“Some women are lost in the fire. Some are built by it.” – Michelle K.
Nwedobong Okon is certainly built by the fire. As a young woman in Africa, she has already experienced more hardships than many have , yet she has turned her pain inside out and fueled her own inner fire with it. I was happy to meet Nwedobong through our time as UN Global Champions and was struck by her defiant honesty in challenging the norms of her society. She speaks out on issues which are unjust and apologetically cuts to the quick, revealing truth and inspiring others to speak out as well. I am honored to share her story and let her words fan the sparks within each woman.
Nwedobong, you are a very strong and focused young woman. Please tell us about your background:
Thank you for this opportunity, I’m grateful! My name is Nwedobong Okon. I am the last child in the family of four and the only female. I am from the Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria. I grew up in the rural area of my town in Uyo with my family. My father is a lecturer and an associate professor and my mum is a medical laboratory scientist who is also currently pursuing her PhD here in Nigeria. My first brother is an accountant, the second is an architect, and the third is a botanist. My life has been a long and event-filled journey thus far.
We were a low income family so we had to farm and process some of our foods by ourselves. It was a stressful learning experience. We would gather firewood for cooking so that we could save money from buying kerosene. We had to trek long distances to fetch water from the stream and also to attend school.
My father had a Suzuki motorcycle with which he would drop my mum off at her workplace first, and then proceed to his. I wasn’t given any preferential treatment or exempted from any kind of work because I was a girl. People would never believe we were once poor because my mum would always dress us well; she is an excellent money manager. She has had to sacrifice a lot for my father and all of us, and I am always grateful that I have her to learn meekness from. She is a very gentle person.
I began attending the university at the early age of 15. I was very popular because of my involvement in politics and pageantry, as well as other youth activities. I was also a pioneer student in the Department of Medicine and Surgery in The University of Uyo in my state. I nursed the dream of becoming a young pediatric consultant by age 30.
However, it was not meant to be because of the delays in the accreditation process. I also became distracted with other personal issues and lost focus, so I had to repeat classes.
It was traumatizing but I finally graduated in 2012. I no longer held the “medical dream” because I discovered that who I am doesn’t resonate well with the typical medical practice here.
What has helped you persevere with your disappointments and broken dream?
What has strengthened me has been my parents’ struggle to rise from being sustenance farmers for survival, to people who can now support others in achieving their life goals.
It has been a long journey. Having to spend 12 years in school tested and forged my resilience, because apart from academic struggles, I also had to battle unfavorable, painful social biases.
As a girl I suffered low self-esteem. I could not relate well with my mates because of the scars on my body. The scars came from fighting with and being beaten by my elder brothers who desired me to fit into the social expectations of an African woman. They must have thought that they acted out of love to protect my future in society.
I did not form tight friendships in my early teens and when I did, I trusted blindly and suffered betrayals that further worsened my low self-esteem.
Now, I have decided to live an exemplary life demonstrating that it is okay for women to personalize their priorities without guilt or fear of rejection.
What helped you transition into the woman you are now?
I started voraciously reading books by various authors. The most impactful remains No Excuses by Brian Tracy. I also read online articles on psychology. Reading helped me to release the anger, resentment and bitterness that interfered with my friendships.
I also spent a lot of time alone. Solitary time afforded me the space to cry it out as much and as long as it took me. Every time I read something that clearly defined my situations and how I could overcome them, I cried my obstacle away.
But forgiveness has been the toughest part for me.
You make a powerful point about the value of self-reflection, and the gift of time to grieve. We can’t skip that if we want to grow through our roadblocks on our journey. What have you learned about yourself?
It became easier for me to understand and accept myself as a strong-willed woman, rather than try to shrink myself to fit into the demure, fragile roles that people expected of me as an African woman. I completely surrendered to my strengths. I began to speak my truth and live my realities without any fear of rejection. I have realized that true strength in this life is being honest to self and to the people who truly love you. Through the wisdom of God and my family, I fully regained my self-confidence.
Looking back at my humble background and all we had to do to forge ahead, I learned that I had gathered a lot of food processing and preservation skills. I also learned how to sew simple dresses, knit center pieces, bake cakes and even repair shoes. I have found out that I can decide to hone in on any of these skills at any point in time and make a living out of it. I have reached this conclusion that, a skilled woman is as powerful as an educated woman if not more.
You are a #SELFMADE woman! How do you hope to affect the lives of other girls and women from your example?
Being a global champion for WEE, I have gained knowledge and clarity on how to spur the women around me towards maximum economic empowerment.
It is especially my hope, that the women around me can draw strength from my bold personality to speak up for themselves and for the women around them. I want them to relentlessly pursue their dreams and to honestly admit their desires in life.
Looking forward, what are your dreams and goals?
I have hopes to have a family of my own someday soon. I am passionate about leadership. The peak of my career will be when I become an ambassador for my country.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart Nwedobong Okon for the honor of sharing your inspirational and powerful story with We Triumph. It was brave of you and I am confident that women reading this will be encouraged to be brave as well! Endless blessings always! Sasha