( My relationship failed. I went through divorce, what happened did not define me. I embraced my true self. I am Executive Director and Founder of Tough Angels, Inc., a nonprofit organization which creates safe havens for women and children of violence in developing countries. Please visit me on Facebook – Tough Angels, or my website, http://www.toughangels.org/ for further information and ways to get involved.)
After 24 years of marriage and finding myself standing in the wreckage of a divorce, I was determined to make my life about something bigger than that one life event, further I was adamant that bitterness would not rule my future. Some believed it was a radical move, but I saved enough money to be gone for 6 months, put my belongings in storage, quit my job, changed my name and traveled alone to Africa on pure faith and trust. I was confident I could make good use of my innate compassion for abused children, and with my prior volunteer and work background, trusted I was equipped to handle whatever came across my path. There are times in life where you have to jump into the deep end and trust the Universe will support your well intended efforts, because a lifetime of preparation could never have anticipated all I saw and experienced. I ended up volunteering and working alongside an organization in S. Africa that rescued children who had been raped, now an epidemic nightmare in many countries in Africa.
From point of rescue, to the police, Child Protective Services, the hospitals and the judicial system, I immersed myself in this work. Some of the children I helped to rescue lost their lives; many of these barbaric and cruel actions can be blamed on a tribal myth that expects a cure for AIDS can be obtained by having sex with a virgin child.
The rape cases were incomprehensible and savagely painful, but the bigger story became about Africa and her women and children; their capacity and willingness to still see beauty and grace in a world that had seemingly slighted them in so many ways. My healing began. I discovered through them my ability (and responsibility) to love, laugh and view life through the lens of honor and gratitude. Despite their lifetimes of slavery, poverty, brutality, and oppression, they still praised the earth and sky and thanked God for the air they breathed. The reverent sisterhood they clung to taught me so much about the strength and courage available to us when we are linked.
My life has grown in magical ways and the depth of my spirit has found no bounds. I am at home, whether that is in the bush in a far corner of the world, or in my living room on my couch in Colorado. I haven’t had a paycheck in nearly 3 years, but I am without a doubt the richest woman in the world. I have seen and touched the divine. I have opened my heart so wide, I thought it might crack.
I never knew what was in store for me when I began this journey. I thought it would be a 6-month volunteer effort and I would return to my career in the field of fashion, but life had a surprise for me and this became a part of my soul’s survival, joy and heartbreak. Upon my return to the US, I started my own nonprofit, Tough Angels, in hopes of helping more women and children of violence. Naiveté has served me well in this endeavor because otherwise, I would’ve stood frozen in my tracks, believing it to be too much to tackle. It was and is, but I continue putting one foot in front of the other . . . trusting my efforts will have a ripple effect.
I am now in Kenya, where I will travel to Lodwar and the refugee camp in a few days. I am on a steering committee in a collaborative effort to create a gender based violence resource center for the refugees. It is a mammoth undertaking but one I’m committed to because I have seen the power of believing in the impossible and that we can influence positive change . . . one person, one child at a time.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that anyone with the desire can make a difference and it doesn’t have to be a 6-month stay in a developing country, working in the trenches. We can all have an impact right outside our backdoor and it costs nothing. Kindness, compassion, respect for others, and the absolute obligation we all have to protect children . . . this is not an heroic act – this is our responsibility as human beings and to life.