I started my love-hate relationship with food at a very tender age. I was about eight or nine at most and was preparing to get into secondary school. 

I had always been bigger than my classmates –taller, fatter and bulky.  

The State primary education board did not make life any easier for me when they introduced a literature book called ‘’The Fat Woman’’ to be used in all elementary schools in the state back then.

In one month my named had changed from that given at birth to the ‘’fat woman’’. The teachers whom I thought would come to my rescue did not even help matters as they resorted to calling me that at the slightest provocation from me, as the school had recently placed a sanction on teachers who punished their pupils by flogging.  My only safe haven was home, maybe because my siblings were equally fat.

I didn’t exactly have an easy time dealing with my weight when I finally got into secondary school. The teasing got worst and I was determined to do something about my weight.  I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do. 

 I got an idea from a dog.  My Aunt’s dog.

I had gone to spend the long vacation with my Aunty Emma. She was a matured single, living alone at the time and rumours had it that her attraction to dogs was to fill the loneliness that came with not having a husband and kids. She nurtured the dogs like she would a child, bath them and spoon fed them. A special vet came to the house every other week to look at the dogs and some of her friends will even jokingly say they wish they could be her dog. 

Nicky was the oldest among her dogs and was mother to almost all others. She was angry when her puppies were sold off and went on a protest fast. Maybe something else happened, because Nicky boycotted food for the rest of the year. She barely touched anything she was served and was getting leaner by the day. My aunt resorted to force feeding her every day and Nicky will throw up everything she was fed immediately she was let off the hook. Nicky stopped gaining weight and before I left, the once very fat dog was now a skinny bag of bones. 

I had learnt that one could stop gaining weight by not eating or throwing up after eating, and that started my long painful journey with bulimia.

I began restricting my food intake immediately I got back from vacation. I will try to skip breakfast and barely ever touched my lunch. My stomach would roll and growl all day long. I remember being embarrassed if the classroom was quiet enough for others to hear the rumbling. Inevitably, I’d return home in the afternoon ravenous. I’d binge on whatever I could find. Cookies, candy, cake, garri, all kinds of snacks, my mum was a caterer by the way.

Full Blown Bulimia

      Image Source –Psychology Today

My binging episodes got out of control. I was eating less and less during the day and would make up for it in the evening. This habit made very little difference on my weight even though I had been on it for years. I did not add the weight as rapidly as I did before, but stealthily, the number on the small bathroom scale kept increasing.  I was in deep thought about why I wasn’t losing weight when my aunt called to tell my mum that Nicky had been hospitalized for complications related to starvation. I then remembered. Nicky threw up every time she was force fed and she still was losing weight. I had found my missing link. Purge it all out after eating. And there began my journey with bulimia officially. The process seemed so easy. I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted, and then just get rid of it with a simple flush of the toilet.

I was about 15 the first time I purged. I had just finished a whole pack of cereal combined with several cubes of sugar and a full tin of the much sweetened condensed milk. A wave of guilt immediately hit me and I sneaked into the bathroom, put my hand deep into my throat and brought everything out into the bathroom sink. After I had gotten rid of the offending calories, I felt lighter. I don’t just mean that in the physical sense of the word, either.

You see, bulimia became a sort of coping mechanism for me. It ended up not being so much about food as it did about control. I was dealing with a lot of stress later on in school. I had the difficult career choice to make, I had men who could father me hitting on me, (my size did not help mattes in this regard), and there was the domestic issue of dealing with the chronic illness of a beloved sibling. There were lots of things in my life that I just wasn’t able to manage. I’d binge and get a rush from eating so much food. Then I’d get an even bigger, better rush after getting rid of it all.

Not just weight control

My parents were very distracted at this time. My brother’s ailment had taken its toll on them and so it was easy for them to have missed my bulimia. Coincidentally, I had to leave home for university about a few months after I started purging and at my uncle’s house where I had to live in my first two years in the university, it was easy to go unnoticed. Nobody seemed to notice my bulimia. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything. At one point during my first year of university, I got down to just 115 pounds on my nearly 5’7 frame. 

There were so many changes that came along with moving away from home, attending lectures and dealing with life mostly on my own for the first time. I was binging and purging daily.

My mum was alarmed when I returned home on the first school holiday. She complained to my dad that my uncle’s wife must be starving me and that being very introverted in nature; I am not the type that will ask for food if I’m not offered. I felt sorry for my aunt who was nothing but nice to me. 

Sometimes I’d complete the binge-purge cycle multiple times a day. I remember going on a field trip with some course mates and desperately looking for a bathroom after eating too much cake. I remember being in the hotel room I shared with a course mate, after eating a box of chocolates and waiting and praying desperately for the girl to step out so I could purge. I will run all the taps at once and make a lot of noise in the bathroom to prevent her from hearing what was really going on down there. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really binge, either. I’d purge after eating normal-sized meals and even snacks.

I would go through good periods and bad periods. Sometimes weeks or even several months would go by when I’d barely purge at all. And then there’d be other times — usually when I had added stress, — when bulimia would rear its ugly head. I remember purging after breakfast on the day of my convocation. I remember having a very bad period of purging during my compulsory National Youth Service Corp. 

Again, it was often about control, coping. A lot was going on in my life that I couldn’t control, but I could control this one aspect.

Ten years, later

The long term effects of bulimia aren’t completely known, but the ones known are frightening enough. Complications range from cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure abnormalities, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, indigestion, heartburn, tooth decay, irregular periods and even depression. I had a fair share of most of these complications, but at this point I could not stop myself despite being afraid about what it was doing to my body. I remember blacking out upon standing quite often during my bad periods of bulimia. Looking back, it seems incredibly dangerous.

My then fiancé was the first to notice and I eventually confided in him. He encouraged me to speak with a doctor, which I did, albeit briefly. My own path to recovery was long because I tried doing much of it on my own. It ended up being two steps forward, one step back.

I knew I had to take my recovery process seriously when the complication of depression became very serious. I was surviving on antidepressants and had on two occasions being hospitalized for episodes of depression.

Recovery was a slow process for me, but I can confidently say I am free from bulimia now.

Yes, I have gone back to being ‘’the fat woman’’ but I am a beautiful and healthy fat woman.

The last time I purged was when I was 25. That’s 10 years of my life plagued with this draining eating disorder. The episodes were infrequent by then, and I had learned some skills to help me deal better with stress. I now exercise regularly, and have discovered exercise lifts my moods and helps me work through things that are bothering me. I also have developed a love for writing and cooking healthy meals. I read my bible daily and the comfort contained therein is better experienced than imagined. 

The complications of bulimia go beyond the physical. I can’t get back the decade or so I spent in the throes of bulimia. During that time, my thoughts were consumed with binging and purging. So many important moments of my life are tainted with memories of purging. I wish I could turn back the hand of those times.  

Don’t let the world rush you

The fashion, modeling and advertising industries have constantly made women feel they have to be a certain body type in order to be considered beautiful. Don’t let the world mold you to its standards. A wise man once said, “do not read beauty magazines, it would only make you feel ugly.” While it is good to maintain a healthy weight for a longer and healthier life, you can be beautiful no matter the number on your dress tag or result of the scale while standing on it.

Seek help

If you’re dealing with any eating disorder, please seek help urgently.  You don’t have to wait. You can do it today. Don’t let yourself live with an eating disorder for another week, month, or year. Eating disorders like bulimia are often not just about losing weight. They also revolve around issues of control or negative thoughts, like having a poor self-image. Learning healthy coping mechanisms can help.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. Be determined to break the cycle. A trusted friend or doctor can help you get on your way to recovery. The steps to recovery is not all easy, you may feel embarrassed at relapses, but do not give up even when you fail every now and then. You may feel you can recover on your own, but from experience, this is quite unlikely. Stay strong, seek help and cultivate healthy lifestyles . 

Your memory book should be filled with important moments in your life and not memories of your eating disorder. 

Kembet Bolton

For every test or examination taken at school in Nigeria, you are given a results sheet that ranks students in order of academic performance. Sounds daunting to many, but personally I enjoy that type of methodical evaluation and this system gave me (as a student) and my parents a measure of my academic performance.

Academia was so important to my family. I attended boarding school for my secondary education and my parents ensured I was given extra tutoring during mid-term breaks and holidays. Despite this extra effort, I struggled to meet my personal goals at school, finishing in the top 10 but never ranked top of the class. At my ‘academic peak’, my performance was second best, falling short of my closest friend and forming a slightly competitive bond.

You might think top ten, or second best is still pretty good by all standards but first place came with rewards such as a full scholarship. All my siblings successfully gained – and maintained – top of their classes but despite pushing myself I could never quite get there.

Without diminishing the tremendous efforts of my best friend’s consistent academic excellence, I believe I settled into the second-best position unconsciously. Secretly, each year, I competed for the first position, but my default coping mechanism was never to reveal these goals/ambitions openly for fear of not achieving them, appearing competitive, to relieve pressure, and limit expectations. “What happens if I get first place this term and cannot maintain it?” or “Is it not better to remain firmly in second place than to live through the embarrassing drop?”

I challenged myself each year and eventually found my feet and my academic passion to fix things. I honed this skill to complete my PhD at Loughborough University, and to become a practicing Electrical Engineer at Cundall.

Here is a few valuable lessons I learned along the way.

Let Go of the Inferiority Complex

I began to let go of my inferiority complex when I started viewing life as a journey, not a race. I analysed – and still do analyse – my successes (and the occasional failures) based on what I have accomplished, and my past experiences; consciously putting increased emphasis on enjoying the process of achieving my realistic goal. I do, however, occasionally still suffer from the “imposter syndrome”.

(SOS: If anyone has succeeded in getting rid of theirs completely, please kindly tell me how you achieved this, so that I can apply it to my life!)

Be Competitive

As a secondary school pupil, I was confused by what being competitive meant. Being competitive is generally viewed negatively by society – especially for women. But it’s completely natural to have competitive feelings. Like most feelings, competitiveness can have both positive and negative manifestations. In the extreme form, it can prove unhealthy and counter-productive. However, it can also serve as motivation. I have learnt and accepted that it is okay to want to win, so long as I don’t discredit others in the process.

Maintain Confidence

I maintain my confidence by reflecting on my past achievements, developing my knowledge and skills, and by learning new methods. Most of the time, it is easy to get so caught up in always achieving, and the next goal. If you look back at your journey occasionally, you realise that there is nothing the future can bring that you cannot handle without some preparation. My personal and professional journey so far is living proof of this. So, sometimes – just take a break and celebrate yourself!

Share Knowledge

I am particularly passionate about knowledge sharing. I often recall Michelle Obama’s quote in 2012; “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give others the same chances that helped you succeed”. This inspires me as it shows that opportunities should be shared by all, and you should bring people on your journey where possible.

Be True to Yourself

I completed an Accelerated Advanced Level programme, which is AS and A2 in one year. I failed to make the minimum grades to study on the MEng programme at Loughborough University, and I was rejected by my first-choice university back in 2008. I recall feeling very disappointed, like it was the end of the road for me and my ambitions. Reflecting back on this experience, however, I believe that I had set an unrealistic goal for myself.

By being true to myself – and my capabilities – I now set more realistic goals. I may fail, and will make mistakes but these are proof that I am trying. During my PhD, I learnt that failure is a necessary part of the learning process. Just because an experiment fails, does not mean that you abandon the project. You can gain as much – or even more knowledge and experience – from a failure, as well as a success.

And to the young women thinking of pursuing careers in engineering, if you have the passion, go for it!

I strongly believe in the Venn diagram analogy that engineering is the intersection between scientific knowledge and societal need, with both creative and analytical capability for real world problem solving. There’s no gender discrimination in that definition so don’t exclude yourself from contributing, or deprive us of your skills, talent, knowledge and ideas to solve problems.

Never downgrade your dream to match your reality, but work hard, remain focused and most importantly, enjoy the process of working towards achieving your goals. If you have a dream, ambition or goal that feels overwhelming, break it down into tiny bite-size milestones. As you achieve your milestones, you are getting closer to your overall goal.

Dr Ozak Esu is a winner of the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards for the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

By Miracle Nwankwo

Every philanthropist has a unique and inspiring tale about their journey in philanthropy, and often times their acts and willingness to give to the society is inspired by the struggles of their past. However, it is one thing to be shown kindness and it is another thing to be willing to return the favor.

This episode of Impact Inspire brings the spectacular story of a rare gem, someone whose heart yearns daily with a desire to reciprocate an act of kindness that was shown her in a better form.

She is an African woman, born in the midst of excruciating poverty in a little village in Wedza District of rural Zimbabwe.

Her name is Fiona Mavhinga, the founding partner of CAMA a foundation whose goal is to help girls and young women to access education, facilitating their transition into higher education and employment, and creating opportunities to develop their leadership and activism.

Fiona had her growing up days very tough; as the first child of the family she was very keen on education and everyone around her saw her passion.

Her very supportive family sent her to live with her grandmother when she was old enough to go to school, so that the distance to school could become shorter since her grandmother lived closer to the school than they did. 

Reducing the distance to school was not the only problem that Fiona and her family had to deal with; they were also faced with financial problems. Despite all their efforts, there were days when the family went hungry because of Fiona’s fees, yet on many occasions, she was sent home from school for not paying her fees. Nevertheless, with the hope of a brighter future, the family struggled to meet Fiona’s school-going costs. While staying with her grandmother, they woke up at 4am every morning, and worked every weekend, selling vegetables at the market, trying to earn enough money to make ends meet.

Fiona’s mother, on the other hand was also committed to supporting her daughter’s education. She was a trader who traded dried fish for maize, and then sells the maize to provide for Fiona’s school fees. 

The distance between Fiona’s grandmother’s house to the school was 5km, apart from the days that her cousins and uncle would carry Fiona part of the way to school, she walked every day to school to receive a full day of lessons, after which she returns home studying late into the night next to a paraffin lamp, having spent her evenings working on the vegetable plot that their livelihood was dependent on. 

Fiona was not the only girl in her community that really wanted go to school, but due to the poverty that consumed most rural areas in Zimbabwe many of her friends in the rural village lost their dreams to poverty, and their lives have become so drastically different from that of Fiona who was lucky enough to pull through with the support and determination of her family.

Having concluded her secondary school amidst the intense heat of lack and want, she was then faced with the challenge to further her education. She had written her final exams and obtained the best results both in her school, and her entire province. For the cause of her excellence, she was offered an admission into the Zimbabwe university.  

The possibility of going to the university was not in view and Fiona was too stubborn to give up. She thought of many possible solutions and a way out but none of the options involved letting go of her dreams. In the end, like the old saying “when there is a will, there is a way”, a perfect help came to her at the very time she needed it.

The story of her life got better when Camfed stepped in to support her, it was a dream come through for Fiona who cried tears of joy and relief.

Camfed is an international non-profit organization tackling poverty and inequality by supporting marginalized girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.

With the help of Camfed, Fiona went to the University to study Law and graduated. After her graduation she worked as a lawyer for three years and later went on to work with the Bank of Zimbabwe.

However, that was not her destination as she had a dream and a purpose to drive into fulfilment. She wanted to return this same act of goodwill and together with the support of Camfed and other beneficiaries of the NGO (the first 400 young women whose education Camfed had supported), Fiona formed the Camfed Association, CAMA.

CAMA is a powerful Pan-African network with a unique movement of rural philanthropists whose major focus is to help the adolescent girl with access to education.

In 1998 when they started out, the 400 former Camfed-supported students came together to multiply the impact of donor funds by offering training, technology, business loans, and mentoring support to young women at the critical time when they leave secondary school.

Currently, the Group has a target to grow to more than 130,000 by 2019. Also in 2014, they set a target in partnership with their parent organisation Camfed, to support one million adolescent girls to go to secondary school within just five years. After two years, at the end of 2016, they had passed the halfway mark.

In 2017, it reached the 100,000 mark. Many women and girls are now beneficiaries of the CAMA Network and Fiona is still optimistic. She looks forward to a brighter future with CAMA meeting the educational needs of billions of women and girls in Africa. And she also hopes that with these impacts, these beneficiaries can now take up top positions in the societies and help change the world.

The group has also established its presence in other African countries like Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi with its executive representative resident in those countries.

Fiona has been celebrated on different platforms and has also received awards for her efforts including Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

Qatar is the only Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country still implementing male guardianship laws for female travel after Saudi Arabia lifted its restrictions on Friday. Saudi Arabia announced it would now allow both male and female citizens over the age of 21 to travel without a parent or guardian’s permission. While the rest of the GCC countries are working to protect and empower women’s rights, Qatar seems to lag behind.

According to the Qatari Interior Ministry’s website, guardianship laws require females under the age of 25 to travel abroad with a male parent’s consent. These measures restrict women who may need to travel abroad out of necessity, for education, visiting a relative or for medical needs.

According to the Saudi news agency Al Arabiya, Qatari men can – and do – apply to the courts in order to prevent their wives from traveling.

“Married women are entitled to travel without permission irrespective of their age,” it states on the Qatari Interior Ministry’s website. “In case the husband doesn’t want her to travel, he has to approach the competent court to prevent her journey.”

The same rules, however, do not apply to the men. According to the ministry’s website, men are allowed to travel freely once they reach the legal age of 18: “No permission is required for those who are 18 years old or more as they have reached the legal age of puberty.”

Furthermore, the Qatar official e-government portal Hukoomi’s instructions for citizens’ passport renewal specify that only Qatari males over the age of 18 can apply for a passport on their own. It also states that those same people may apply for renewal on account of unmarried daughters, sisters and nieces.

Saudi Arabia’s new decree, as of Friday, grants women who are of age the right to apply for and renew their passports themselves. Their recent changes also allow women to register independently for marriage, divorce or a child’s birth, and to receive family documents. The new decree also establishes that either the mother or father can act as a child’s legal guardian.

According to NPR, it was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia attempted to silence women’s rights activists and punish those who had political dissent, thus increasing the amount of female asylum seekers such as Rahaf Mohammad Alqunum and Samah Damanhoori, who actually succeeded in finding asylum abroad. In 2017, both Saudi men and women made a total of 817 asylum claims.

Neither Bahrain nor the United Arab Emirates implement guardian systems for female travelers, and Kuwaiti women gained the right to travel without a guardian’s approval back in 2009.

According to Amnesty International, Qatar acceded to international human rights treaties concerning migrants and women, but included reservations that limit their effect. Thus, their legal developments for women’s rights in general are slow.

The Qatari government, according to Amnesty, recently rejected Article 3 of their International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on “the equal right of men and women in the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.”

Source: Jpost

EY has appointed Nancy Muhoya Nganga as managing partner of its Kenyan practice and leader of the East Africa cluster, the first time a woman has held the roles

She takes over from Gitahi Gachahi who has managed the firm since 2010 and is due to retire later this year.

Muhoya, a Kenyan certified public accountant, has been with the firm for 16 years and has served in a number of senior roles. Most recently, she led assurance services in EY East Africa and was responsible for an unprecedented expansion in its business.

Welcoming her appointment, Gachahi described the growth on her watch as “phenomenal”. “With her experience, business acumen, exposure and global mind set, our business is poised for a take-off to the next level,” he added.

Muhoya’s rapid rise to the top has not gone unobserved. In 2016, she was picked as one of Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40 Women, an annual award that recognises exceptional young businesswomen both as game changers and inspirational role models for future generations.

“It’s truly an honour to be appointed EY East Africa cluster leader,” she told economia. “I look forward to engaging with our highly talented teams across East Africa and continuing to inspire trust and confidence in how we serve our clients in this digital age.”