In September 2000, LEMNA was 30 and pregnant with her 4th child. She was married to a man whose family thrived on abusive power. They loved to leave Lemna feeling powerless and afraid. On this particular night, their cruelty was deafening. They all stood in the home she helped build and demanded that she leave. She was not worthy of their name nor of this home. They were driving her out pregnant, with nowhere to go. Her mother-in-law lined her children up and demanded that the two eldest stay. It was Lemna’s gift to her. She could take the toddler and go. “Where?” Lemna asked. They all laughed.
Fearing for the safety of her unborn child, Lemna was silent. She had been beaten before. Badly. She looked at her children and realized the unknown of what lay ahead. How would she provide? Especially with 3 mouths to feed and a baby growing inside of her. She had no guaranteed shelter and no certainty her own parents would welcome her into their home. In Lemna’s culture, when a woman is driven out by her husband, regardless of the integrity of her actions and intentions, she is blamed, shamed, and often rejected by her own family.
Holding back her heartbreak, she hugged her eldest children, and out of desperation, she left them. She ran holding her youngest close to her. She ran as fast as she could. That night and many that followed, they slept in a field. On the nights they found shelter, they often went to bed hungry.
When she finally reached her parent’s home, her fear was paramount. Her belly was growing and she could not imagine raising a toddler and a baby without a roof over their heads. There are no places in Tanzania that offer women and children shelter and security from domestic abuse.
When she knocked on the door, her tears began to flow. Instead of casting her out, her family embraced her. In 2013, her brothers banded together and bought her a small piece of land and built her a small house. At that time, her only joy was that her family remembered her value, remembered her soul, and did not discard her. Unlike most women in her situation, they helped her rebuild her life. For that, she says she is forever indebted.
Lemna looked for work as a laborer and in 2018, when Save the Rain came to her village, she knew an opportunity had arrived. When there was a call for employment, Lemna’s name was one of the first on the list. During the training, she pushed herself hard, knowing that if she could prove her strength and will, she could change the future for her children. Lemna earned a permanent position with Save the Rain and quickly grew from laborer to mason.
Now her joy comes from her work and all that comes with it. Today, she is part of a team that changes the trajectory for others. Today, none of her children go to bed hungry and her home is safe. Today, she is armed with skills that will carry her through any new challenge life may throw at her. The team of women she works with are her community. She never knew she would find others who shared her painful past. They lift each other up and help others who are struggling. No longer does Lemna feel shame from her past but a compassionate freedom that allows her to inspire others. That lets her joy shine and her smile shows it.
“One never knows what’s around the corner, what opportunity is brewing in the challenge we currently face. I could have never dreamed of the life I have today. And if they (her husband and his family) hadn’t thrown me away, I would have never found it. We must look beyond today’s struggle. We don’t know what gift tomorrow may hold.” We are silenced by her wisdom. To which she burst out laughing in a roar one could never forget.