A Journey of Strength and Healing

Strength and InfluencePerSpectives
Artwork by: Krupa Joshi, age 16

2020 is a year we did not see coming.

COVID has come and disrupted every aspect of our lives, particularly for young people who have juggled school being canceled or online, stress at home, and maintaining friendships in very different ways. Many of you have dreams and aspirations that now seem too far away. The pillars of strength and influence have taken on a very different meaning to me this year.

My life story has many different chapters, each with their lessons about finding strength within myself and through my faith. Early in my story, I was a fierce girl who wanted to be a pediatrician. That girl’s life changed the day war broke out in my country of Liberia. I became a refugee girl who was too angry at the world for turning her stable world upside down. There are chapters of my story where anger and abuse consumed me, when I struggled to take care of my very young children and found myself caught up in an abusive relationship. And there are chapters where I used my anger as fuel for activism and brought about change for my community. Now, a big part of the work I do as a peace activist is to share these stories with the world, because I have seen the power of storytelling to both empower and inspire those who find themselves in a dark place.

In 2009, with a lot of prompting from friends and family, I decided to write my memoir. At the beginning of the writing journey, I made a promise to myself: I would be honest and open about my life. I wanted it to tell the “naked truth” about events and circumstances of my life and how far I had come. I did not know where my story would go globally, but I knew there were many aspects of my story that women and girls from all around the world, especially Africa, could relate to.

What I realized as I embarked on the journey of writing my memoir is that writing down my stories was not just about the process of writing. Putting my stories on paper was a journey of healing — healing the pains from my childhood, the pains from my refugee life, and the pains from the war. It was also a journey of understanding my mother and her life, her struggles, and her love and commitment to being an amazing mother to her five daughters. It was a journey of reliving the love and care our grandmother showed us and her investment in the lives of all of her grandchildren. It was spending moments arrested mentally, relishing memories of the past with my siblings and I in our bedroom, chatting and laughing.

At the end of the writing journey, I found healing, I found peace, and I was able to recreate narratives about my life that made a lot of sense. But most importantly, by baring my soul to the world, I was able to find freedom. I held a mirror up to myself and saw my strengths and my weaknesses, my successes and my failures, reflected back to me with honesty and self-compassion. I had no clue that I would win the Nobel Peace Prize. I never work for accolades or praise. When I see a problem, my socialization is to jump in and help find a solution and I enroll others to join the fight.

Literally the day after I finished the book tour for my memoire, the Nobel announcement came: I was named a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of the work that the women of Liberia did to bring peace to our country. All of a sudden, the lights and cameras were on this girl from Liberia. In that moment, I was certain that many people would be curious about my story. And I am so grateful that I wrote and healed through writing for me, first and foremost, so that the stories that people would seek out really were the naked truth, rather than a primped and polished version of myself that I wouldn’t recognize as me. It keeps me accountable.

Our society talks about influence and influencers in the same breath as social media. I always tell my team I am not a typical social media user. I do not follow likes, comments, and shares. God inspires my writings - I write what He instructs, with hopes that it touches at least one person. It is easy to assume that someone with a big platform has it easy. Where has this idea that prominence is without struggle come from? Why do people think humility dies when prominence steps in? I often remind myself there are many hardworking, intellectually competent women out there, but I believe God saw it fit to bless me. There are women in this world who could be better mothers, but He blessed me with eight of the most amazing children in the world. There are thousands of Leymahs, MLKs, Mandelas, and Malalas around the world taking care of those they love, protecting their communities and building a better world.

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, I sat with Archbishop Desmond Tutu for breakfast. We talked about so many things, but there is one that stuck with me. He asked, "my daughter, do you know why Madiba [Nelson Mandela] is so blessed?” I said, “No sir.” He said, “because it is never about him." He continued to say that when “God has blessed you in such a way, remember it is about the people and never you."

I never claim perfection; I am a work in progress. To every young person reading this amid life struggles, don't ever give up. Your story is your strength. What you are going through today might be the exact inspiration that you need to step up for yourself, your community, your country, and the world. Never despise humble beginnings. There is a reason why they are called BEGINNINGS — you see, the start of anything is always difficult. However, the more patience, commitment, focus, openness to serve, and humility you exercise, the easier it becomes.

2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist, trained social worker, and women’s rights advocate. She is the founder and current President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. Her foundation provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls, women, and youth in West Africa in order to raise the next generation of peacebuilders and democratic leaders. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Women, Peace, and Security Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Ms. Gbowee was the founding head of the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative, and co-founder and former Executive Director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A). She was also a founding member and former Liberian Coordinator of Women in Peacebuilding Network/West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP). She travels internationally to advocate for human rights and peace and security. Ms. Gbowee’s leadership of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace — which brought together Christian and Muslim women in a nonviolent movement that played a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s civil war in 2003 — is chronicled in her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, and in the award-winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. She holds an M.A. in Conflict Transformation and many honorary doctorate degrees. Ms. Gbowee is an advisor for numerous organizations. She serves as a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, the World Refugee Council, and the African Women’s Leadership Network. Ms. Gbowee is a member of the prize committees of two major humanitarian awards: the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. In 2020, Ms. Gbowee joined the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, a multi-faith committee dedicated to fostering peaceful coexistence through dialogue. Ms. Gbowee was a member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council during Canada’s G7 Presidency in 2018 and is an alumna of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Advocates. Ms. Gbowee has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy by Apolitical and one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine.

Krupa Joshi is a 16-year-old artist from India.

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