I can proudly say that womyn– womyn strong enough to move mountains against any wind– raised me.
Many of you are familiar with my mother, Melissa Villa, the founder of Project PEARLS.
She is an advocate for the neglected Manila population living in garbage-filled slums. For the past four years, she proved the impossible to be possible. Hundreds of children, who originally spent their days scavenging for survival, are now being educated and given the opportunity to raise themselves out of poverty because of her.
Alongside my mother, I grew up close to both my grandmothers. And what many people don’t know is that both my grandmothers were teachers.
They were both stern, stubborn, and certainly the most malakas of my family. They taught me practice makes perfect, prayer is powerful , and education is the most valuable tool no one can take away from you.
I always considered the day my father’s mother passed away to be the biggest turning point in my life.
To be honest with you, around that time, I was a straight-C’s quick-to-be-defensive student who thought “I’m going through so much I don’t need to do this shit.” “Shit” being school.
After her funeral, I realized how that mentality is wasting all she taught me. And although I felt lost, I knew I had to power through… for her. I began to understand the songs I sang in choir, my 2.5GPA turned into a 3.8, I no longer wrote angrily to myself but wrote news for the newspaper, and I went from a lone slump to a leadership student.
And now I am here.
I originally intended this post to be about feminism and its vitality in achieving peace in the world. But, right when I began writing last night, my mother called me in hysteria.
Her mother passed away.
And as much as it fcking hurts right now, like before, we must power through. We need to continue the malakas legacy of defying odds against us.
I am certainly not the richest in wallet but rich in blessings because of these three womyn. I am incredibly blessed to have had an education-prioritized upbringing. And again, like before, I will take this as another turning point in life for the better.
Most girls are born into a world in which this type of upbringing is unheard of. Many of them are denied the right to an education, let alone the right to live for themselves. “One in seven girls in developing countries is married off before age 15.” “More than half (54%) of all rapes of females happen before age 18.” “By 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s illiterate (adult) population.” (source- UN Day of the Girl)
And when these girls do stand up for themselves, too often do violent repercussions occur.
Earlier this year, almost 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria were kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram. They believe that girls should either be married or enslaved rather than free spirits who want to learn. As you can see, although six months passed, 219 of these girls remain missing, 57 escaped, and none were rescued.
My mother’s mother was the only one in my family that could beat me in Scrabble, surpass my National Geographic collection by decades, and–although she spent her last years unable to leave the house– knew more about the world because never was there a moment a newspaper was not in her hands. And knowing her, I know that these girls being robbed from their human rights breaks her heart as much as it does mine.
In memory of her and the gift of honoring education that both my grandmothers left me, I dedicate the She is King series to all girls standing up for their rights.
We will be selling prints and originals on our store starting tonight.
ALL PROCEEDS will go towards the education of the girls that escaped Boko Haram. The Jubilee Campaign has so far raised enough money to bring four of them to the US to continue their schooling and they are aiming to bring six more. You can learn more here.
Thank you grandma and Ninang for all you’ve taught me. This is for you.