“This is who I am”

Dedication: To all young women struggling with low self esteem. To women thinking that other women are their enemies

Many a times women refer to other women as their own enemies, the thing is we focus a lot on the negative and forget about the positive and amazing things women can do for each other. There is power in women lifting each other and Amazing things happen when women come together. Am the person I am today because some amazing women were my transition persons. They changed my paradigms, they believed in me even before I believed in myself, they lifted me through my brokenness and low self-esteem; they saw something great in me and didn’t walk away.

I don’t remember any point of my life where I believed myself. I don’t even remember loving myself. Growing up for me a series of pain for me. There are days I hated being a girl. And I could not even look at myself in the mirror cause for me I wasn’t beautiful enough, noo, I felt I was not beautiful at all.

I grew up in the slums of Kisumu, in Kenya a place called “KOMER “ which literally means a place of drunkardness. It was a place where people were drunkards, from wives to husbands to young people. It was a place where girls dropped out of school at the age of 16 and became single mothers. I happened to be among the few girls who made it to the university, yet I wasn’t much better either. Growing from that kind of environment, with no role models, where men were always beating their wives in the open and nobody did anything, where girls were seen as lesser human beings with no future and nothing to offer, where just completing your primary school was an achievement. I suffered from low self-esteem.

So yes, for more than ten years I struggled, to love myself, to be myself, to fit in school. I grew up with no friends in because I never felt good enough. I grew up in fear, fear of being myself, fear of speaking to people, fear of breaking free, fear of being different, fear of being rejected fear of taking risks. I felt worthless, like I was nobody and I deserved nothing good. It’s funny how fear can really enslave us into being its servant.

When I joined campus, I still struggled with self-esteem but now I was ready to face that fear, I just didn’t know how. I wanted to be myself, to accept Olivia for who she was, I wanted to live a life that can be remembered and emulated. As Paulo Coelho puts it “when you want something, all universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”  The universe helped me, by bringing these three amazing women to my life, they didn’t just become my friends but also my mentors. Unlike most young people who have famous and powerful people as their mentors, my mentors were the same age as me. Winfred Buya, Maryasumpta Njoki and Joan Namuma, I appreciate and celebrate you always.

These three women nurtured me; they believed in me, they showed me how much freedom there is in being me. They did not become my voice; they knew I had a powerful voice, so they taught me how to use that voice. They taught me that I didn’t need validation from other people to love myself, but loving people came from loving me first. I never knew how much power I had, but now I know, because other women saw my power and taught me to how to harness it. Now I help other young women to harness their power and see the much they can do when they break free from fear. Today I am a woman giving other women their voices, I cofounded a community Based Organization that empowers women to become agents of change, am part of a mentorship programs, am a mentor to other young women, am a role model to young girls in my community. Women don’t know the kind of impact they have when they support each other, and once as women we realize this, achieving SDG 5 will be much easier and faster.

I was once afraid of people saying, “Who does she think she is?” Now I have the courage to stand and say, “This is who I am.” I am who I am because another woman cared. Amazing things happen when women lift each other, what are you doing as a woman to build another woman? No, women are not their own Enemies!

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Olivia Otieno

Olivia Otieno, 24 years, Kisumu,Kenya. Olivia is a graduate from Maseno University with a Bachelors of Science in Public Health. For the past 10 months she has been sexual reproductive health rights advocate at Network for Adolescents and Youths of Africa, Kenya(NAYA),an organization that aims at enhancing the capacity of youths to advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights,through advocacy from the community level up to national level. Her role as a youth advocate involves media, budgetary and international advocacy for reforms and implementation of international, national and county policies and legislation to improve the quality of accessibility of sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services .She Cofounded Empower HER Initiative in 2014, a community based organization that aims at empowering girls socially and economically to become agents of change. She has been in charge of various projects like mentorship, student mother's program, fight against GBV and leadership trainings. Olivia has been trained on Leadership at the Young African Leaders Initiative East Africa regional Center. Through these experiences she has developed skills on capacity building, effective communication, documentation, advocacy, leadership and entrepreneurship. Olivia focuses on Gender and Women, leadership programs, sexual and reproductive health ,Education and public health.