By: Beryl Moraa, Kenya

As you read this blog, let my journey inspire you but remember that yours won’t be the same as mine because our dreams are different.

“Moraa, I conceived you when I was in form three, at 17 years old. I had to drop out of school, so always remember that you are my walking form four certificate. I might not provide any luxuries, but I will endeavor to provide the basic needs. I will ensure you access education to whichever level you want; that is what I want to gift to you. And I want you to use it to change the world. You have a choice to make a difference or let history repeat itself.”

This is what my mum told me at the age of 11. It is because of her that I mentor and advocate for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women, and gender equality. She is my inspiration, and my pillar of strength.

It was tough growing up, seeing my mother struggle to put food on the table. She was - and is still - the sole breadwinner. I have not forgotten those times when we had to wait until late in the night for her to come back because no one would give us vegetables on credit anymore. I also haven’t forgotten the number of times my mother and I spent the night in different neighborhoods just to evade violence from my drunk stepfather. She would apologize on his behalf and tell me that all this would come to pass. Nobody, not even my classmates, ever knew what I was going through.

I remember having to use pieces of cloth during my periods. There was not money to buy disposable sanitary towels; it was simply not a priority. In high school, I always had trouble paying my school fees. A classmate gave me a new blouse, skirt, and socks when my uniforms were worn out, and helped me buy school shoes when the ones I had were torn beyond repair.

When I finished high school, I didn’t have the money to go to college. A neighbor offered to pay my college fee, but only on the condition that he would marry me as a second wife. I refused. Instead, a neighbor sponsored me to attend another school and take the test to earn a government sponsorship - which I did.

I attended Maseno University and became a peer counselor. It was the best decision that I’ve ever made. Becoming a counselor allowed me to stand up, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. I told myself that I wanted to let go of my past and bitterness. Making peace with my past was the first step I took into my new journey of becoming what I had always wanted to be - a mentor and advocate for girls’ and women’s health and rights.

Since then, I have worked for Ipas Africa Alliance and Amref Health Africa’s Youth Advocacy Project. Today, I work for Circles of Adolescent Health - Kenya, which sensitizes adolescent girls and young women on their sexual and reproductive health and rights, with a focus on menstrual hygiene management. It is my goal to elevate the voices of the voiceless.

We all have choices to make, irrespective of the social, cultural, political, religious, and economic challenges that we go through. These choices are what make us different, whether they have positive or negative consequences. You know what your dream is. As I conclude, I would love to share some steps that you too can take into becoming and achieving what you want.

1. Believe wisely in yourself

You have to believe that it’s possible, that you can do it, and that you deserve it. Think outside the box and define your own meaning of success.

2. Behave willingly

Be ready to make the first move and face the consequences and challenges that come your way. Do not expect everything to happen as you have planned, so have a flexible mind.

3. Become valuable

To become valuable, you should know yourself and your worth. Know your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

4. Beware wittily

Know that you can’t always be the best, and that there are times when failure will come your way. Also beware that people will always criticize you to the extent that you may want to quit. But before you do, remind yourself why you started it all.

5. Bestow worldly

Reach out and impart onto others. Be kind and stay humble even if you achieve because it is very tough to go up but very easy to come back down.

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#YoungWomenSay is a partnership with Say It Forward in support of International Youth Day 2018 and culminating on International Day of the Girl. The campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world, and is designed to harness the power of storytelling and social media to drive attention to their lived experiences, dreams, and aspirations. 

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