Lainey H., Dundalk, Maryland

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Photo: Lainey Hutchison

My name is Lainey Hutchison and I am 23 years old. I come from a little town called Dundalk. Anytime that information is disclosed, you usually get the same reaction. Yes, Dundalk may be a little rough around the edges and some behavior that transpires there may be a bit questionable; none the less, Dundalk is home and it is where I learned most of life’s greatest lessons. I learned how to work hard, push through tough times, and most importantly… how to love. I am one of 7 children. Like many people, I come from a broken home. I am 1 of 4 on my mother’s side and also 1 of 4 from my father’s side.

This is significant because normally it is assumed that a child from this type of home environment means emotional damage and serious baggage. Perhaps this could be true, however, coming from such a family arrangement and having millions of sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents means that there is an extensive amount of room for the most abiding love. It means always having someone to watch your back and to make sure you’re well taken care of.

It meant not only having a mother, but have other powerful women in my life to help me realize my potential in a town where no one ever leaves.

Dundalk is like the plague. Everyone went to the same high school, married their high school sweethearts, had children, their children went to the same high school…. it becomes a habitual cycle with no escape. You can’t go to your local CVS without seeing your Aunt Shirley’s neighbor, your first grade teacher, or your ex boyfriend (the one you cringe even thinking about.)

I guess this matters so much to me because late August 2014 I lost the most influential woman in my entire life.

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Photo: Lainey and her mother

I lost my mother, Heather Powell, to an asthma induced heart attack at the age of 42. Your mother is your mentor, your best friend, and your therapist. My mother wanted nothing more than to see me get the hell out of dodge and make something with my life.

Over millions of anxiety-induced text messages in fear of what the future may hold for a young 20-something who is just figuring stuff out; I would spill my heart out to my mother.

“Mom, I am going to fail nursing school and I’m going to be stuck.”

“Mom, I am going to be a lonely woman who lives with all of her cats because no one loves me.”

“Mom, I really don’t like myself today.”

and she ALWAYS shut down those moments of insecurity with truth.

She taught me mental health is so extremely important to get a handle on.

It was real, and the advice came from a woman who endured it firsthand.

She said, “Babe, I know school is hard but you can do It.” and, “Babe, you are beautiful and I am so proud to be your momma.” and things like, “And if anyone thinks otherwise, screw em.” I didn’t know how very important these self-confirming messages would be in my life until I didn’t receive them from her anymore.

My mother grew up in a broken home herself. She didn’t receive the love she deserved from her father, and she didn’t receive it from the men she decided to let into her life and heart.

Losing her took a long time to even begin to minimally accept. It took a long time to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and unstable mind.

I’ve also had an aunt who undeniably has been the greatest role model a girl can have. My Aunt Racee is a Stage 2 B Cervical Cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at the age of 23. She has played a significant role in my life as another mother figure.

She taught me what it means to be a strong woman. Life can do terrible things to you, like deprive you of your ability to bear children. She made me realize there is nothing too big or small you can’t overcome. When bad things try to get you down, you can fight it. You can always fight it. There is so much strength in the woman that you are and you should be proud of it. No man or no other being can take that away from you. No one can take your love, your faith, your intelligence, or your dignity.

She is the kind of person who exudes the most powerful kind of love. So much love that sometimes it intimidates people who are not used to something so pure. She is a person who has been through it and who has remained beautifully poised and successful. She has been a person that I have tried to mirror in many aspects of my life.

I was so incredibly lucky to have all of the influential women that I’ve had in my life. I want the world to celebrate the kind of women we have in our lives and to try to make a concentrated effort to promote those strong characteristics. We all need to stand together and teach young women what it means to take a bite out of the world and do all of the things that were once unimaginable.

I’m grateful I got to learn this and if I am meant to be on this world simply to relay this message for generations of women to come, so be it.

To the future sisters of the world—

  1. NEVER SETTLE. You were not put on this Earth to abide by the social conditions of this society. If there is something you truly want, promise me you will go out and do it. This life is a short one, an extremely short one. Do the things you want to do for you. (As long as you are not hurting anyone, of course.)
  1. LOVE LIKE ITS ALL THERE IS. Love everything that you do. Love everything that you experience. Love whatever higher being you believe in. Love the way the rain feels on your skin. Love the way your sister brings up inside jokes so you can bear sitting through family functions. Love your job. Love this world and all of its inhabitants. AND NEVER FEEL GUILTY FOR THE WAY YOUR EYES SHINE WHEN YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT THE THING YOU LOVE THE MOST. Never feel ashamed for loving your significant other, whoever it may be. Things in this life will try to steal the love right from your heart and only leave you feeling empty… DO NOT ALLOW IT.
  1. CALL YOUR FAMILY. Let them know how much they mean to you. Lend them an ear and a shoulder to cry on. Always photograph great moments, or write them down. You’ll be happy to have them when those people are no longer in your life. You will cherish those phone calls, even if it’s just to ask how their day is.
  1. OTHER GIRLS ARE NOT YOUR COMPETITION. STAND WITH THEM, NOT AGAINST THEM. Women have had to conquer many challenges such as reproductive rights, unfair work wages, sexual harassment, abuse, violence, judgment, and other pressing issues. The time is NOW to stand up together and change the way the world views women. Lead by example, stand up for yourself when you need to. When phrases such as, “She’s a crazy girl” or “It must be that time of the month” are being used to explain a woman’s strong and assertive behavior, challenge that behavior.

Above all, please know that there are people who are just like you out there. You’re never alone, even when you feel like it. Know that I am out here and you are on my mind. I hope you never second guess yourself and if you do, listen to my voice in your head.

14031067_10207217119885780_1078943431_n“You are beautiful.” “You matter.” and “You can do it.”

All of my love, always.
Lainey Elizabeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7485Lainey Hutchison (23), from Dundalk Maryland, is an aspiring nurse currently taking college courses at the Community College of Baltimore County. She is a secretary at a local hospital and a waitress in Highlandtown. When she is not spending time with family and friends, Lainey enjoys listening to old Otis Redding albums while painting as well as checking out local artists and musicians.  She is a fervent feminist, loves her community and is avidly trying to get involved with more local causes and volunteer organizations.

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Caroline Numuhire, Butare City, Rwanda

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Dear sister,

I grew up in Kigali but I was born in Butare, a University City in southern Rwanda. I grew up during a very challenging period because in my early childhood, Rwanda experienced one of the worst holocausts of our century. I grew up in a society torn by this division which engendered a profound mistrust among its children. But this doesn’t include the fact that I have known the insouciance and innocence of a childhood, children’s plays and oral stories told by the elders.

I grew up in a family of three girls and one boy. My father, though highly educated and very smart, was like the majority of African men who believe that women must play a secondary role in society. He was constantly recalling this. But my mother, a very emancipated woman, always whispered the contrary in our ears. At the same time, whenever something was wrong at home, my father would say, “What else can women do? My children, don’t be like your mother.” These messages frustrated me a lot and I grew up asking my mother all the time if my father was proud of having three girls. I would insistently say, “I’m quite sure that Dad would be more proud if he had three boys and one girl.”

My mother always reminded me how much our father loves us ever since we were small babies (which is true), but there were a lot of pressures from society and culture. Until now, I’m convinced that a Rwandan father is happier when he begets more boys than girls and not the other way around. They always say, “We need at least one baby boy!”

My Dreams as a Young Girl

To be honest, I don’t remember most of my dreams from when I was a young girl. Both of my parents have university degrees. I never dreamed to be educated because it was so obvious that I would go to school. I was very brilliant in primary school since I was imitating my mother to speak “good French!”

But I think that I dreamed of being beautiful. There is one particular dream that I clearly remember. It was 1998 and I was 10 years old. Rwanda had not yet recovered from the 1994 aftereffects and living conditions were still precarious. My parents were employed but earned a low income. Whenever it rained, I would wash my feet and sit on the couch, my small body covered by a warm blanket. My dream at that time was to have a cup of hot milk with bread and watch cartoons on TV during the rain. I hated when my feet touched the mud. 

I was born in a wealthy family that faced poverty and recovered from it. I’m grateful because this situation helped me to learn the meaning of “I have learned to give not because I have too much but because I’ve known the feeling of not having enough.”

My prevalent dream is to write stories, novels about girls’ and women’s empowerment, stories that restore dignity of people experiencing destitution. There are so many injustices in the world that drive me crazy, but the change that I want to be a part of is the one of young girls who grow up in rural areas. Girls who did not have access to studies and who sometimes think that their lives belong to their fathers and then their husbands. I wish to help these girls access informal employment which will generate revenue. With some money in their pocket, one can afford independence that leads to real self-empowerment.

My message for future girls in my village, city, town & place of employment:

To be a girl is a blessing. We are beautiful, kind, resilient, wise, and we are ABLE. Strive to move forward and dream big even when it’s not easy in places like Africa but it is possible. We can do tremendous things; we can achieve our dreams; we can change the world. Fight for your independence. Work hard to earn your life, remove from your mind the idea that a man will sponsor your expenses. We all have dreams but few people work hard enough to achieve them.

Achieve yours.

Don’t believe in all modern theories; there are some that are irrelevant. For example, don’t misunderstand gender equity. If the modern society grants us this right as female, this doesn’t mean insolence and arrogance. It’s a chance for us to show that we are worth it. Respect your male peers because we are equal and we complement each other. Find the good balance between modernism and culture. Africa has one of the best cultures in the world. Distinguish what is relevant to you and keep it but don’t turn down all of your culture to comply with the western world. Don’t lose your African roots.

We are marvelous. YOU are marvelous. Love everyone but most of all, learn how to love yourself, to be confident and to trust your feminine instinct inside. I encourage you to read a lot because knowledge is power. If you and I are a divided society, don’t follow that trend because it’s easier for you. Be blind to your differences- your heart should not separate people. Choose your friends according to their values and not their family, tribe, ethnic group, race, or wealth. You can learn this wisdom from reading Romans 12 of the Holy Bible which ends by: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Who inspires me?

I have ended up realizing that my mother has influenced the empowered girl that I am today because she has spent her entire career fighting for the rights of those in poverty. But I’m always inspired by the look of a child whose young life is impacted by poverty.

I decided to hold my head high, put my shoulders back, and suffer with dignity: I would give every woman and girl reasons to be proud and never regret being educated, successful, and talented. What I have is something to celebrate and not to ridicule or dishonor.” – Wangari Muta Mathaai, Unbowed

Your sister,
Caroline Numuhire
Kigali, Rwanda

caroline flowerMy name is Caroline Numhire and I am 26 years old. I was born in Butare City, Rwanda. In 2013, I graduated  from University of Rwanda in Agricultural sciences with a major in Rural development and agribusiness. That same year, I began volunteering with Save The Children. Since February 2014, I joined Gardens for Health International (GHI) to fight childhood malnutrition. I’m currently a Global Health Corps fellow at GHI who believes in social justice, in the power                                                                                                            of story telling and in children, girls                                                                                                                  and women.