Natalie only recently arrived at Heshima this spring from the Congo, but already has blossomed amongst new friends and new books, growing more confident with each passing day. An eager student of 16 years, Natalie is a quick learner and constantly asked me for more books and assignments to write. While she is naturally shy and reserved, with a pen in her hand Natalie is at no loss for words and commands a mastery of English far beyond her 8 years of formal schooling. Her father was a professor years ago and inspired her intellectual curiosity as well as intuitive understanding that only some men resort to treating women poorly.
“Living hell is this world in the absence of women,” Natalie writes, and she has seen hell on Earth. Fleeing her childhood home in the dead of night after rebels sacked her village, Natalie saw her father killed while trying to reason with the attackers. Women are peacemakers, she insists, but they are not able to fulfill this vital role when they are treated like objects. Natalie notes this objectification has plagued women in the Congo even before the rebel war that destroyed her family and her home. She explains that “most men in my homeland treat women as their objects since they have to pay a bride price or dowry before marriage,” literally degrading women to a commodity to be traded between father and husband.
Natalie relishes the opportunity to voice her opinions so freely now in Kenya, producing a long list of the Congo’s gender disparities. Women cannot eat all types of meat that men can, cannot go to school without male permission, are married off young at men’s behest, and possess no freedom of movement. It is little wonder that Natalie so relishes the educational opportunities at Heshima; were she still in the Congo, she understands that she would likely be married off by now at the age of 16 and denied the right to continue her education. Natalie is passionate about going to college someday. “Congolese men still believe that a man must have the last say,” she explains, and despite her shy demeanor, Natalie today possesses a confidence that will permit no man to stop her from attaining her education.
Written by Beth Goldberg