Leah

I get up every morning thankful that I know my purpose and can contribute positively towards building a legacy for future generations of women. It wasn’t always this rosy and my mission took a long time to become clear. Let me share my story, the beginnings of my life and what got me started and fired up.

I was raised by a matriarch, my grandmother – Marcia Musiwa Warner. She wasn’t a matriarch by default, in fact I don’t think she had a clue. She was a hard worker and because she was successful in her ambitions the family defaulted her into this title. She ruled by iron fist – never room for tom foolery. She enjoyed at times how some family members flocked to her for advice. Without knowing, this phenomenal woman taught me to fish rather than just feeding me. She was a natural entrepreneur. She was hard and ruthless at business, sometimes too hard. Nothing she did was deliberate; it was many years of hard work that resulted in her being not only an estate owner but also the owner of a successful chain of restaurants. Amidst the empire my grandmother had established was a story to yet be told.

I am birthed from a Zambian mother, a South African Father and a British Grandfather of Jamaican decent. I grew up in Zambia with a very interesting family; there was a combination of being an African little girl in a British home setting because I was raised by my Grandparents. I went to a Cambridge practice system school with an American culture and a convent for High School. I remember thinking life was fun and easy for the most part because I didn’t want for anything but hard because I could never really expound on ‘who I was’ nor ‘where I came from, historically’ these things created complexity in my young mind.

At the early age of 6 I was raped by our gardener who took advantage of my parents not being home early. This was brushed aside – according to my memory as it could not impact the family nor their status in society. I attempted suicide at the age of 15 and until now that has never been shared. I was confused as a teenager and I didn’t understand who I was or who we were, how my family operated didn’t make any sense to me.

After leaving school I packed a back pack with a bed spread, a couple of teddy bears that I still own today and decided to run away. I had $50 in my pocket, got on a bus with the help of a high school friend and left the country. I went to find my very good friend from high school in Zimbabwe even though I didn’t know exactly where she was. On route to my unknown destination, I met a man on the bus, and he noticed I was on my own and upset. When we arrived, he knew I had no-where to stay and suggested I go to an Inn he knew and that he could get me a room. When we got there all the rooms were taken, he suggested I stay in his room and that I could have the bed and he would sleep on the sofa. I was reluctant but he reassured me in the presence of the Inn keeper and other guests. With no other options, I decided it was a kind safe offer and agreed. In the middle of the night I woke up and he was in the bed pressed up against me trying to take advantage of me. I threatened to scream, and he retaliated by scalding me, telling me how a girl couldn’t expect to share a man’s room without giving him something. I was not about to back down so he told me to sleep on the chair or the floor as he would have the bed to himself If I wouldn’t share it. I was scared and stayed awake all night in the corner of then room watching him.

The next day, quite determined, I walked through the city and didn’t stop until I found my friend, which I did before the sun set! I stayed with her for a while and soon forget life’s tribulations and did what teenagers do for about 2 years. We had fun, we were young, we partied and were having a blast. One night we were getting ready to go out and I was nervous because a young person I was keen on was coming to pick us up. We were in a shared house with a couple of brothers who suggested we take the edge off the nerves with a couple of drinking games. They taught us a game that you needed to bounce a coin into a mug, if you missed you would be dared/strip or take a drink. My friend and I did not know that the boys had stashed other bottles behind them that they kept refilling the centre one with.

Unknowingly we were their target and before long we were totally inebriated and that night I got raped. I didn’t know what happened, in the morning we woke up and the bed was wet, my friend and I didn’t know why. We got showered and when we went downstairs my friend’s sister told us what had happened, and the boys thought it was funny. We couldn’t do anything at the time. In my case, I was young, had been reckless by running away from another country and didn’t have the right paper work to be living and working there.

I’ve never really told this story this way before.

Not long after, I moved out and worked harder to pay for a place of my own. There was no furnishing, it was what they called a bachelor pad; hard floor, nothing else, not even a stove. I had a big tin can in the middle of the main room that I would sit on and I’d eat cans of corned beef with my hands that I had pried open with a butter knife. I slept on my bedspread and used my teddy bears as pillows. I was so happy; I had my independence and I had my freedom.

It was a 15 kilometre walk to work and back every day because I couldn’t afford transportation. I had no food for weeks, just water, because my pay just covered my rent. Many times, I would pass out on the floor at my work space because I had no strength in me. But I would never admit this nor beg or accept offerings from those eating their food in my presence. An amazing Samaritan did come to my rescue eventually, never really knowing my true circumstances but without any judgement provided shelter, food and love.

I had not been in touch with my family for two years, so when I went back, they were devastated and very mad. Not only was I a disgrace to them and their status, my family was completely disappointed. I spent two weeks of my return, trying to reconcile with my family. A very strange occurrence took place in my third week being back at home. We had a regular power outage and so most homesteads turned off their geysers in the evening to save power. This meant mornings were kettle boiling wash sessions. This particular morning, after I had boiled my kettle and was headed to the bathroom to washup, I slipped and the kettle with its boiling contents emptied out on my face. The specialist said I needed a skin graph, God on the other hand had a healing plan of his own. A month later I had barely an indication of this tragic event. I packed up yet again, this time more grown and more determination to know who I was.

I have no idea why I did it other than I was a teenager and I had issues. It was disturbed thoughts of ‘I need to get away’; I remember just wanting freedom. I still felt as though I was being chocked so I left again, this time I went to South Africa because I wanted to know who I was, I wanted to find out about my history and my family.

After long struggles of trying to establish myself, I had had many jobs and in-between all of the things unclear in my mind, I met my now husband. He was a pillar of strength, support and love for many things, I can’t fathom I would have survived on my own. For years, I continued to live in confusion and continually asked myself what exactly was my purpose and the meaning of life?

I discovered and lived for many years in the Learning and Performance industry, succeeding in every challenge positioned and falling in love with the journey as I continued to get clarity in my purpose. However, the expectation of academic statue and the egos attached began to feel restrictive and I started to feel chocked with expectations of others yet again. I was forced to explore my journey and purpose and continue to define what I really needed to be doing.

In 2009, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and the pressure felt even more compelling. Why was I sitting behind a desk, what is the purpose of work if it’s not adding value to life? I looked back on my life I saw my grandmother who was so hard on us, with expectation for us to succeed under any sort of pressure. She knew how hard the world was and she was showing us how to survive and stay focused with sustained effort. I realised I needed to celebrate my life, celebrate others, young women in particular and began to learn and do this every day.

Today my purpose my is clear: I live and celebrate my life, as well as the opportunities that continue to present themselves for me to contribute towards building a legacy for our future generations, by connecting with likeminded women that besides their adversities, rise to make a difference. Collaborating through the Woman’s Worth Chapters I have established across Africa, to creating something positive so our future generations benefit. As an entrepreneur, I strive to working with leaders with insight and phenomenal presence to positively change our future skills as communities and as an economy that aims to future proof Africa.

I am humbled by Connected Sisters and their work to grow communities and women by sharing their stories as well as journeys. I am blessed with the opportunity to be part of this sharing community and hope my story inspires others to make a difference.

In gratitude, a Connected Sister,

LeahK