Silent No More: Dorcas Finds Her Voice Through Forgiveness
“Through Zoe Empowers, I learned that children have the right for food, wear clothes, attend school, express ourselves, right to worship, and to do good things,” said Dorcas. “This motivated me to stand-up for myself and for others like me. I want to be a voice to help bring out the voice in others who have been silenced.” –Dorcas
Standing at a mere five feet tall on a good day, Dorcas, with her sleek, low ponytail and petite frame dressed in a kaleidoscope of Kenyan prints and patterns could easily be mistaken for a girl about to enter junior high. Until she speaks, that is.
Dorcas, whose eighteen years of life experience has included unthinkable physical abuse from a family member, parental abandonment and subsequently, the responsibility to care for her two younger brothers, isn’t shy about sharing her journey out of poverty through the Zoe Empowers program.
When she talks about the nightmares of her past and the happiness of her life today, it’s not boastful; it’s reflective of the confidence and poise unearthed from the years of feeling alone and exploited. She has discovered her voice, and after a single conversation with her, it’s evident she’s never letting it be silenced again.
Before Dorcas began the Zoe Empowers program in July 2016, she described her life as “hopeless”. After her father passed away, her older half-brother began to misuse his position in the family by taking advantage of then 14-year-old Dorcas, to the point of her needing to withdraw from school due to physical and psychological injury.
After her half-brother colluded with her uncle to force her mother out of their community, Dorcas was left as the primary caretaker of her two younger siblings. The young family struggled to eat just one meal of potatoes or bananas a day and were tortured with the feelings of isolation, fear and shame regarding their inability to serve their community.
She and her siblings worked hard, long hours in the crop fields as cash laborers. Community members also physically and verbally treated them poorly and underpaid them for their efforts. One neighbor told Dorcas she didn’t want her to socialize with her children because Dorcas would teach them bad habits.
Things worsened when Dorcas’ uncle stole the land in which her family’s house was situated. Not knowing who to turn to for support, or that she had the right to speak up to authorities about such an issue, she found refuge elsewhere while her uncle proceeded to demolish the home to use the plot as he pleased.
Dorcas truly believed she was alone and other children in her community weren’t suffering the way her family was. To her surprise, when she joined the Zoe Empowers program and learned of the dozens of other orphaned children in her community that could relate to her circumstances, she immediately felt comforted.
“When the group accepted me as I was, I found a sense of living. I became hopeful. I could see that my challenges wouldn’t last forever,” explained Dorcas.
As part of the Zoe Empowers model to empowerment, Dorcas was trained on how to start a business in community. For orphaned children who’ve been boxed into a economic status group and plagued with unfavorable judgements about their character by community members, the realization that they, too, have talents to contribute to their society is incredibly motivating.
Dorcas chose to open her own grain shop where she sold seeds, such as corn and rice, to local farmers. Because the culture in small African communities is to support every business within it, as owning a business symbolizes he or she cares about the longevity of the community, Dorcas’ grain shop experienced growth quickly.
Now, in her third year of business and the Zoe Empowers program, she consistently earns upwards of $7 per day and is making plans to relocate her shop to a bigger market in the near future. Her income has allowed her to transform her life in a multitude of ways, including re-enrolling siblings in school, purchasing new clothing and regular, nutritious meals for her family.
More impressive are the changes that manifested since Dorcas learned her child rights through Zoe Empowers. “I learned that children have the right for food, wear clothes, attend school, express ourselves, right to worship, and to do good things,” said Dorcas. “When I learned all of this, I was motivated to tell our group mentor about my family issues (abuse and stolen property) and bring it to the village Chief at his office.”
Given the Chief’s strong support of the Zoe Empowers program, he invited Dorcas’ uncle to come meet him and Dorcas to discuss the issue in a common place. “I was nervous but my group members came to support me,” recalled Dorcas, smiling. “We talked about the issues and the Chief instructed her uncle to build another house for Dorcas’ family and to find her mother.
Without question, her uncle took all the commands from the Chief. He proceeded to build Dorcas a better house than what they’d had before, paid for her youngest brother’s school fees and returned everything he’d taken away years before, including her mother.
Dorcas isn’t one to dwell on the past, now that she can see her bright future so clearly. “I forgave my uncle because we were taught forgiveness in Zoe Empowers, and he accepted everything I asked of him. I know he’ll never abuse me again because they [uncle and half-brother] know I will enforce my rights,” stated Dorcas confidently. “My uncle now calls me a daughter, and we all live at peace.”
Adding more credibility to Dorcas’ unbelievable ability to forgive is the fact that she allows her half-brother to live on her compound. Divided by a single 2×4 and pile of boulder stones, as illustrated in the picture, their homes are within eyesight and earshot. Dorcas stands strong on her property knowing her act of forgiveness will never mean she has to allow others to take advantage of her.
In the community, Dorcas has become well-known for speaking out about child rights, serving as paralegal outside of her grain shop business. She can be found standing in forums teaching others, especially young females, about their rights.
“I know community boys know about me. They think I’m a feisty girl who knows her rights. I know men who have not learned to respect other girls but they respect me because I know my rights,” Dorcas explained matter of factly. “I am confident with my life, and I want to be an example of a woman who is standing for what is right. I want to be a voice to help bring out the voice in others who have been silenced.”
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