Editor: Jessica Milsom

I was born in Mapinhane, Inhambane Province, in Mozambique, my hometown is a little village, where there was no electricity. I grew up in my cousin’s house since I was six years old, and because of tradition I have five siblings, two of them were already out of home. When I was almost out of school it was suggested that I have an early marriage with my cousin’s husband. 

This was a really dark time for me, but thanks to the people around me like Alice Pettway I didn’t go down that path of early marriage and early pregnancy. Thanks to her, I pursued further education instead, and can proudly say I am the first one in my family to go to university. I moved to Lisbon and earned my master’s degree thanks to her and, to this day, this is one of my biggest accomplishments. Getting my scholarship and educating myself to my fullest gave me a lot of fulfilment and gave more power to my stance on feminism.

Whilst in Lisbon, I was given the opportunity to travel to Germany, Vienna and Geneva as a representative of ‘PADEMA’, a women’s organisation based in Portugal. But this was only possible after I had joined SPEAK and improved my English skills with the lovely Susana Protásio. We developed such a good friendship, that I even ended up moving into her house in Mafra for some time. She treated me like a daughter and gave me so much advice and opened so many opportunities for me. We always continue to stay in touch like family even now that I am back in Inhambane again. 

What I’ve learnt

I am currently working as a technician of Humanitarian Action, advocating for gender-based violence and people with disabilities responding to COVID-19 issues. We implement a support line for VBG and we give kits with masks, soaps and basins for vulnerable people with disabilities. When I started volunteering, I found so my chances to know people who helped me to be who I am today. In REDES we learnt about women empowerment, gender equality, how to prevent sexual diseases like HIV and early pregnancy (really important lessons which should be taught to every woman). And so in the future, I will continue to empower other women and help those in need whenever I can.

It’s true that your choices will change your life, so it’s important to value the people and opportunities you are given because you never know who will help you or which situation. This is why I always say “be kind to everyone, you never know who will help you”.

It’s also true to never give up your goals, try every day until you get what you want. You have to know that things sometimes will delay or won’t go as planned, sometimes it’s going to be necessary to take other steps or to change strategies. And that’s ok.

Me, Susana and SPEAK

Susana was a miracle in my life brought by SPEAK, sympathetic, humorous and creative, she is truly an unstoppable woman. It was in an English session at SPEAK in Lisbon where we met and got to talking about the cultures and climates in Mozambique. She was always up for a trip to the beach, so I told her to come to Mozambique and she agreed. I thought she was joking at first but months later she was standing on my doorstep in Mozambique. She met my mother in Mapinhane, my family in Vilanculos and other people in my community. This is something I’ll never forget.

We returned to Lisbon, and I had a crisis in regards to my scholarship for my master’s degree. She told me not to stress and welcomed me into her home. I lived in her house until I finished my master’s degree and only left there when I returned to Mozambique.

But we never lost touch, we even started a project together called ‘Kulanguta’. It’s a project to create internship opportunities for recent graduates and helps them with the orientation of everything. We already have all the legal documentation in Mozambique, but at this moment the project is on hold due to limited resources. But we remain hopeful that the project will commence again soon.

Finally, I would like to thank SPEAK because they really connect people. I was with my friend Rita somewhere in Alcântara when Rita’s friend Manuel advised me to join SPEAK to improve my English skills. On this journey, I have met so many women, but I want to mention 3 of them; Alice Pettway which presented the world to me, Rita Arnaut who picked me up from the airport my first time in Lisbon and presented SPEAK to me, and Susana Protásio who really put the meaning of SPEAK into my life by teaching and empowering me. And the most beautiful thing is we all keep in touch

-Sincerely, Júlia da Regina Sainda

Don't stop here! If you are interested in learning a new language, join the journey at SPEAK! or become a buddy today and share your language with others and be part of something big! If you want to learn more about the members of our community check out Afonso's story here!

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