The women who inspired us: “I lost access to education at the age of six…now I am studying a Masters’ degree”

Leonie Dindji is a Master's student in Childhood studies at Swansea University from Ivory Coast. We asked Leonie about the woman who most inspired her to pursue her education. This is what she said…

Leonie Dindji is a Master’s student in Childhood studies at Swansea University from Ivory Coast. We asked Leonie about the woman who most inspired her to pursue her education. This is what she said…

Tell us about the woman who most inspired you to pursue your education?

When I lost my biological parents as a child, I was adopted as part of the SOS Children’s Villages programme in Abidjan. My adoptive mother, Mummy Adjua, was mother and father to my nine adoptive siblings and myself. We all came from different backgrounds, with different stories and experiences. With Mummy Adjua, we found a new family.

Mummy Adjua raised her children to share her values and to give back to the communities who gave us so much in social care. She raised her children to change the world.

There is no one in the world that inspires me more that my mother, this incredible woman who found the strength to educate ten children of diverse genders, ages and backgrounds. She showed each one of us the same love and kindness.

For me, Mummy Adjua represents the prototype of a strong woman: a woman who builds a healthy family and offers a safe environment and a second chance to children. A woman who raises her children to be leaders. When I was younger, my brothers and sisters, even the neighbours, used to call me “small mummy Adjua” because I learned a lot from her: her tenacity, her fight, and a passion for social and humanitarian works.

What have you learned from your mother over the years?

There are many examples of my mother’s inspiring actions that educated me and brought changes to my life. She has always lived with audacity and freedom of speech. No matter what happens, she always says when she disagrees with something, both in the professional and social domains. She refuses to be passive. Today, wherever I am, people can expect my feedback and opinions, but I also raise other people’s voices. At Swansea University, I am a member of the BSAC (BAME Student Advisory Committee). This is an opportunity for me to speak up for minorities through an intersectional lens: race, gender, ethnicity, class.

The second example is a little story that I have never shared but taught me lessons. When I was around 14 years old, I applied to be a representative of children and youth with SOS Children’s Villages. I was amazed and delighted when I won the election. But when I told my mother, she asked me to refuse the title. I was so upset and surprised. How can she ask me to say to the people that voted for me that I did not want to represent them anymore? Her reason was that I was too young, and she did not want me to be transformed by the experience of holding so much responsibility at such a young age. I was not convinced, but I asked the board to allow a swap between the vice-president and me. So, I became the vice-president. Four years later, I applied again and got selected, and this time my mother told me: “You are ready now. It is time for you to shine.”

The lessons I kept from this situation are many.  I could have said no to my mother and kept my position, and maybe nothing exceptional would have happened. But by following her advice, I learned to work and help behind the curtain. I also learned to recognise when I am not ready and when I am. In 2019, I wanted to apply for Chevening with my friend. However, after I analysed my situation further, I postponed my application for the next year to be well prepared. My application in 2020 was successful first time.

Why is equal access to education for girls and women so important?

Girls’ education is a real challenge globally speaking, but it is the right way to develop sustainable and inclusive development. Twenty years back, I lost my parents: I lived in a village and stopped attending school because of poverty. Sixteen years later, I created an NGO named KIDS’ HOUSE, working for disadvantaged children’s education. Four years after that, I am at Swansea University, doing a master’s degree in Childhood Studies and fulfilling my passion. I am able to do that because of the competencies and experiences I have gained in the social and humanitarian field.

We only give what we have. If you have love, you spread the love around you and make other people shine.

I am a woman who lost access to education at the age of 6-7. But because an organisation gave me a lifebuoy, I work to give it back. Anytime you think about what girls’ education can bring to the world, think about me, and fight for girls’ education. Human rights are women’s rights. Open your eyes and your heart and advocate for equal opportunities. Educated girls save lives, build strong families and communities, and participate in the economic and political spheres.