• Her road to mending broken lives
By Esther Onyegbula
Rising above any form of abuse is usually the most difficult part of being a survivor. It becomes more difficult when the abuse is both physical and sexual; as it comes with psychological trauma which sometimes lasts a lifetime. Turning her lemons to lemonade, Deborah Funmi Mupapa, who was abused physically and sexually by her stepfather at the age of 12, not only found emotional healing which redefined life’s purpose, she also founded ‘Empowerment of African Women’, a branch of D&Ks Foundation operating in Finland, Congo and Nigeria.
With a passion to help women in Africa undergoing similar experiences, Mupapa encourages them to speak out. In this interview, the inspirational speaker and entrepreneur talks about how she was raped consistently by her stepfather at 12, and how growing up as a rejected child helped to prepare the path she is currently treading.
Did your growing up as a rejected child prepare you for what you are doing today?
Yes, my childhood prepared me for what l am doing. I do understand when a woman cries to me because I was robbed of my childhood. I was abused physically and sexually. My mother left me at the tender age of two due to her second marriage issues; consequently I couldn’t enjoy my childhood. I was left with my grandma whom I came to refer to as my mum. At the age of seven, I lost my grandma. This made me lose hope in life as my grandma was like an angel to me. Losing her made me feel empty. Thereafter, my life took a turn for the worse and the whole experience began.
When my grandma died, I was sleeping in a room with her for two days without knowing. I was sleeping with a corpse as I didn’t know the meaning of death at that time. I woke up each morning to play outside and later come back to sleep by her side till people around the village came to check on her because they hadn’t seen her for a couple of days. They found her dead. People started crying but I couldn’t get the meaning of that, I just knew she was sick.
After death dealt me a cruel blow by snatching my grandma, family members from different places had a meeting to decide who would take care of me. Despite all the meetings, no one was ready to take me in. So I had to be put under some temporary care by an unknown family. While under this care, the search for my mother continued. However while living with this family, I faced serious challenges because I was used as a housemaid. I was made to sleep in stores where they kept their firewood and sheep. Sometimes I would be severely beaten and also sometimes I had to eat leftovers and stay without food for days. As far as I can remember, there was a time I had to eat the food left over by the family dog.
Abused by stepdad at the age of 12
When I was eventually united with my biological mother at the age of 12, my stepfather didn’t want me in their house and my mother was powerless to change that course. This brought more and more suffering even in my mother’s house because I was physically and sexually abused by my stepfather. I was so humiliated and l kept asking why I had to experience all these and who could take the pains away from me. I felt like I couldn’t make it anymore in life. Growing up, I felt less of a woman and thought that no man could ever look at me because of all I had been through. Then I was told to keep the abuse within me, but it killed me very single day.
Loneliness, pain and despair started to take a toll on me. I thought all my dreams were gone and wondered why I was born in the first place.
How did you get over the trauma?
Those were very painful moments, but I was somehow inspired to move on; I realized that each day of my life would always present a new chance. With this I was able to move on and be happy. I also learnt not to look back but always focus on what to come. I also believed I had a mission to show the world how important women are. Education eventually proved to be my only hope and I had to sell boiled eggs and yam to be able to pay my school fees. That was the only thing I had to do, since my step father hated me and he was not ready to pay for my school fees. Thus I had to do everything to make sure I completed my tertiary education.
What is the inspiration behind ‘Empowerment of African Women?’
Women are faced with many responsibilities and are also faced with a lot of problems such as discrimination and domestic violence. Why? Because the role of women in society has been greatly overseen in the last few decades. However, people now share a different perspective of women and their role in society today. This has been achieved through empowering young girls and women. The D&K Foundation’s empowerment of African women is a non-profit initiative trying to ensure that women regain their rightful and dignified status in the society. Our mission is to empower women thorough micro-enterprise, education, jobs, skills acquisition etc. We are also working on projects which will help solve problems that affect women and young girls thus allowing them to fully attain their potentials and abilities. To mark my birthday, I am organising an initiative to empower women with micro loan. Participants need a five minutes video presentation, stating their nature of business/business idea and how the business will impact their communities.
Final word to anyone out there presently going through abuse and keeping silent…
I want them all to know that we cannot continue to keep silent. Breaking the silence is a big medication to your healing process and you have to let go of your past and embrace the new you. Pick up the pieces of your life and reform it to build a new you. There is power in your broken heart; you have the power to change your life. All you have to do is to identify who you are, and remember that before you can have a breakthrough in life, you have to break to be able to be through.
If I can make it….you can do better.