By Shadia Mbabazi
My dear Sisters and friends,
I am a mother of two, a wife, a sister, a friend, a daughter, and many know me by the name Shadia. I was born in East Africa and I grew up in Southern Africa. Now I am raising my children here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When I am not home with my family, I am at Treetops, surrounded by and inspired by women from all over the world. I have a special place in my heart for women. It came from my mother and grew from there to every woman I encounter. I’m writing to share a message of love, coming from my own experiences, and the experiences of my sisters and friends that I have been lucky to have experienced life with.
At Treetops Collective, where I serve as the Community Development Director, I have had the honor of working closely with women from many walks of life. This has been eye-opening and has pushed me to reflect on my own experiences as a woman. From my own experiences, African women are some of the strongest, resilient, and loving women I know.
Growing up, many women are often told that we have to be strong, and we are praised when we are strong and resilient. I never realized the impact of this until now. And it is so sad because, for most women in my life, this pressure to be strong has encouraged them to suppress their pain, not being angry and just accept whatever life throws at them.
So my beautiful sisters, mothers: I am here to say you do not always have to be strong, just because society expects you to or just because you are a woman. It is ok to express yourself, to be angry sometimes, and to not bury things inside.
Also as mothers and wives, we often tend to neglect ourselves. Let us learn to listen to our inner voices, to stop and ask for help. You cannot do life all by yourself–call on your partner, friends, and family for support when necessary and let people around you know when you need their support. It’s human to ask for help; it is a strength to be able to ask for help. Let us encourage each other and society to praise us when we ask for help instead of only praising us when we are resilient and strong.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a message of love for all the women in the world but more specifically to women like me. I have recently started learning about self-care and what that really means and I want to say to my sisters out there let us also learn to invest in ourselves and in self-care.
March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. In honor of this, I want women to start learning how to love themselves, take time to care for themselves and listen to their inner voice. We as women are very capable and should never be made to feel otherwise either by our partners or society.
Let us remember to be kind to ourselves. When we are healthy–mentally and physically–we are able to present our best selves to the world. Often times as women or as moms, we get up in the morning and give all day until we go to bed so exhausted that we have nothing left to give to ourselves– this is not healthy. As women, many of us are nurturing by nature– there is nothing wrong with that, but first, start by nurturing yourself.
I recently listened to a talk by Anele, a South African TV host, where she said ''You can't love others without loving yourself first. When you begin to love yourself that reflects in the way you treat others.'' This stood out for me so much, because the people I grew up around, even the woman I have had the opportunity to work with, we are all taught to love our kids, our husbands, even those in-laws. But the older I get the more I realize that in order to truly love others, I have to love myself first.
I now recognize that the foundation of our success lies a lot in the love we give to ourselves. It is unhealthy to love others without loving ourselves first. Loving others first also creates the expectation of because I love them they have to love me back, as a result, one may be left feeling unloved or not valued.
Therefore, my dear sisters and friends, I encourage you during this women’s month to reflect on how you can love and nurture yourself in order to better love those around you.