The following is a departure from our usual news stories. It’s a moving account of inspiration and transformation, written by Lumba Mwale (not her real name), a learner in one of the Zambia FutureLife-Now! schools.
It is often said that your past doesn’t have to determine your future, and this is very true for me. I have transformed from an ugly caterpillar to being a wonderful butterfly that is soaring above the ground. Here is my story.
I am now an 18-year-old girl. I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was 10; after that, everything started going bad. My mother was a pastor and travelled a lot, but after she had a stroke she couldn’t do much anymore. After she stopped work and my father left, my elder siblings started smoking and drinking, and things deteriorated in our family. Watching my family falling apart and we becoming a dysfunctional family tore me apart: it was something I had never anticipated.
And the divorce had a negative impact on me too, especially at school. My grades dropped, and although I was only in Grade 6, I got into a relationship with a boy. He was quite a bit older than me, and he smoked and drank. I was soon smoking and drinking when I spent time with him and began hanging out with a bad crowd. School was the last place I wanted to be.
I thought, “If I smoke and drink, I will forget my pain and my parents’ divorce. Maybe our family can become what we once were.” What I really craved was the attention of my parents, their love and support. When they couldn’t give it, I went looking for it from the boys, and smoking and drinking seemed to ease the pain. My family had no idea how I felt or what I was doing.
When I was about 13, I became sexually active. I would have unprotected sex, then take the morning-after pill or emergency contraceptives. Succumbing to peer pressure, like my friends I “made love” for money; in reality, nothing more than being paid for having unprotected sex. Why not: my friends were doing it and encouraging me to do the same?
Yet I felt used and not really loved at all. Then I got a real shock. Some of my friends got pregnant. I started to reflect on my life. I wanted something different, something better. I decided to change my environment. That’s when I opted to go to an all-girls boarding school, so that I could focus on my education and “become someone” in the future. It wasn’t necessarily easy: I had lost almost a year of schooling and had to now repeat my grade. But it was worth it.
My life started getting back on track when I started at the boarding school. Staying in the boarding establishment, there were no boys to meet or chances to engage in smoking and drinking. My grades improved and I started to feel alive again. It wasn’t easy at first: habits die hard; I still craved tobacco and alcohol. But I persevered. I wanted to wash away my old habits and start a new life.
One of the things that helped me was when I started attending the peer education sessions with the FutureLife-Now! youth facilitators. It helped me gain an insight on many issues, especially on “safe and unsafe sexual behaviours.” This topic really touched me as I had once been careless with my life because I didn’t have information or anyone to guide me to make the right decisions. But the information presented in the sessions opened my eyes on how I could protect myself from unsafe sexual practices. I got to learn how to be assertive, stay strong and stand my ground and not let others pressure me or use me for their selfish motives.
So my fellow learners: there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw mine and am willing to become a better version of myself and to make a positive change in my family, despite the challenges. I never want my past to define me. Instead, I am choosing to learn from it and become an example for others.