By Noeline Kirabo
Strength is often associated with accomplishment, excellence, influence, well preparedness and physical fitness. It is a much desired attribute in this day and age. Strength has been equated to winning power in this race of life where survival is deemed for the fittest. Unfortunately, not many of us are fit enough to tussle it out with the strongest and most fierce players in our fields of influence.
I was raised in a patriarchal society where women were considered inferior and were referred to as the weaker sex. Growing up as a sickly girl child in the urban slums of Kampala was one of the most vulnerable stages of my life. The community did not allow for weaklings who, later on, became girls that could not measure up to communal expectations. I was often bullied because of my frail appearance. Fortunately my elder sister was always there to defend and protect me. As much as this gave me a sense of security, I dreaded the day when I would have to stand up for myself. That day came and fortunately I had gathered the confidence and esteem I needed to do so from the constant affirmation and encouragement of my mother. My mother’s words still ring loud and clear in my ears. The best person to empower a woman is a fellow woman who has walked miles in her shoes.
Years later, I have had the privilege to go back to my childhood environments, this time to encourage other vulnerable girls that fall prey to the abuse and hostile environment of urban slums. Through a project called Kyusa (www.kyusa.org) we empower out-of-school youth in urban slums to become employable. Most of the youth we work with have low self-esteem, lack confidence and have been abused in one way or another.
An example is a young girl called Martha (not real name) who was referred to the Kyusa program by a well-wisher in her community. Her story was heart breaking because she had gone through so much abuse by the tender age of 17. Her father had abandoned her and her family while she was a toddler; a couple of years later their mother also passed away. Being the youngest of three, her two elder siblings took up the responsibility of raising her. However they were unable to see her through secondary education due to financial constraints. So she was forced to dropout and engage in informal domestic work to supplement the family budget. Her working experiences were never rosy, as she had anticipated.
One of the families she worked for was very harsh to her. At one point she was locked up in a dog kennel and denied food as punishment for something she had done wrong. After several episodes of torture she ended up in a psychiatric hospital to be treated for a mental breakdown. Her siblings nursed her until she fully recovered but her life was never the same afterwards. When I met Martha for the first time, she was shy, timid, withdrawn and hardly smiled. Fortunately, through the Kyusa program, she was able to loosen up, find her true self again and build competence to leverage in the market place.
Today Martha is a beautiful, vibrant lady who is self-employed and running her own businesses. She has no fear of the future and is hopeful that her dreams will become a reality. There is a tendency to discard that which we deem not good enough and to concentrate on that which is more promising. Our societies are full of people who have been pushed to the margins and sidelines of society simply because they don’t ‘measure up’.
I believe that we are each born with the amazing potential to thrive and be successful in our different callings or purposes. We all can thrive with a bit of encouragement and affirmation. Many people are looking for just one person to believe in them so they can soar to their greatest heights. Potential is inborn while the manifestation of that potential is an aided process. A broken cup may never be able to hold tea again in spite of being glued back together but it can become a souvenir placed on display for all to see, thus holding respect and admiration for the rest of its life. When the original plan is altered, there is always another alternative that can serve a much higher purpose.
Brokenness in our communities is vulnerability that bears the seed of opportunity for creativity and innovation. Recycling is a growing movement all over the world and how I wish it would be a mindset we embrace when it comes to working with people. Before you write off or discard someone, have you considered the alternatives of what else that person could be good at if given the right environment to thrive?
We can make the world a better place by building each other up. Every time you see a broken person, remember that it is an opportunity for you to bring out something beautiful, extraordinary and outstanding. Brokenness is an opportunity to nurture undeniable strength.