After a painful childhood, Jane was determined to raise her own children with abundant love.
“I managed to turn the hatred I experienced as a child into a bigger love—a love big enough to share with the nation.”
Children rarely remember what we do as parents. They do remember how we make them feel. If you have made a child feel loved, you can be assured that despite any other decisions you have made that day, you have succeeded as a parent. I learned this lesson painfully, as a child who mostly felt scorn from my parents.
I am the third daughter in my family, with two older sisters. I thought we looked alike as sisters, but I was the only one who was constantly told how dark I was, how ugly, how useless, how unlovable I was. My mother used to call me mnyamane when she felt annoyed by my presence. It means dark as a black coal. The name stuck with me until I got married and had my own home and children.
I started to ask myself whether I was born into this family, and whether I had another mother somewhere. I never understood why I was treated differently.
As a scorned girl child, you lose your self-esteem and start to consider yourself an ugly loser who will never do good in your life as a child, adult, mother, or wife. Those words echo in your head all the time, no matter how hard you try to stop them. All the good you do looks bad in your eyes because that is the picture of yourself painted in your heart and mind.
As a child, I always had these messages in my head, but I kept my eyes on my own goal to be a better person. I kept hoping to make my parents proud. Even though my intelligence was never noted or acknowledged, I was the brightest of my siblings. My parents knew it deep down and my schoolwork proved it.
I had to wear shoes with no soles to school and I could feel rocks piercing my feet, but I never ceased going to school. My dangarie (school dress) covered a big hole from an iron burn in the back of my shirt, but that never stopped me from focusing on my goal. I never repeated a class and never failed any tests. I was the first to pass my matriculation exam while the favorite siblings dropped out.
When my siblings were registered into a private school, I had to stay and do labor work with my grandmother. Even that didn’t break me but made me become the strong woman that I am today.
Through all these years, instead of growing with resentment, I grew up loving and longing for love. At times, I received love from the wrong people who wanted to take advantage of my innocence, including some of my teachers. I had to be smart and protect myself as I had no one who cared enough to guide me and tell me about the cruelty of the world. I learned to grow up quickly.
When I was a child, there was one time when a well-known singer came to play at a nearby hall. My parents decided to take my siblings to go see this singer perform. I thought I also deserved to be there, so I followed them. A security guard picked me up and shouted into the hall before the performance started, asking if anyone knew who I was. My parents didn’t speak up and hid their faces in shame. Our neighbor, who was also attending the performance, had to come and get me from the security guard.
Due to my experiences of rejection, I am strong at heart as well as physically. I can survive anywhere in the world, even in the desert. I can turn a leaf into a meal to feed my own family because I learned how to make a house a warm home.
Because I know the pain of being scorned, I could never inflict that pain on anyone. I could never look down on anyone for their looks or status, or make any of my children feel less loved.
Looking back on my life, I would tell a child going through similar pain to embrace the challenges that make you strong. Today, the girl they called mnyamane is a woman featured in calendars and international magazines. I am a graduate and mother of the most beautiful children, who came from the darkest coal's womb. My children adore and respect me and are proud to call me mommy.
My children’s father passed on when they were still toddlers, yet I managed to play the role of a mother and father; I managed to turn grass into chicken to feed my children. Most importantly, I managed to turn the hatred I experienced as a child into a bigger love—a love big enough to share with the nation.
No matter what you have been put through, you are definitely not a mistake. No matter what your goal and no matter who is trying to destroy it, don't give up. Keep moving forward—in silence when needed—and when you come out on top, you will surprise even your most avid hater.
Ultimately, your happiness depends on your self-reliance—your unshakable willingness to take responsibility for your life from this moment forward. It’s about taking control of your present circumstances, thinking for yourself, and making a firm choice to choose differently. It’s about being the hero of your life, not the victim.
You go, girl! You are the future mother of the nation. No matter your past, you are capable of giving birth to a president of the country, a doctor to heal the world, a teacher to teach the nation.
You have the power to turn your wounds and worries into wisdom. I was once caught into believing the names I was called: useless, ugly, mnyamane, stupid, good for nothing girl. Now I am free in my beautiful, fearless, loving, and loved human nature. You can be free too.
This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program in celebration of Day of the Girl. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.