It hasn’t been an easy journey for Ashley Nyangani. Her mother died from AIDS when Ashley was only two years old. She and her older sister, Monalisa, were brought up for a while by their father, but he found another wife, had another family and found his two girls to be a burden. He was also diagnosed with AIDS. He arranged for his daughters to be married – Ashley was only eight years old – and sent them away to the villages where their husbands lived.
Very fortunately for Ashley, a concerned teacher helped to alter the path of Ashley’s life. With Ashley’s assistance, she managed to trace and contact her grandfather who agreed that he would take Ashley and her sister as he needed looking after – he was also dying from AIDS. The grandfather allowed Ashley to go to school – she was his carer at night, whereas her sister cared for him by day. There were times that she was too tired to go to school and other times when he was hospitalised that she had to miss school, but she loved learning and remained focused on learning all she could.
The opportunities for Ashley to get involved in clubs and societies at school were a turning point in her life. She drew respect from her classmates when she taught them about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and gave her account of what it is like to live with AIDS, based on her experience of caring for her grandfather. Increasingly, she realised she had found her vocation in life: to be the voice of women in her society.
When her grandfather passed away, his property was snatched from them by distance relatives, an illegal but common practice, and Ashley and her sister were left homeless. A kind acquaintance, hearing of their plight, managed to get her sister who had completed school a part-time job, so they were able to afford a room and Ashley returned to school with the help of a local NGO, SOS Children’s Villages, who paid her exam fees.
Ashley takes over her story from here:
“With Our Moon’s help, I applied to a number of universities and was offered a place at University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. I arrived at UBC about two months ago after 39 hours of traveling. It was my first time on a plane and I was both excited and nervous.
UBC is really awesome. The campus is lovely. There is a beautiful garden and it even has its own museum of anthropology – it is so cool. I never believed there could be anything like it. I am studying Sociology with Economics as a minor. I have enrolled in some interesting modules for this term including Feminist Studies and Gender, Justice and Sex Studies. I think most of the people taking my course come from America and Canada. They will be surprised by some of the differences between the ways women are treated in my country compared to theirs.
While I am finding everything really exciting, it is also challenging to adjust. I miss my sister and my friends. And I find the food really tasteless and there is too much of it. I am on a generous Mastercard Foundation Scholarship which includes giving us an allowance for a laptop and phone. You can’t imagine what it was like for me to be given money to spend on myself. Our shopping trip was so cool but scary too – I was careful with my money and I have made sure I have saved some too.
For now, I just can’t stop looking out of the window. Is it really me that is here? Our Moon has been really helpful to me, talking to me about the differences that I will find here. I am very grateful that I have Our Moon in my life.”