2015 Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women Finalists
The American philosopher and academician Allan Bloom once said, “Education is the movement from darkness to light.”
For more than 40 years, Soroptimist’s Live Your Dream: Education and Training Grants for Women program has helped thousands of women on their path to “light.” With just a little help, the remarkable women who receive this award overcome such tremendous challenges. Each and every one is an inspiration.
As the 2015 finalists continue on their own journeys to “light,” their extraordinary stories illustrate the transformative effect of education. With incredible courage and strength, these amazing women are transcending unimaginable obstacles, and creating better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
This year, Soroptimist is honored to award $10,000 to three passionate, hard-working, strong women: Shacambria F.; Yazmin Funez; and Sakura Kishikawa.
As a child, Shacambria witnessed first hand the cycle of abuse: Her stepfather abused her mother, who in turn singled her out from her siblings and physically and mentally abused her. She was told constantly that she would amount to nothing in life. “My childhood was a recipe for disaster that taught me I was never loved and that I was nothing.” At the age of 7, Shacambria began her first of many suicide attempts, by swallowing a bottle of Tylenol.
The abuse cycle continued when Shacambria found herself in an abusive relationship at the age of 21 and pregnant with her abuser’s baby. The man she was in love with hit her, raped her, pulled a gun on her and threatened to kill her and then himself. All of this did not matter because she felt loved, she loved him, and she was excited to have a baby.
Shacambria realized she had to end the relationship with her baby’s father and escape his abuse when one day, as she was nursing her baby, he angrily stormed into the room and threw her into the wall. The spell was broken, and she realized she had to save not only her child, but the 7-year-old inside of her who used to swallow bottles of Tylenol to escape her mother’s abuse.
Knowing he would not allow her to leave the house, Shacambria calmly dressed the baby and waited until her boyfriend was in the basement to escape to her car. She drove to a domestic violence shelter and never returned to her abuser. It was at this shelter Shacambria learned that what she experienced in her relationship was not love, but was domestic violence. She decided at that moment she had to completely change her life around for both herself and her child: She started counseling, got a part time job at the Red Cross, and enrolled in college to become a nurse.
Her college career has not been an easy journey. During her spring semester in 2014, Shacambria became both pregnant and homeless. With her daughter, Shacambria lived in a homeless shelter for 9 months, and gave birth to her second daughter while there. Despite this hurdle, she successfully completed the semester. The Director of Financial Aid at her college writes, “… Despite every setback that she faced, she never broke. She never said ‘why me’ or ‘when will this finally end?’ Instead, she just had this indescribable resolve to simply continue on for herself and her children, and that is exactly what she did.”
Shacambria was able to move out of the shelter with the help of the organization, Your Way Home. The grants from the club, region and federation Live Your Dream Award will enable Shacambria to pay her rent for one year while she is in school, so she can worry less about becoming homeless again. While she was able to overcome homelessness this year, she is still living in poverty. She realizes that finishing her education is the first step for her to escape poverty, and the Live Your Dream Awards will help her accomplish her goals.
Shacambria plans to complete her associate’s degree in nursing this December, and will enter right into a bachelor of science in nursing program. She hopes to graduate in August 2016. Her long-term goal is to complete a master’s program to become a nurse practitioner, a domestic violence advocate, and to eventually start an organization to assist women who are balancing school and being a parent.
Shacambria has already used her life experience to help another single mother. She offered guidance and support to another student and mom facing homelessness. The support was desperately needed and much appreciated by the other student.
The abuse cycle will end with Shacambria. “I have managed to accept the past, manage the present, and work hard on the future.” She wants to devote her time to helping mothers and girls who, like her, want nothing more than to be successful.
When Yazmin, from Tijuana, Mexico, was a child, she revealed to her mother that her stepfather has been sexually abusing her. While revealing her secret was frightening, the last thing she expected was to be sent to jail for six years.
Yazmin’s painful childhood began when her mother’s police officer boyfriend, her future Stepfather, moved into their home. He treated both her and her sister kindly at first, but soon began to pay extra attention to Yazmin. When her mother would go to work, he would enter her bedroom and watch her sleep. On her 12th birthday, he raped her for the first time. Yazmin felt that she was unable to tell anyone about the sexual abuse because he threatened to kill her parents if she told anyone. He also said that no one would believe her anyway because he was a police officer.
Though his threats frightened her, Yazmin decided to tell her mother about the years of sexual abuse when she began to fear that her stepfather would rape her younger sister. Yazmin started to recognize that some of his behavior toward her sister was similar to the inappropriate attention that he first paid her—holding her waist, caressing her. To protect her sister, Yazmin fearfully confessed everything to her mother, worrying that she wouldn’t even believe her.
“She embraced me and asked how long it had been going on. She was angry, so angry. Not with me, she didn’t doubt the truth of what I said for a single second.”
Her mother, furious, told Yazmin’s biological father about the abuse. One day, after returning home from high school, Yazmin came home to the police arresting her mother and father for the murder of her stepfather. Yazmin was also arrested as an accomplice, and she spent six years in a correctional facility, despite the fact that she was the victim of the crime.
Since her release from juvenile prison, Yazmin has enrolled in the Autonomous University of Baja California Law School, and plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in law in November 2016. Her years of unjust incarceration fuel her dream of being an attorney so that she can prevent other women from becoming the victims of an unfair criminal system.
“Like me,” Yazmin says, “there are other inmates who suffer from similar injustices…I want to help all those women who have nobody in the world. Many of them would be released with simple paperwork, but don’t have the necessary information or resources, so they remain there…”
One particular person who she wants to defend is her own mother, who is still in prison.
In addition to being a full time student, Yazmin is highly active in working to improve the lives of female inmates and their children. She is in the process of chartering a non-profit organization to advocate for and defend the rights of imprisoned women. She also has created a support group for family members and children of the inmates. The group meets monthly to discuss challenges and to provide moral support. She brings groceries, used clothes, and toys for the family members. Yazmin also organizes biannual prison visits to bring the female inmates food and personal hygiene items.
The cash grant from the Live Your Dream Award will help Yazmin complete her law degree while financially supporting her two younger sisters and her Grandmother. Yazmin is passionate about her career path as a lawyer because her dream is to give other women a voice and to defend those who have also been unjustly imprisoned.
When Sakura Kishikawa *, from Japan, called a support center for women and children, she was confused and could not find the words to describe the situation in which she found herself. After years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, much of which that took place in front of their young son, she wanted to leave. After a few moments of silence, the first words that came out were, “I may be killed.”
Sakura married her husband because she trusted him, and she wanted them to spend the rest of their lives together. But soon after they married, her husband became a different person, and started to abuse her physically and mentally, and deprived her of her economic freedom. She wanted to run away and leave this dangerous life behind, but she felt this was impossible. The constant stress Sakura felt caused her to become physically sick. She suffered from heart palpitations, nausea, as well as dizziness and hearing loss. After deciding that both she and her son deserved a better life, she confided in her parents about the abuse, and made the difficult decision to divorce her husband.
While the divorce freed Sakura of her husband’s violence, she continued to suffer from stress related to the abuse. She found it difficult to meet and trust new people. She would become tense at the sound of a car stopping outside her house, at the sound of footsteps near her door, and every time the phone rang. Sakura says, “Even though I tried to smile in front of my young son, after he went to sleep, I would cry without crying out loud.”
Sakura began counseling to deal with her stress. Hearing about the experiences of other women who have experienced domestic violence helped her realize she is not alone. This has motivated her to devote her life to eliminating domestic abuse.
“My dream is to eradicate abuse, domestic violence, and sexual violence and to create a society in which women can live with dignity,” Sakura says, “Unless we eradicate violence from society, the rights of women and children will not be protected and we cannot hope for women to advance.”
Sakura currently balances raising her young son with studying to become a licensed health nurse. As a nurse she wants to visit families with cases of domestic violence and child abuse, and identify victims at the early stages. She plans to combine her knowledge of the medical field with the personal understanding of the experience of someone who has suffered from domestic violence, to start her own center to help survivors of violence. “Many people have helped me and gave me a will to live. It is now my turn to realize my dream and help others.”
Sakura continues to suffer from insomnia and dizziness, but she doesn’t let it stop her from applying herself fully to both her academics and her son. For example, one result of her stress was a fear of riding the train. When she wanted to attend a training to become certified in educating about domestic violence and dating violence, she overcame her fear and took a train to the center of Tokyo and obtained her license. Sakura's counselor says of her, “When she has decided to achieve something, she works at it.”
As a federation recipient for the 2014-2015 Live Your Dream Award, Sakura will use the money to pay for her living expenses and school tuition. She then plans to start building a network of like-minded people to start realizing her dreams of establishing a center to stop sexual and domestic violence. “I somehow survived the hardship and am still alive today. By becoming one of those who can understand and help the victims, I can look back and be proud of my survival and grow as a person.”
*Not her real name, for safety and privacy reasons.
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Watch short videos featuring past award recipients
Rebecca Shuflin, 2014
Christina Valadez, 2014
Shirlee Draper, 2014
Dawn Johnson, 2012
Gladyn Minzey, 2011
Kimberly Thompson, 2010
Lisa Boyd, 2010
Lisa Curless, 2009
Joyce Snow, 2008
Colleen Sword, 2008
This is my dream: Tyra Wright-Johnson
This is my dream: Sena Kimbrell
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