after my darkest moments

Growing up, I’ve noticed that many people, especially men, think they are entitled to a lot from a woman. They think they have the right to look, to gaze with the most naked desire. They think they have the right to touch and take what they want. What few realize is that they take more than just their own gratification—they take a woman’s power from her, the power of her own body, and of her own life. When it happened to me, my innocence and childhood were taken away, obliterating a peaceful naiveté that I could never get back. It took me years to regain that inner power and mind had been blurry when I keep thinking about the roller coasters I had to succumb growing up not having the ‘typical normal childhood’

I was born in 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya, as the forth of five children. My father was a soldier on active duty, so he was gone most days of the year. My mom had to do the heavy-lifting when it came to raising us, and she tried her hardest to keep us happy.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has been a strong individual. She raised my brother and I financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually . My mom gave her all, by that I mean, she worked two jobs to make sure her children ate properly and that they had the essential amenities to grow happily and successfully. Another way she supported us was with love and care.

She would encourage me by simply saying, “Complaining is a useless way to solve problems, but becoming active on the issue is a great way to conquer it. My mother has always had strong faith and views in her religion. When I was younger, every day and night, she would bring prayer time to me and my brother’s attention. My mom instilled As a child, my mother displayed the seriousness of spirituality. In which she expressed her faith in us at an early age, that prayer time was not the time to make jokes nor to complain about having to partake in it.

One lesson she taught us the most, was how seriousness about our spiritual beliefs could provide us with a substantial, stable and structural lifestyle.

I considered us middle-class, but your idea and my idea of middle-class may differ. We always had a place to sleep and we attended school. By Kenyan standards, we were pretty well-off.

Still they were times my father military job become hectic since there was a war home and he wasn’t sending home money and that brought financial difficulty to our family. The basic necessities of a home and school became harder to maintain by my mom alone. Our financial burden began to crush us when I was nine. It was so bad that we had to move in with a family friend for the next four years. My mom couldn’t work a conventional job since she had to keep an eye on my siblings and me, but there was a time that she sold bed sheets ,while us kids played nearby. I envied her resilience.

Living at the family friend’s house took from me an innocence I didn’t know I’d had until it was ripped from me. By the time I was 11, puberty was working its magic and changing my body in ways I was still trying to understand. I was in a very vulnerable state.

Unfortunately, a frequent visitor to the house took advantage of that vulnerability. He would approach me to “talk,” but talking always led to him reaching down my shirt or in my pants. Every time he tried, I instinctively jumped away and ran out of the room. I had no concept of anything sexual. I just knew that I didn’t like when he tried to touch me. I knew it was wrong. I tried to get him to stop, but these unwanted advances went on for the next few years, and I had to live on high alert in that house. He almost raped me a few times, but I always escaped. That loss of innocence before I could really understand what was happening broke me. I began to hate self esteem started declining whereby I started hating every inch of me because I felt worthless, I felt into a very bad depression whereby every night I question God what was my existence for or why was my life a living hell, why did I have to be subjected into a tormentful life, I hurt deep into the depth of my heart, flickering trying to close my eyes to sleep , sleep became an opposite sense me.i was deeply troubled at the age of 11.

Home wasn’t the only place I experienced unwanted affections. I couldn’t walk down the street without a man pausing to stare at my budding breasts or newly developed curves. Men the same age as my father used to approach me with a smug look on their face, as if their flirting with me was somehow a compliment. I was an object to them; a new lunch special on the menu.

At school, two boys once invited me to meet them for lunch. Little did I know that it was just a ploy so they could try to assault me to meet their horrid, primal needs. I never told anyone about the assaults, thinking no one would understand or believe me.the scenes kept playing on my mind vividly and I was horrified but those bullies and you know what was the best thing, nothing ever happens, every time they try to do something ,my guardian angel was always there to protect me cause I always find a away to flee the scene .

I became antisocial with everyone and started distancing myself away from everyone,in school my grades started declining because I was always seated on my lane overthinking every bad scenario that ever happened in my life I couldn’t concentrate on school or myself I was just hovering in another world. Life became completely meaningless to me and barely had hope or faith in anything. Sometimes id skip meals and school, my life became a meaningless mess and my mom became so worried about me that I couldn’t stand seeing her sad so I decided to change my ways and become a different version of myself. Started going back to school and attended classes because I was determined not to make my mom wonder if she was wasting her energy educating me and I saw how she suffered to make sure I went school. I did and tried my best to do what I had t do.

As time went by I started wondering what do I really want to do, Friends and family always said to me, “You should be a model” and “they’re just complimenting you.” But ogling eyes didn’t make me feel good. In fact, they made me squirm with discomfort. I hated myself and my body. As I said before I lost my self esteem,It felt like it was working against me. I thought that if I didn’t look like myself, guys wouldn’t be trying to molest me. I thought it was all my fault, and I fell into a deep depression.i blamed everything on myself . As I said , I felt my life was a living hell.

At the young, impressionable age of 13, I attempted suicide. Thankfully, I was not successful, but my family scolded me and insisted I never try something like that again. So, I sat within my misery, hating myself in every way as I tried to traverse the hormonal minefield that is being a teenage years were quite hard ones cause this was the phase I was figuring myself out and being in trauma for not having a good childhood.

As I got older, school fees became pricier and even harder to handle on my mom’s minimal budget. At 14, I started working any job I could find to help cover the costs. In the following years, I tried to stay away from people. When I wasn’t in school or working, I was curled up by myself somewhere with a good book to keep me occupied. Those books are what kept me sane. That’s where I started developing my passion in books and poets, I could express all my frit in poets and this were some of them , I wrote it when I was 12,

I graduated when I was 17 and then came the question of “what’s next?” To my dismay, graduation came at a time when a financial crisis was hitting Kenya, making jobs, food, and housing scarce. My family was struggling so badly that our landlord threatened to kick us out multiple times. As hard as it was to admit, I knew I had no chance of finding success in the country I was in. I knew I needed to find a way to leave.

Coming to South Sudan, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I was determined to find something. I stumbled across an ad for a beauty pageant and thought back to all the times I’d been told I could be a model. Desperate for a way to keep myself busy, I entered the contest. I watched as girls my age strutted across the stage, confidence emanating from their pores. They carried themselves with a power I’d never seen before. They walked without fear of judgement, and it was refreshing. It gave me the courage to walk like that hard as tried to model like them I couldn’t aim like them but I kept pushing because it was my first time doing modelling and since its something I was told I could be good at I had to practice multiple times as the going goes , practise makes perfect.

My dad supported me along the way driving me to the rehearsal and bringing me back, along the way I met incredible acquittance, friends and people that supported me with it,

As the final days approached I became quite overwhelmed and anxious but with great team behind me I boasted my confident and I did what I had to do.

I wound up winning runner-up, and I was completely baffled. I stood on stage surrounded by thunderous applause and smiling faces. Backstage, fellow contestants congratulated me and bombarded me with genuine compliments. I was told all the things I’d wish I heard growing up. That’s when I came to a /. Why had I hated myself and my body because of how others viewed it? In the midst of honest praise, I realized the illusion I held about myself wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have let those who objectify my body control the narrative of my life. I hold that power. I decided to let how others viewed me empower me instead of enslave me.

Competing in beauty pageants gave me a confidence I’d never felt before, and each time I walked onto the stage, I knew in my heart that I had found my path. After many more competitions, I finally won first place. The winner of each pageant got money to fund a project of their choosing. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to help little girls who were like me. I wanted to help them feel empowered and know they’re not alone. I wanted them in a world still drowning in misogyny to love themselves and not feel inferior.

To do this, I started arranging appearances in local schools where I could give talks to the youth and help break the terrible cycle. In many African countries, mental health and reporting sexual assault are not talked about and are most certainly not a priority. I wanted to change that. I started by simply telling little girls my story and what I’d gone through. I hope by sharing my trauma, it will keep other girls from facing the same trauma and suffering in silence. Speaking my truth has helped me come to heal myself, and I think I’m really getting through to the kids I talk to. That’s been the most rewarding feeling.

As time went by I continued with my charity work and developed some few interest in the business field , I started my entrepreneurship journey from there and was determined to continue to pursue my dreams.

Photo credit: Image courtesy of the storyteller.

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Amylia Deng

Amylia currently resides in South Sudan where she competes in beauty pageants and helps inspire the youth with her story. Developing early in life, Amylia faced misogyny and inappropriate behavior as early as nine years old. As she got older, she was assaulted many other times which made her grow to hate herself. It wasn’t until she discovered the empowering feeling from competing in beauty pageants that she learned to take back the narrative she’d been told about herself and learned to love her body and story. In her free time, Amylia likes to write and spend time with the kids she speaks to. She plans to continue with the project and get into modeling more seriously. As a child, she dreamed of becoming a pilot and is considering going to school for that someday. She says now that she’s accepted herself, who knows what the future can hold.