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World Pulse

ZAMBIA: I Survived and Now I’m Helping Others

by MUSENGE MUSOMALI for World Pulse

A survivor of sexual abuse and HIV, Musenge Musomali gives thanks to the organization that saved her life and inspired her to help others.

“Their love, encouragement, and support helped me to gain a new hope.”

My name is Musenge. I am a Zambian woman, aged 36. I am the founder and executive director of Liberated Hearts Foundation.

And I am also a survivor of incest, child sexual abuse, and HIV.

During the early years of my childhood, I viewed our home as a safe environment. I believed I would grow up to be whatever and whoever I wanted to be. My parents were educated with decent jobs; my father was an accountant and my mother a nurse. Having a good education was very important in our home.

But when I was 7 years old, everything changed in our home. My father became physically and emotionally abusive towards my mother, sister, and my three brothers. Since I was my father’s favorite child, he was good to me and spared me from the beatings everyone else endured.

But I was not spared from abuse. While my father raged against my mother and siblings, I suffered silently at the hands of my brother who had begun to sexually abuse me. At first it seemed like a nightmare, but as time went on, I began to realize the abuse was real. I withdrew into my world of pain and isolation.

No one noticed that I had changed. It seemed as though everyone in my family was struggling. We had all developed ways to cope with the abuse we were experiencing. I got used to it; it became a normal part of my life.

When I was 10, my father fell ill and passed on in 1994 from AIDS-related health complications. He passed away without ever knowing what was going on under his roof.

After my father’s death, I thought the sexual abuse would stop, but I was sadly mistaken. When one brother stopped abusing me, another one began. I was afraid to tell anyone because my brothers always told me we would get a nasty beating from our parents if they ever found out. He said that if I told, all our friends and other family members would find out which would bring shame and embarrassment upon the family. I accepted the abuse as my fate.

After my dad died, my brothers took his place and became uncontrollably abusive towards my mother. My father had created three exact, abusive replicas of himself. Due to enormous stress as well as AIDS-related health related complications, my mother eventually fell seriously ill too and passed away in 1994.

With my parents gone, my sister, who had left home and married, took on the responsibility of taking care of all of us.I was sent to boarding school and was able to finally escape the sexual abuse. But my brothers continued to terrorize my sister. They would steal her money and escape into a world of alcohol, women, and drugs.

During the holidays, I too abused alcohol, drugs, and sex. I had developed destructive behaviors. It seemed everyone in my family was highly dysfunctional and that no one would help us.

The tragedies continued: One of my brothers got meningitis and died suddenly. A year after his death, my sister passed away from fungal meningitis. As if that wasn’t enough to lose my parents, a brother, and my sister, another one of my brothers also died from Tuberculosis, leaving only me and one brother.

At this time, I was 19 years old. I moved in with a man who turned out to be psychologically, mentally, and emotionally abusive. I endured the abuse because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. In the first year of this relationship, I got pregnant, but my baby tragically died from pneumonia. At my medical check up, I discovered that I was HIV positive.

After my daughter’s death and my diagnosis, I finally gathered enough courage to leave the man I lived with. I went to stay with a family friend, and continued to destruct.

Then, by some miracle, things began to change for me. At 21, I got very sick and was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. My health deteriorated rapidly, and I was taken to Our Lady’s Hospice, a Catholic non-profit organization.

This organization saved my life. It was there that I met caring and wonderful counselors, nuns, and caregivers who prayed with me and gave me encouragement and support. I had been through a lot in my life, and I had lost the will to live. Their love, encouragement, and support helped me to gain a new hope. I did not know that total strangers would give their all to a woman like me who felt rejected, neglected, abandoned and unloved.

When I fully recovered in early 2004, I began to volunteer at Our Lady’s Hospice as a counselor. From that moment my life took a whole different turn, and I began to give encouragement and support to other people who were diagnosed with HIV.

Since then, I have continued my work as an HIV activist as well as an advocate for the rights of girls and women who have been victims of incest and sexual abuse.

I share this today to thank Our Lady’s Hospice for helping me become who I am today, and to let others know that there is hope. This organization did not give up on me, even when I had lost my will to live. They stood by my side even when my own family had left me there to die. For four months, they took care of all my needs and helped me to rebuild my life.

I was discharged from their care 13 years ago, and I am still an HIV/AIDS activist.

Earlier this year, I registered my own organization called Liberated Hearts Foundation. We address issues of child sexual abuse, especially within families. My foundation is also helping to ensure that children who are abused have access to medical treatment to reduce the chances of HIV infection or pregnancy resulting from abuse.

After struggling for years, I have come out to speak publicly about my ordeal. I am determined to be a role model for others from similar backgrounds. I want those who are struggling to know that with help like the love and care I received from Our Lady’s Hospice, they too can change their lives and change the world.

STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller!Learn more.

Originally published at www.worldpulse.com on December 1, 2017.

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