My mother, a woman who has never held a pencil in her life, had a dream of educating me. And so, I became the first woman in my family to learn the power of literacy. Beyond the abilities to read and write for myself, my educational opportunities have empowered me to take control over my own mind and body, to know that I can mold my life and my future into whatever I wish. The differences between my mother and me include making my own choices, taking my own chances, and embracing the resulting changes. And still, my mother and our female ancestors—with all of their obedience to culturally expected behavior—inspire me to reach for my own dreams so that I could tell the stories of the trails they blazed with their blood, sweat, and tears, and most importantly their resilience and survival. In sharing our stories, I hope we inspire and empower other survivors to tell their stories.
I believe powerful narratives and effective storytelling can change cultural norms and create a space for new stories, ideas, and norms to flourish. When it comes to changing deeply held beliefs and traditions, stories are foundational. Supporting and empowering survivors to share their stories and engage with the broader community protects generations of girls to come from this harmful practice. Stories are a powerful tool to generate change. Hidden beneath our “survival stories” are skills, resources, positive values, dreams, and desires. Storytelling can help develop compassion for oneself.