In my family, there is no joy when a girl is born.
When a boy is born, relatives gather at the parents’ home. They offer small gifts of gold in celebration, and they sacrifice three to four animals. They celebrate the day with food, conversation, and laughter.
When a girl is born, my relatives kill just one lamb. No one talks. No one celebrates. They eat quickly and leave.
All of my uncles have more than one wife, and they treat them very poorly. They only talk to their wives to give them orders. I have heard my uncles and aunts fighting, and it always gets physical. I have seen my uncles hit their wives with belts, shove them against walls, and push them to the ground and kick them.
The day after my 16th birthday, my father circled a date on the calendar: August 28. He told me this was the day that I would be married. My soon-to-be-husband was a wealthy man from Mali. He was older than my father!
I begged my father to stop the marriage, but he insisted it was final.
In that moment, I felt like my life was over. But you’ll never guess how happy I am now — thanks to people like you. People whose hearts are big enough to care about what happened to me.
My father permitted me to continue my education because my fiancé had left my hometown for a long-term business opportunity. In my senior year of high school, I secretly applied to a university in the United States. When I was accepted, I worked up the courage to ask my father for permission to go. He reluctantly agreed, but said that I had to return to marry my fiancé, at the time of his choosing.
When I came home for a winter break, my dream of graduating from college shattered. My fiancé had returned to Mali. I would be married as soon as possible. My mom learned that my fiancé had AIDS. Villagers said his first wife died of the disease.
Desperate for a way out, I told my uncles I was no longer a virgin.
They beat me so badly that I thought I would die. Then, they locked me in a room used to store crops. There was no bathroom or windows, just a hole in the wall for food. I couldn’t tell if it was night or day, and I knew that if my life ended, they would not care.
Eight months passed before my mom rescued me. My uncles went away on a business trip, and she broke through the bolt on the door. With the help of my sister, I escaped to the United States, and I found Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit that helps women and girls flee violence.
I’ll never forget the day I received my asylum approval letter in the mail. When I held that letter in my hands, I could not stop smiling! Sometimes, I pull it out from my files, and I read it again. I am free!
Because of people like you, I can stay in the United States. I can live my life without fear of being forced back to Mali. If I ever went back there, my uncles would kill me.
Without Tahirih, I would not have survived to tell my story. They gave me free legal and social services, and they helped me get back into college.
Very soon, I will graduate from college with a degree in agribusiness. I hope to get a job in banking or at a government agency and then pursue an MBA. And I want to get married and start a family, but at my own pace.
Please help another young woman like me pursue her dreams. You can save a life by donating to Tahirih Justice Center today.
When I was locked in that dark room, I thought nobody cared about me. Now, I know that is not true. People like you cared. They supported Tahirih so that women and girls in situations like mine would have somewhere to turn for help.
Please donate now so that when another young woman like me calls Tahirih, she can get the help she needs to be free.