“So, you’re telling me that I, a woman, can stand, toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye, with any man, anywhere? That I have the right and ability to do that?” The beautiful woman’s eyes flashed at me, in challenge and incredulity.
“Yes” I said sincerely and passionately, looking only at her, despite the crowded room before us, filled with trainees.
“That’s not possible,” she seethed. “Where I come from, we are not allowed to look into the eyes of any grown man if we are younger. It’s disrespectful to look into the eyes of any elder, not our aunties and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, and especially leaders of our country. “ Most in the room nodded and murmured.
I was silent and still for a moment as I stared at Patricia Malanga, her long dark braids tumbling from her elegant head, and her manner defiant. I certainly wasn’t going to pretend I had the answers or to make her wrong. This woman, like most of the men and women in the room except dignitaries had lived through hell before fleeing their country of origin, the Republic of the Congo—one of the darkest places on the planet.
Sheroes United was there in Italy to teach and train these women to RISE beyond their trauma, to heal and become empowered leaders, to teach and train their sisters and mothers and daughters to do the same. Just a moment before I had been discussing with them the vital importance of body language for a woman leader, when it triggered Patricia (rightly so). It also gave me one of the most important learning experiences of my life.
Suddenly, a small statured but fiery nun stood up as tall as she could from her seat in the corner, the wisps of her greying and white hair showing from under her cornette.
“MY SISTERS!” Sister Teresa declared in a bold voice that captured the full attention of everyone in the training room. “This has not always been so! When I was a little girl, we were allowed to look into the eyes of our mothers and fathers, our adoring aunties and uncles, and even the leaders of our villages! It was not until the dictator, Kabila came into power, that we were suddenly not allowed!”
The entire room was dumbstruck, mouths open.
Written on the faces of the trainees, all younger than the sister, thought it had always been so. They had been raised with this belief.
The dictator had stayed in their heads even now, as they were physically free from that country and its violence, particularly towards women. They had gotten out of the Congo, but they now had to get the ugly, demeaning beliefs of the dictator of the Congo out of them.
In that moment, not from me, not from Sheroes United’s curriculum but from an older sister of their own tribe, these Congolese women became more educated.
And in that moment, they became more empowered.
I cannot express how deeply that moment changed these women, their families and changed my own life. First, although I had experienced it before, it was another astounding experience to learn how deeply entrenched in every individual, family, culture, nation and tongue beliefs can be – even if they are not real, even if they have been imposed by a dictator or even a well-meaning but misinformed or uneducated sibling, parent, teacher or authority figure who we think knows the answers. When we take others’ words for who we are, and what we can or cannot be in life, we dwell in limiting beliefs.
Why is this important to know?
Because when we become transparently and openly educated, our minds expand and we discover four vital things:
This is why Sheroes United has such a strong focus on education, in all of our endeavors to help women and families heal, rise and thrive. Education can change your world. It can change your children’s world. Education has the power to change the entire world. . . for good.
Want to get involved in Sheroes United’s Education focus? Please click here to volunteer, or here to donate to our work in helping women and families rise from trauma and thrive!
Co-Founder & Former Executive Director