I lost my legs to polio. I found my strength in sisterhood.
My name is Mwanret Gabriel. I’m a 31 years old. This is my story.
I was born in a polygamous family where my father had two wives and 14 children. According to my mother, I was born healthy and happy and was always playing around, but when I turned four, I became very ill and was diagnosed with Polio. I lost the use of both legs.
I could not do anything for myself. I could not go to school like the other children and I became depressed. My siblings would go to school and my parents would go to the farm, leaving me alone for hours. When I turned eight, my father took me to school and I was admitted to second grade. I performed very well, and I became happier. Even though I could not jump and play like other children, I felt good being around my peers.
Some children and adults alike would laugh at my condition and call me names. My mother helped me fight my way through the stigma and rejection. Despite the discrimination I faced, I remained strong until I finished high school.
After I graduated, I met Rengkat, the first man I have ever loved. He promised to marry me and take care of me. I was happy. My father did not support us getting married as he was afraid that Rengkat would not remain faithful. Nevertheless, we did marry.
After three months, I got pregnant. Immediately after having my daughter, Valentina, Rengkat’s attitude began to change. He started complaining and arguing over little issues. He even told me that he regretted marrying me because since our marriage, his life had become stagnant. He stopped caring for me and stayed out longer. Once again, I depended on my parents for all my essential needs and now I had a child to care for too.
It was difficult to go on.
I heard about Women for Women International at my church and I was fortunate to be enrolled into the program. Since I joined the organization, my life has changed. I built relationships with many other women during the program. I found two close friends, Amira and Nankus, who come to my house every training day to drive me on my wheelchair to the center.
Before, I used to depend on others for everything but now I am self-confident. I learned how to speak up about my personal challenges during class discussions. It helped me deal with my past. I learned that my thoughts are valid. I never knew I could be bold and courageous. I never imagined I would be a strong woman who can lead others. Through Women for Women International’s program, I learned the qualities of a good leader. Today, I am the group leader in my class and the youth leader of my church.
I formed a savings group with six other women from my program. We all contribute 1,000 Naira (about $2.75) every month to our mutual savings. Our savings will be shared at the end of the year. Until then, we can each take loans, with an interest rate of five percent, to start businesses or grow our ventures.
I took out a loan of 10,000 Naira (about $27) from the group and I started the business of selling used children’s clothes. This business has earned me the interest of 47,000 Naira (about $129) in five and a half months.
I also learned poultry farming at Women for Women International’s program. I bought ten chickens using a part of my stipend given by the organization and was able to take care of them and sell them back, earning a profit. I plan to continue rearing chickens as my main business after graduation and to sell used clothes on the side. I want to earn and save enough to continue my education. My dream is to attend the College of Health Technology.
Looking into the future, I hope to see a future where all women will know their rights and fully exercise them. I hope my daughter will be able to attain the highest level of education, something I never had the opportunity to do.
Mwanret Gabriel’s story was told with help from Lengkat Yokden, a social empowerment trainer with Women for Women International in Nigeria.