My name is Helle Duus Alex, I am a nurse, a mother of five and a world traveller. I was born in 1960.
Through out my life I have met some very impressive women,
the first being my maternal grandmother who taught me class, selfconfidence and the ability to share.
Story telling has always been of great importance to me and to my children - this is how we learn and how we grow.
My purpose with SistaEnable
is to share the world wide story telling
to let every Sista Enable the other
towards a mutual identity.
Below find some of the stories that got me started:
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“Her husband drug her into the bushes where she was raped and severely beaten up. After fainting from the pain, she was drug back to the village and thrown on the floor of her clay hut. She was a newly wedded girl, 14 years old”.
My friend Happy told me the story when I met her during my travels in Central Africa. I had hired Happy to travel with me as my translator, because her Masai background and her knowledge of several tribe languages, combined with her education in “Public Health”, gave me access to information I would have not found on my own. Happy quickly related with the women we met up with, and she described to me in detail the life stories they shared with us.
“It is not uncommon in this culture”, she explained to me, “for a man to beat his wife into a feverish condition, and then gain local respect for taking good care of her while she is sick from the concussions and trauma he has caused her”.
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She was 8 years old and afraid to shake my hand when I reached out to say hello, after a young Swedish Pastor and his wife, both serving in a small church in Bangkok, had invited me to dine with this child and five other kids. We all sat on the floor and ate out of the same bowl of rice.
“We found her a couple of days ago”, the Pastor told me, “in a garage, with one leg chained to a wooden bed with no mattress. An older guy offered me sex with her, at the cost of less than what you pay for a meal at a local street wagon. I don’t know how long they have prostituted her, cause she doesn’t talk yet. For now we just feed her and calm her down, before she goes to a safe house we work with”.
I hope she recuperated well. She must be around 23 now.
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She was 21, addicted to heroin, sleeping in stairways, sheds or whatever would keep her from the rain, in the city of Copenhagen. She told me her mother was an alcoholic and she didn’t know her dad. She ran away from home when she was 12, and no one really had ever bothered to look for her. I don’t know if this was true, but I was struck by her obvious intelligence shown throughout our conversation. She had a small dog that she cared for in a loving way. I asked her if she ever felt lonely, to which she denied, as now one would ever understand her life anyways. It saddened me that I would never be able to help her, and that her life had been wasted even before it began. I don’t know if she is still alive.
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I connected with her through my Facebook page SistaEnable. She was 22 years old and living in New Jersey. She grew up in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime; house arrested from age 8-13, and then went to school after the foreign invasion of the country. She did well in sports and was granted a US scholarship to graduate with a BA in foreign policy, with a minor in women studies. This well educated, civil young woman recently went back to Kabul to visit with her family. While being there she met with a male friend to have coffee in a café. They were both arrested and asked to prove their family relation. Since they could not prove this, she was taken to the local police station and before even being allowed to contact her family, she had to undergo a physical examination to prove her virginity. She told me that this humiliating experience had shown her the necessity to build a stronger and more demanding character, which those four years of a safe university environment had not provided her with.
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She spoke just a broken English as she stood in the streets of Colombo in Sri Lanka, with a baby on her hip and a toddler clinging to her leg, as she begged us money for food. I asked her about her age, but she wasn’t sure. I estimated her to be around 17, but it was hard to tell. She was really dirty and so were her kids. I tried to talk with her, but she showed no interest in conversation at all, she just wanted money. I did not give her any. I went and bought a bowl of food, a sandwich and some fruits, went back and gave it to her. She casually shrug her shoulders as I left her with the bag. Then she sat down and nursed her baby, as the toddler dug into the food.
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She was a 42 year old school teacher in Denmark, second generation Turk and a moderate Muslim. We met because her 76 year old father was sick, and I was his home nurse, while doing my internship. Their family story was very touching, although not often told, as most Danes had never bothered to hear it. I did. Being an outcast at work when arriving Denmark, her father had decided to make sure that both of his daughters were educated. This made him an outcast among “his own”. The daughters as well. It had been really difficult for the two girls to gain acceptance in their Muslim society and when they married Muslim men, these were being looked down at as well. It was clear to most, that education should not be wasted on women.
We often spoke. She told me how Muslim women growing up in Denmark still had a hard time finding their identities between what was expected of them from their religious group and from their position in society. We agreed that it would be great to have female meeting groups with internet access, because this way the women would be in an environment accepted by their men, and yet have an opportunity to learn about the world.
A year later I wrote my final thesis on this exact subject, and just about failed my exam because the censor had a hard time accepting the subject as a “nursing issue”!
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She holds an MBA in economics. She lives in a smaller town in the western world, she is married and has two kids ages 1 and 3. Ever since she gave birth to the first born, she has not been able to get a job. She now devotes her spare time to volunteering in a crisis center for battered, violated women. She is in the need to have a paid job, but when applying she is told she is either overly qualified or beaten to being hired, by someone without young children. She is 36 and finds she educated too late, never build up any working experience before having children, and now feels stuck with her current situation. Her eyes though, do shine when she tells me about her job as a volunteer. She makes me gender proud, and had I had the money to hire her, I would do it in the split of a second.
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We met at the airport when both of our flights were delayed due to snow. She was as pitch black as I was winter white. During our five hour conversation she told me about her upbringing in Nigeria, her studies in London and her current attendance to a university in Germany, where she is married to a local. She showed a severe interest in my SistaEnable idea and proclaimed how important this work would be in her home country, where women have no rights to their children in case of divorce, very little access to education and lousy conditions during childbirth, just to mention a few of the gender un-equality there. We were deeply engaged in our conversation, as she was suddenly called to her gate. A year later we “coincidently” met again, as her husband was the pianist at a small opera performance I attended. She is now a dedicated SistaEnable volunteer, and I am thankful and impressed by her abilities. We laugh together as our time spent with each other just seems to fly by. We both truly sense how “we were meant to be”.
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She served me coffee at the counter in a small hang out in Seattle. She had worked there 23 years. As the place was nearly empty, she had time to chat. Being a single mother of three now nearly grown kids, her life had not been easy. One child was disabled, the other had run into bad company and was now in jail, but her daughter had managed well and worked as a receptionist in a large company. Unfortunately her own mother had died early and now her dad was sick with cancer, six years already, and without insurance he depended on the income from his daughter, to receive proper treatment. She looked a bit worn, but she had a pleasant voice and a great humorous attitude serving lots of laughing as we spoke. She excused herself as a grown girl entered the counter, went straight to the kitchen and returned with a bag that she handed the kid.
“She comes here for leftovers. I am not allowed to give her any, but she knows when I am here alone. She is Russian and I talked her out of hooking and into studying. She is bright and will manage”.
I tipped her well.
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I met her in a group of debaters, mostly young Arabs, we have formed on the internet. She writes me e-mails on a regular basis. She is 17 and living in a small village in Tunisia. Her favorite thing to do is taking the bus into town to visit the school library. She is depending on her 15-year-old brother to accompany her, as she is not allowed outside the house alone. Her mother has a depression and barely talks. Her father has abused her all her life, but no one knows of her shame. Her grandfather has a bed in the kitchen and is dying. Her brother is allowed to go outside and play with his friends, and she sits by the window, not able to see them, but she hears their voices as they shout and cheer each other when playing ball.
She reads in secret. She has read all the great Arab poets, then all the fantasy she could get to and now enjoys biographies. Her dream is to escape from home, live in the city, educate and gain independence (she states this will not happen in the Arab world), and eventually get a job and a small place of her own. She would like to become a psychologist and has asked me if I can help. I cannot. But I encourage her to look into all opportunities and to never give up hope. And to not flee her country but to fight for her rights and stand up for herself, as much as she is able to. I also encourage her to carefully find like-minded girls in her neighborhood, but she claims they are few and far in between. She so longs for someone to talk to. She communicates with me by texting over her cell phone, as she at least has Internet access.