor.

As I sat on a bench waiting to see the doctor I heard him call out, “That girl that was gang raped last night, let her come in.” I realized that in addition to the bruises on my vagina and body, I now carried a new identity.

I started packing my things to leave the community as the rapists had ordered me to do. I couldn't bear seeing naked pictures of me all around the campus. I had hoped that the police would investigate and find the rapists, but that didn’t happen.

As people started consoling me, they had no idea exactly what was boiling inside me. I felt like committing suicide, but I thought about my son. I felt like using black magic to kill them all, but I remembered thou shall not kill. I thought about my education and wondered how I could start again. I cried myself out just imagining going back to campus and seeing my naked pictures around. Things were falling apart.

Alone in my room, I had a dream. A dream to fight my case out. A dream to reject the stigma of being raped. A dream to continue my education because that is the weapon I can use to fight against those rapists.

I accepted the message in my dream and went to campus the following Monday. As I arrived, the day began to play out like a movie in my head. I imagined naked pictures of me all over the campus. I couldn’t face it and returned back home. I locked myself in my room and cried again. This time I asked God to give me the strength to face the world for a second time so that I could live to tell my story.

I tried going to campus again on Tuesday. I was so scared that I refused to look at our student notice board.

When students greeted me I tried to put up a smile in response. But one day, I could hear the students who had just greeted me say to each other, "Is she not the girl that was raped a few days back?”

My smile never came. Instead, I turned around and said, “Oh yes, I am the girl. Should I have died because some stupid beast raped me!?” As I heard the anger in my voice, I felt the strength to face the world.

It is more than three years later and I am still looking out for those pictures. I worry about them being published when I attain a leadership position in the future. This fear caused me to go silent for a while, to try to make the rapists forget that I exist. But I am going through counseling sessions. I am starting to share my story to drive away my fears and inspire other sexual abuse survivors to envision a better life.

I still believe I can make a difference and help create peace in my university and in the community. I volunteer with our local police family support unit. I started a community initiative called FemWorld International to run peer educator clubs and create a channel of hope for teenage mothers and for victims of rape and child marriage. I am working toward my political aspiration to become a minister of social welfare, gender, and children's affairs so I will have more say in the fight against social vices affecting women and children of my country.

I refuse to give up on my education, which I needreach my dream of achieving zero tolerance for gender-based violence in my community. I stayed at my university despite my fears. And by God’s grace, in February, I will graduate with a BA in Mass Communication.

As I think about everything I endured to get here, this is the message I want to share with the world: Do not allow the actions of others to kill your dreams! You can fall a million times but the zeal you take to rise again will make you stronger than before.

Comments 15

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Grace Stainback
Jan 12, 2017
Jan 12, 2017

Thank you so much for this empowering account, Mama Africa. You are an inspiration and a powerhouse of a woman that I am sure is going to do amazing things with a Mass Communications degree well-earned!! Thank you for being an example of fighting through pain and hate, to come out stronger on the other side. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your post. 

Keep writing, keep sharing, keep dreaming. 

Love, Grace 

Feka
Jan 12, 2017
Jan 12, 2017

Dear Mama Africa, You are indeed mama Africa! You are unstoppable, you are a winner, you are a superwoman. Like you rightly say, let no one kill your dreams. You carry a great vision and I encourage you to continue talking. Your story is a sad one but it is very inspiring. You are a brave woman. I pray you gain the strength and charisma to fight till the end. God bless you for your bravery and courage. Love you sister

Mama Africa
Jan 13, 2017
Jan 13, 2017

Thanks very much Grace, you people are my inspiration. My journey for judgement as just began

Rahmana Karuna
Jan 13, 2017
Jan 13, 2017

Mama Africa

thank you for writing your story. If only we could reverse the shame and place it on the men, if only we could hear the whispers of strangers plotting to catch rapists. 

Sounds to me you are well on your way along the path of "The Wounded Healer". 

Hoping your son is proud of his mama. Stay strong and full hearted!!

Roline
Jan 13, 2017
Jan 13, 2017

hey mama Africa,

more grease to your elbow many through your story will come out of the shell and be proud too.

Emily Jensen
Jan 13, 2017
Jan 13, 2017

Dear Mama Africa,

Your story absolutely took my breath away – not only because of the pain you've survived, but because of the power in your resolve to follow your dreams in spite of that pain. I know you will continue to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for the people around you, including all of us here on World Pulse! Thank you for having the courage to share this story so that we can learn from your strength.

Keep shining, sister.

Love,

Emily

Nancy Harkrider
Jan 15, 2017
Jan 15, 2017

Oh, my dear sister, I wept as I read your story.  Mine was childhood incest behind close doors and it was horrible. But what you have been through rips the fabric of your very dignity, of your womanhood. 

Rape has no boundaries, no cultural norms, no age.  It has been with us since time began.  It brands us for life.  But when brave women like you stand up and tell your stories, that brand stops festering and begins to heal.  It leaves us with a tattoo that, if we chose to do so, can make us stronger than we ever imagined possible.   

As a mother, I felt so deeply your mother love whose concern is first for her child and then for herself.  You will continue to rise  not only because you are incredibly brave, but because there is the heart beat of a global sisterhood holding you gently in its arms, so the tears can flow and the healing can do its magic.  I will hold you in my meditations. 

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Jan 16, 2017
Jan 16, 2017

oooooh my this story brought tears to my eyes. How people can be so cruel and do such horrible things is unbelievable. My dearest sister you are not alone in this fight. i admire ur strength and yes its true its not how many times you fall but how many times you get up and starte allover. God bless you for sharing such a very touching story. We r with you all the way. Stay blessed. 

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 17, 2017
Jan 17, 2017

Dear Rajmund, thank you for sharing this. its an emotional  pack. I completely agree with you. Our circumstances should not kill our dreams. We are Victors

Araba
Jan 17, 2017
Jan 17, 2017

You are a brave woman! You are surely going to make an impact in curbing gender based violence. it encourages me to move on no matter the challenges.

Sahra Ahmed Koshin
Jan 18, 2017
Jan 18, 2017

I shed tears reading this. Dear Mama, thank you for your story. I think you are very powerful woman. Right now in Somalia it was brought to our attention that 2 very young Somali girls were brutally raped, stabbed with knives, tortured, dehumanized, sexually molested, stoned at, spit on by 6 young boys who laughingly took pictures and videos of them in action. The footage was put on Social Media and caused outrage among Somalis worldwide. Somali women and men took to Social Media to express their frustrations, grief and solidarity with the girls. I created the Hashtag #PublicOutrage to express my personal views, solidarity, anger and analyses of this particular rape and of sexual and gender based violence in general in Somalia and Somali regions and many other women and men did the same. 

Sending you much love. 

Sahro,

World Pulse Ambassador

visharda
Jan 20, 2017
Jan 20, 2017

Dear Mama Africa,

I am speechless! But all I can say is you are such an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and we are with you in this fight. More power to you.

LillianVB
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Mama Africa,

You even find the strength to encourage others, I marvel at your strength and cant help being proud of your resilience after this terrible ordeal. But again isn't that just what we women are? My heart bleeds for you, no one ever deserves so much pain. You still have a lot to achieve ahead of you. Your determination gauging from your aspirations and choice of dealing with this situation will surely lead you to those heights. I pray that those rapists one day meet their doomsday! as you continue to pursue your goals and help other women through the NGO you started.

Kudos to you!  

/

Lily Habesha
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

Mama Africa,

You're a woman and a half! You're a type of woman I want to see everywhere in the world.

Keep fighting

Cheers!!!!

Katia Núñez
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

Mama Africa, you are the kind of woman that encourages us to keep fighting.

Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for being you!