Last week we had a team of four women from Texas volunteer with Ten Thousand Homes in South Africa. On Sunday evening, they hosted a ladies’ night at a local church, inviting women from a small community called Embonisweni. The event had one simple goal: to share stories and experiences with each other.
These are women who experience violence and sexual assaults, typically on a regular basis. They are girls who became mothers when they were 15, and women who had to quit school at a ridiculously early age in order to take care of their families.
The majority includes single moms in abusive relationships, single moms diagnosed with cancer or HIV, and moms who work day in and day out in order to provide basic needs for their family: food on the table, roofs over their head, and a safe home for their children.
It is an overwhelming and heartbreaking narrative to think about, we know.
But this is not a tragic destiny only for the women of South Africa, or any other developing country. Unfortunately, this is the life of way too many women worldwide.
Every single person on the team from Texas shared similar stories with the women of Embonisweni. They stood in front of a crowd and boldly shared their stories, not sparing the embarrassing or heartbreaking details.
“Women are strong. We are strong” said Lisa Gilmore. Never have those words had a clearer meaning as she was sharing about finding strength in what seemed to be a hopeless situation. She explained how difficult it was being diagnosed with cancer while having to be the only caretaker and provider of her three children.
The world can be depressingly rough sometimes. Especially when everything hits you all at once. And yet, most of the time these tragic stories don’t seem real. We become numb from all the sad stories in the news that we forget how powerful it is to share our own.
Maya Angelou said it so well:
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
Stand up for yourself, in the small and the bigger things. Take action when you find yourself in a situation where you are not treated the way that you deserve, speak up when you have an opinion, help when you see someone struggling, and just as important, be vulnerable enough to share your story with the people around you.
It will give strength and encouragement to others who find themselves in a similar situation. And it will teach your daughters to do the same. It will not only change your life, but it will go far beyond that.
by Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh & Marthe Nymoen
Photography by Rebekah Ness