…strong in the broken places


I had no idea what to expect when the opportunity to travel to Ghana and undergo a women’s leadership and development programme presented itself.

What I know is that I did not expect to be in a room filled with 24 strangers, from 21 African countries and all of us shedding tears like hapless babies.

...broken but strong....

It started off as a seminar on child sexual abuse, gender violence and all the inherent complexities of these social ills and turned into a cathartic experience when one of the fellows shared a personal horror story.

Herlyn Uiras was diagnosed with HIV after she was raped by a truck driver who had offered her lift smuggled her into South Africa at the age of 16 and dumped her in Johannesburg miles from her country of origin – Namibia.

Herlyn’s story is heartrending, spine-chilling and life-transforming, proving the remarkable resilience of the human spirit and the triumph that comes with choosing to be a survivor and not victim of life’s endless tragedies.

“My friend and I wanted to see what Joburg was like and that truck driver said he could get use into SA. We were excited, we were 16, we were on an adventure. The moment he got us across the border he demanded sex, I refused but he went ahead anyway and when I saw that he would do it anyway, I begged him to use a condom. He wore one but it broke while he was at it. He didn’t stop. And I couldn’t stop him.”

The way Herlyn tells her story is striking in two ways; first she owns the consequences of her choices, specifically the choice to trust a stranger with her life.

She stayed 5 months in South Africa, surrendered herself to the police and was given passage back to her country.

Herlyn ... as always about to burst into peals of laughter!

Today Herlyn is 26, working with AIDS organisations to sensitize young children about the disease and is engaged in projects to discourage human smuggling and warn people about the dangers of human trafficking.

Prior to the earth-shattering revelations she made about what she went through, I had already created a profile of her in my mind, as I did with every other young woman I had met there.

I had profiled her as one of the fun-loving, side-splittingly hilarious women I have ever come across.

One would never guess at the sound of her infectious laughter that her life had been touched by such trauma and tragedy – though it wasn’t easy, Herlyn says she got to the point where she made peace with what had transpired – forgiven herself and even managed to somehow forgive the man who had raped and infected her.

As she told her story, she was so composed and we all listened disbelieving because although she spared us the details, most of us could still feel our skins crawl and imagine how she must have felt.

Then somewhere along the narration something just broke in her – she cried and we cried. Cried for that 16 year old girl who didn’t know any better and cried for the woman standing before us, who ten years later re-lives the nightmare to help others and to warn others by sharing her life story across the continent.

I have no way of knowing who’s life may be helped or saved by sharing Herlyn’s story with readers who follow this column, but there is no doubt in my mind that her story will help someone, somewhere to either avoid what befell her or choose to overcome whatever pain was inflicted on them.

For when we tell stories of our heartbreaks of our pain and of our suffering – we do realize that heartbreak is as universal as falling in love and we are strengthened by the courage of others.

I salute every survivor and urge every victim to walk away from the paralysis and helplessness of allowing hurtful events and cruel people to rob them of the chance to live life.

..finding light even in life's darkness

Parting shot: Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
— Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

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11 thoughts on “…strong in the broken places

  1. Toni says:

    this is one of the most powerful and touching pieces I’ve ever read…GOD bless Herlyn and every other victims who are subjected to such horrific moments especially innocent children who have no say…

  2. mumuh says:

    how sad…how very sad, to realise that someone has the guts to shatter someon’s life like that…how one is driven by lust to dig theirv own graves…how one can go all the way to get sex…it is quiet sad to note how naivety can cost one’s life…..how being young and silly can be disastrous…

  3. nobuhle says:

    it is the most painful piece i hav read, thegud thing about Herlyn is that she managed to move on with her life and help other young people who might fall into the trap. It is usually difficult for most people to move on about such an experience.She is a strong woman

  4. Mawuli says:

    What an experience it was for all of us in that room that Tuesday morning. Herlyn’s story broke my heart but her courage and resilience inspired my soul. What a woman of strength and power. Just listening to the story was too much to take, and I cant imagine how much courage and strength it takes for the survivor herself to still smile everyday and tell her story with the power that she did. I simply admire Herlyn. Like you, i hav absolutely no doubt that her story and work will certainly save or heal others from the pain and perpetual humiliation of such heinous violations of another human being. I am proud to call her a friend and equally proud of people like you who speak for many of us and echo stories like this that must be told.

  5. Neema says:

    I remember the day, I couldn’t resist bursting into tears. She is such an inspiration. I believe if the people of this world today could at once decide to live the life of changing other people’s live as Herlyn, this world could have been a better place to dwell. She can change many people’s perceptions, attitudes, focus and desires just by sharing her story. I never came across such kind of transparency, openness, honesty, humility and courage. She is simply a woman of strength and a life changer. We need many Herlyns in this world.

  6. Theresa Fonjia says:

    I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for being the voice of so many through your blog.I admire Herlyns courage sharing her story and how she came over when you look at her u cant even imagine she has been to hell and back.This is what a lot of innocent girls suffer in the hands of men.Thank God this act didn’t destroy Helyn’s life as its the case with so many.
    I read an article of a woman in Uganda who went to the farm with her ten year old daughter.I guess her daughter left to get something and this 40 year old guy raped her as her mum heard her daughters voice crying in desperation she immediately fled to find out what her baby was going through only to find this animal in human form violating her daughter.Behold!she pounced on the guy and gave him several hits and cut off his penis.He was later taken to the hospital.As any other mother would do she was only trying to safe the poor girls life.And the reason she cut off the guys penis was not only to stop him from raping her daughter but i think to stop him from hurting other young girls only God knows how many girls suffered in this man’s hands.You see these crime perpetrators deserve more than that.And the law is to at times is slow when it comes to things like this so if we can handle them ourselves i think we should.Its high time we started making these violent people come to their senses.

  7. sheila says:

    Thank you for telling Herlyn’s story just as she would have wanted it to be told…as i read your description of the ordeal she had to endure at the hands of those animals i was once again taken back to the Tuesday morning she shared one of the most heart wrenching stories I had ever heard..I can only hope that those who get the chance to read this will learn what I too learnt from Herlyn…we must never let the hardships..the pain and the suffering we go through define who we are…we must put ourselves back together whenever we feel broken…we must remember to smile even through the tears..t
    Herlyn is truly an inspiration…am so glad I met her and am so glad she is my friend..

  8. Ettamba says:

    It’s so nice of you to put up Herlyn’s story coz i believe you’ve reached out to many people who are in need of such information for encouragement.Listening to her story I was so touched and i said to myself “she’s so strong”.She’s a good reference point for those who are about to give up.Like Albert Ocran said,the only limitations you have are those you’ve set for yourself. She has not let her situation pull her down but she’s used it as a stepping stone and she’s reaching out to others.The lesson I get from this is no matter what you are going through,you can always make it if you are determined to.I’m glad I met her and I’ve learnt a lot from her.Thank you for being the voice of the voiceless and please don’t you ever think of giving up on that.

  9. Sijabule says:

    Sad, very sad. Or maybe it’s the way you write about it. Was the narration as touching? ? ?

  10. Amina Abdirashid says:

    Its still soo fresh in my mind….and the tears still their.I SALUTE Herlyn,she is a strong,admirable,adorable young lady whos strength amazes me.Thanx D. for being the voice of the voiceless,,

  11. DUDU says:

    Herlyn is a such a powerful woman.The world needs a lot of women like her , women who choose to swim against the tide , women who use the broken pieces to build ,women who are willing to make a difference.Hers is a sad story but she has refused to be a victim , she has refused to live her life in sorrow.This is a wonderful story , i strongly feel it can make a difference in peoples life.Considering the fact that I am in the field of HIV and AIDS i consider to tell her story as a way of strengthening the weak , as a way of giving them hope.She is one of the unsung heroes , please lets sing the song now………………………..

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