Neema is a remarkable woman with the resilience and fortitude of a warrior and the natural beauty of a wild flower. When I sat with her, I noticed the self confidence that flowed through every word that she spoke. She is truly a force of feminine strength, grit and influence.
She shared her views on the various obstacles that women and girls face in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well explaining several interventions that her organization has in place to ameliorate these challenges. As Founder and Executive Director of Hero Women Rising, Neema works to empower children and women through access to quality education, especially women with disabilities. It is a hub for technological exploration and cultural exchange for many women. In addition, Neema and the amazing staff members of Hero Women Rising strive to encourage leadership through the Girl Ambassador for Peace program.
Here are some of her thoughts on social justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- If you could describe yourself in two words, what would they be?
- How would you describe yourself as a component of your family, school and larger community?
I’ve become an integral part of my community, my family, and my school. I’m unforgettable now, I am a rock, I am a lioness. I am known, and I have become a model for other women and for fathers to envision the possibilities for their daughters.
- Thinking back on your childhood and your progression to adulthood, who were some of the most significant people in your life?
My mom. She loved me, she supported me, and she never gave up on me. She appreciated me for who I was, she gave me dignity and education. Also my friends – the ones who included me and didn’t exclude me because of my disability.
Sometimes even strangers! Strangers who would show me kindness even though they didn’t know me, and then we would become friends.
- What are your goals for the DRC and the organizations you lead?
I want peace. I want to see people living in peace, having the employment and the resources that they need, and working together. I want women to have a voice and a significant role in the peace process; this is one of the ultimate goals of my organization. I think that if women are included in a serious way, we can achieve peace.
- Can you think of any occasion in your personal or professional life in which you felt a push or pull toward a certain line of work. Can you explain that feeling and what led up to it?
I have often felt pulled to work in the realm of gender and women’s empowerment. I noticed throughout my career that I began to feel more and more vulnerable, both myself and my work. As a woman, I was not treated as an equal and valued. I often didn’t have access to opportunities.
Similarly, because I had a disability, it would take me longer to do many things, and this made me feel frustrated. This made people have a particular opinion about me or my work, which was often not true. For example, when I tried to meet with certain officials, they all thought I would be begging for something, and they didn’t want to meet me. It wasn’t until much later, when I had become quite successful, that these same officials came back and asked ME for meetings. So I told them I was too busy to come to their office, but if they wanted to meet, they could come see me at my office.
Both of these experiences made me really want to contribute to rights and opportunities for women, and especially for women with disabilities.
- Do you feel that you have accomplished all of your goals for your organization?
I’m just beginning!
On this World Social Justice Day and everyday, channel your inner lioness and be a warrior for peace like Neema!