By Funmi Ajumobi & Omotola Christopher
Life, they say, is not about where you were born. It is also not about whether you were born rich or poor; it is what you decide to make out of life that matters.
Jensine Larsen, an American, despite being home-schooled because of her paralyzing shyness in elementary school days, did not allow her present self-esteem to be killed at that time. She read every book her parents bought for her, including the Diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who had to go into hiding during World War II and wrote about the mass murder of the Jewish people in the war, subsequently deciding to find a solution to difficult things.
In her determination to succeed in life, Jensine became a freelance journalist, saved money from working for different families as a babysitter and travelled to the Amazon rain forest at 19. There, according to her, she saw mothers living in the forest where there was oil contamination and the water was poisoned and their children were dying of cancers.
They asked her to tell their story to the world. She also travelled to Thailand at the Burmese border where she saw ethnic cleansing, mass rape, violence and the women there also begged her to tell their story.
According to the award-winning digital entrepreneur, Jensine decided not to merely tell other women’s stories. She wanted to be the source, a place where women can tell their stories and speak for themselves and, since then, nothing has stopped her.
Today, she is unlocking the potentials of women worldwide through digital communication with her organisation, World Pulse, which she founded at 28 and through which she has given voice to tens of thousands of women from more than 200 countries in rural villages and conflict zones, using internet cafes and cell phones.
“I believe that the creative human potential of women and girls is the greatest untapped resource on earth. As a young freelance journalist working in South-East Asia and South America, I realised that the immense challenges facing women in remote and impoverished regions were seldom covered in the mainstream media. So I started World Pulse to give these women a voice,” she said during a visit to Nigeria.
Purpose in Nigeria
“The purpose of my coming to Nigeria is to connect with the World Pulse women in Nigeria. We have a very large network of women here. They are working on very important issues and how World Pulse can better lift women in their different endeavours. And also we have a World Pulse movie that we are shooting. The filmmaker is coming to shoot the story of Olutosin Oladosu, the founder of Tosin Turns Trash to Treasure, and how her life has changed and how she has been able to change other people’s lives because of World Pulse. We have over 3,000 members in Nigeria and across the world, we have over 64, 000 members,” she told Vanguard.
“Olutosin and other women are working on widow rights, land rights and empowerment trainings that are income-generating.”
On the purpose of shooting a movie for the World Pulse in Nigeria, she said: “It is to tell the stories of members who have made incredible change and to elevate the profile of World Pulse because the group is still not very well known at global level. It is still growing and we have a big goal for our expansion and growth. The movie is going to be shot in four countries; we already went to the Philippines to cover a woman who was elected into the national government. We will also be seeing a woman in India who is working on Menstrual Hygiene.
We also interviewed a woman in Texas who has been a victim of religious discrimination and domestic abuse and has come back to graduate from college and has built a network of sisters that she supports in her own little way.”
Asked if experience in domestic violence was a criterion for choosing the women for the film, she answered: “It’s a universal experience for women. One out of every three women in the world has experienced domestic violence and that has reflected in our network. What is different about World Pulse is that it’s a safe place where women can narrate their experiences; those very difficult things that may be hard to tell your family or tell your neighbour, you can share there safely and no one will attack you. The site is moderated, so you are protected and you can feel empowered and feel supported.”
On how the group has helped to reduce violence against women globally, Jensine said: “What we do know is that our members have impacted over 7.6 million lives through the benefits they have gotten from World Pulse. But much of it is reducing violence; so you have sisters like Olutosin here in Nigeria, Fiona in Kenya and Barti in India giving us the data. Barti for example, had a small organisation of 200 with the goal to end women violence in India and she was struggling to grow but she couldn’t and she came on to World Pulse and she met different organisations and NGOs that supported her. Today, she has grown her programme to serve 8, 000 women and 500 men and boys are working towards ending violence in their communities.”
On the vision of World Pulse, she said: “The vision of World Pulse is for women to have equal voice with men and equality in society.”
On whether a woman has to be abused to join World Pulse, Jensine replied: “We have space for anyone who wants to make a change for women in our society and that includes men”.
Asked what she planned to take out of Nigeria from her visit, the activist said, “Nigeria is like a model for our network and a model for the rest of our world. The energy of women leaders here in Nigeria is very high and they are doing so much with so little which is incredible. They are networking across the North, the East and the West and it is impactful.”
Speaking on how World Pulse is funded, she stated: “Things have changed over the years. When I started World Pulse, I was very shy and had no money. I grew up poor in the countryside of the middle part of America. So, I didn’t know how to raise money. I first went to some families that I had helped to babysit their kids and then they trusted me with their children; and so I asked them to help me start this dream and they would give me small cheques. And then I started doing small house parties in women’s living rooms where I lived and I would say I have this vision for this media outlet and they would give me small cheques until I was able to have a small staff. At that point, we were starting to gain popularity. And with time, I was able to get large cheques from big organisations and NGOs, philanthropists and foundations in the US. Today, most of our funding comes from philanthropists and foundations and some businesses. My dream is for our network to be self-sustaining.”
On her advice for women silently enduring violence, she pointed out: “I want to tell those women enduring difficult circumstances who may not see a way forward that they have something powerful: The world needs their voices. What is that unique message or dream you have for the world? Speak it out loud to anyone that you can and, once you break that silence and tell your dream to others, something magical happens; other people start to see it, support you and, of course, you can come to World Pulse and tell your story and you will find support and network. And I know from personal experience; I was shy, I didn’t think I mattered. I didn’t think I had anything to offer but then I saw this dream of World Pulse and I knew it. The vision led me into something new and then I met Olutosin online. I met my sisters in India and Saudi Arabia online and they lifted me.“
On what she had to say to the young girls in Nigeria, Africa and around the world who are experiencing various forms of abuse against the backdrop that a survey said that four out of 10 young girls in Nigeria are sexually abused before the age of 18 and for boys, it is one out of 10, she answered: “It’s almost the same with us in the United States. So to those girls out there, I say ‘it is not your fault, it is nothing that you have done and it is the sickness of the mind that has to change and it continues because of the silence and because people are tolerating it and we have to break the silence, we have to change the behaviour.’ She has to speak up so that her story can push and inspire others. Her voice can heal others.”
Do you have any experience with abuse?’
Jensine replied, “Yes, I do have experience with abuse. My experience of abuse was at the hands of an uncle when I was younger. I don’t remember it much but my mum told me about it. My mother found out about it and was so upset she kicked the uncle out of the house; so I don’t have traumatic memories of it.”
She added that her drive comes from reading.
“I started reading books from when I was a young girl and I read the Diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who had to go into hiding during World War Two, wrote about the mass murder of Jewish people in war. I read these stories of difficult things and I just felt my heart wanted to go through difficult things to find a solution. So I wanted to know the truth and then find a solution. Women around the world are the solution. I know that with every single breath I take and for the rest of my life, it is my life’s purpose to not only tell the world with my voice but to also let the world hear the incredible voices of these women.
“I was a journalist in the Amazon rain forest at 19. There were mothers living in the forest where there was oil contamination and the water was poisoned and their children were dying of cancers and they said to me, ‘tell our story.’ I then travelled to South East Asia in Thailand at the Bormatie border and saw ethnic cleansing, mass rape and violence there. The women also said, ‘Please tell our story.’ It was very hot and I was sleeping on a bamboo mat in the refugee camp and looking at stars in the sky and I saw the vision of World Pulse and it was pulsing light, it was blue light of a woman’s voice coming out; it activated other women’s voices. I just realised I wasn’t to be merely telling other women’s stories. I wanted to be the source, the place where women can tell their stories and speak for themselves. Nothing can stop me.”
Corroborating Jensine, her host, Olutosin Oladosu, founder of Tosin Turns Trash to Treasure, had this to say about her experience: “I saw real domestic violence both at home and in the working place. I used to write my experiences in poems. I will write my poem and keep it under my bed and cry. One day, my husband said there is this website where ‘I see women like you sharing their stories; when I look at their stories, it’s exactly the way you write’. The very man that was abusing me led me to light. He will tell me that it was not his fault that he abused me, that it was because he had challenges. He wasn’t working for six, seven years. So he told me there was this place ‘they write like you and talk like you, talking about ending violence against women’, he wanted me go online and see what they were doing. I went online and checked it out and, for a whole month, I would go online and read the stories. Some of the stories were exactly like mine. After some time, I signed up.”