In my last post I asked for you to tell me who inspired you – thanks for your comments and tweets!
I also promised to tell the story of a woman who inspires me. The CARE Conference is invigorating on so many levels and hearing the stories of women who have overcome monumental barriers is just one. Countless women are changing their communities, some with CARE’s lead and some on their own volition.
Here is the story of one woman that took my breath away.
“It Was Not Our Choice”
Peninah Nthenya Musyimi and her family grew up in the slums of Kenya where clothing and food were scarce and money for school even more impossible to come by. Peninah had to walk nine miles to and from school because there was no money for transportation. Lunch money was rare and dinner always a question.
The environment is also one where drugs, prostitution, and abuses against women are common.
“Women are raped and no justice is done to them,” says Peninah. But she goes on. “It was not our choice to find ourselves where we are but we knew there was a better life if we chose to make the right decisions.”
And make the right decisions she certainly did. Peninah graduated top of her class and qualified to attend University. Again, paying for it was not an option. Peninah found a basketball scholarship – but she had never played the sport in her life. So, she mastered the game in a mere one month and earned the scholarship. After University, she went on the earn her law degree.
And this was only the beginning.
Growing up in the slum, Peninah knew all to well the dangers girls face on a daily basis – and she set out to change it.
“No one takes care of injustices in the slum. That was my ambition,” she says.
In 2008, she started Safe Spaces, an organization that mentors hundreds of young women each year with sport and discussion.
The center offers yoga, basketball, and dance sessions that are facilitated by young women leaders. Safe Spaces also facilitates discussion sessions about the challenges and dangers the girls face in their neighborhoods.
Irene is 14 and says, “Since I joined Safe Spaces, I can now share my difficult issues with my colleagues and get advice that leads me to make wise decisions. I no longer fall on peer pressure.”
Another participant, 15-year-old Valentine, says: “Discovering that I can play basketball gives me more self-esteem. At first, I thought only rich people could play basketball and that it was a sport for men. I hope to play in the WNBA in the future.”
Beyond Its Borders
While at the CARE Conference, I was talking with a woman about the grave challenges that remain in changing social attitudes toward women. The underlying tide of discrimination and disrespect only continues to feed poverty, we agreed.
Peninah is changing this, too. Her own father did not believe she could be successful. Until she was.
“My dad never believed I could be successful as a woman until I graduated, got a job and became independent,” Peninah says.
Safe Spaces is increasing its influence in the community by expanding its public outreach to men like Peninah’s father with the goal of changing their mind – women can be the change, Safe Spaces believes. One man once believed his own daughter could not be successful because of her gender, but he is now a proponent of girls’ education.
When asked why she is powerful, Peninah says, “I am powerful because I empower other girls from the slums to make the best out of their lives.”
From my vantage point, Peninah’s accomplishments are so much greater than this. Destined to repeat a cycle of poverty, early marriage, drugs, and abuse, Peninah had greater plans; a vision that came from none other than herself. She was not encouraged to become something greater. She chose to become something greater. There is nothing more inspiring.
For more on Peninah and her journey click here.