To Breathe Hope into her Life

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Growing up in Honduras + Dreaming about a Good Education + Someone Who Believed in Me + Delivering Makapads to Girls in Gulu 

By Stephanie Motz Skinner | Twitter: @stephmotz

It’s easy to take the little things for granted – a hot meal, a warm bed, sanitary pads. I can’t count the times I’ve felt disadvantaged, but to be honest, I’ve never really gone hungry. Even during Hurricane Mitch, when our city flooded and our roof leaked, my parents moved my bed so it didn’t get wet during the night. I slept with warmth and comfort.

I’ve never had to miss school simply because I was having my monthly period. As a teenager, it never crossed my mind that in many parts of the world girls my age were forced to skip school every month because they didn’t have access to basic sanitation. Last month, along with Idelette and Tina, I met some of these girls in Laminadera, Northern Uganda.

As we stood at the front of a dark classroom, I was in awe of the girls gathered there. They were fighting against all odds to remain in school. It’s a significant accomplishment if they make it to Grade 7. Many have to plead with their parents to allow them to continue, and every year they have to scrape together enough money so they can stay in school.

Most of these girls drop out when they reach puberty, because they can’t afford sanitary towels. Schools in this part of the world rarely have bathrooms with running water, and when the girls have their periods, it’s just easier to stay home. Soon they start falling behind in their studies and many of them can’t catch up. Eventually they drop out and begin thinking about finding someone to marry.

The challenges they face are great, but what these girls need most is for their community to believe in their potential and invest in their education. I know what it’s like to face uncertainty and to dream about finishing my education. While I haven’t graduated from university quite yet, I was able to accomplish my dream of studying in Canada because there were people who believed in me and wouldn’t let me give up.

Someone Who Believed In Me

Julie was my 10th grade English and Literature teacher. She was petite, dynamic and friendly. Her smile was warm and welcoming and I thought of her as brave and passionate. At my school in Honduras, we got away with a lot. My classmates and I perfected the art of distracting our teachers and delaying their lessons. But Julie was different. When we didn’t put in the effort, her glare was sharp and deadly. She was sweet, but she was also serious, because she recognised the future of Honduras lay in our hands–not just the small group of rascals who sat holding their chins, yawning and doodling, while she passionately read Hemingway–but our entire generation. And so she wanted to empower us. She wanted to shake us awake– sometimes literally when she’d find one of us sprawled on the floor behind the lockers, in the back of the classroom, snoring away. Although our parents and some teachers took it easy on us, she knew real life wouldn’t be that way.

Julie wanted to make a difference. And she did. I don’t know what Julie saw in me, but maybe it was just my willingness to listen. I recognized that she wanted the best for us, and so I began believing in her words. I shared my dreams with her and she told me I had the potential to achieve my goals and become a writer. She encouraged me to travel and extend my horizons.

Pushing Through Difficult

When I told my friends and family that I wanted to study in Canada, I received all sorts of responses. My parents believed in me, but some people said I’d never make it. Others thought it was funny and didn’t realize I was serious. Even after Julie returned to the U.S and I graduated from high school, she remained present in my life. When I told her I was applying to a Canadian university, she encouraged me.

But, after only a few weeks of studying Journalism in Canada, I was sure I had made the worst mistake of my life. It was harder than I expected and I wasn’t prepared. My writing skills were terrible and my professors told me so. I would have given anything to get the B minus my classmates were complaining about. Sometimes when a professor returned my assignments, I would have to hold back the dam of tears threatening to collapse inside of me until I arrived back at my apartment. There I would throw myself on my mattress, bury my face in my pillow and cry my lungs out. Eventually I realized that Julie said I could do it, but she never said it was going to be easy. She said I had potential, but she never said that I didn’t need to work hard and improve.

I returned home for summer holidays after that first, difficult year and I told my father I wanted to quit, but he wouldn’t let me. He said I needed to finish what I’d started. So I kept going, and slowly my writing got better.

I’ve had to deal with other obstacles along the way, but we are not quitting. In July, I’m returning to Canada to finish my last year at Concordia University. It’s taken a village to get me where I am today, and I’m thankful for the best support system. It hasn’t been easy, but I know I can do it.

That’s why I felt so privileged to be standing in front of these girls in Laminadera. There was so much to admire about their strength and determination. It was also heartbreaking, because I believe they deserve better rewards for their enthusiasm and raw desire to learn. Thankfully, I’m not alone. Living Hope has been making and delivering low-cost sanitary pads, called Makapads, to these girls. It’s helping keep them in school.

Idelette, Tina, my husband James and I were there to take part in a Makapads delivery and to encourage the girls:

Tina gave each girl in Grade 7 a print of their portrait to celebrate and honour them for staying in school.

That day in the classroom, Christine Lutara, team leader of Living Hope in Gulu, gave each of us the chance to stand in front of the girls and say a few words. When my turn finally came, I panicked and sort of went blank. I said a few words, but it didn’t feel like enough. After sitting down and thinking some more, I knew what I had wanted to say, but it was too late. I wanted to breathe hope and strength into their lives. I wanted them to feel like they could reach their stars. I wanted them to know they are capable, valuable and necessary.

So, if I had the chance to once again speak into the tender heart of a school girl in Northern Uganda, and look straight into her beaming eyes, this is what I would tell her:

God created you for a reason. You have a unique purpose. There is no one else like you in the whole world and no one else can fill your shoes. The world needs you and I’m afraid if you don’t continue to push through the obstacles you face, we’ll be missing out big time, because the puzzle isn’t complete without you in it. We need your voice, your story and your perspective. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to get easier, but the strength exists inside you to keep going and I believe you can do it.

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About Stephanie:

I believe in the power of storytelling. I’m a photographer and writer for Fakeleft. Together with my husband, we love sharing stories of courage, of strength in the face of adversity, of triumph and hope. I truly believe that by partnering with others who want to bring change and justice to our world, we can actually make a difference. I’m learning to walk in my nascent faith, but it’s not always easy. It’s an interesting journey.

I am currently living in Uganda, but my heart is everywhere. I’m a proud Latina from Choluteca, Honduras. I wish I had a Latino accent. My favourite meal is dessert and my favourite sport is tanning. I blog at fakeleft.com and tweet at @stephmotz.

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Stephanie Motz Skinner
believe in the power of storytelling. I’m a photographer and writer for Fakeleft. Together with my husband, we love sharing stories of courage, of strength in the face of adversity, of triumph and hope. I truly believe that by partnering with others who want to bring change and justice to our world, we can actually make a difference. I’m learning to walk in my nascent faith, but it’s not always easy. It’s an interesting journey. I am currently living in Montreal, Canada, but my heart is everywhere. I’m a proud Latina from Choluteca, Honduras. I wish I had a Latino accent. My favourite meal is dessert and my favourite sport is tanning. I blog at fakeleft.com and tweet at @stephmotz.
Stephanie Motz Skinner
Stephanie Motz Skinner

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