When you meet Hope Babigumira, the last thing you imagine is that this stunning, well-put together and serene woman has lived a life of struggle, dysfunction and turmoil. She is so articulate and speaks so wisely about the traumas of her childhood, including the sexual abuse she suffered at age five.  I was impressed by how much her life has evolved from so much confusion to a life of purpose beyond just her own needs. Babigumira’s riveting journey of self-discovery is aptly captured in her book No makeup on: The rebirth of identity. It is so relatable because her experiences are versions of the things we all go through in our own journeys. By the end of the book all you want to do is get off your backside and go after your dreams and find a purpose for your life. And oh, did I mention she has an incredible sense of style? Well, she is the brain behind Zuba, a local fashion line. She recounts her experiences about poverty, abuse, loss, career, faith and self-discovery for shespell.com.

Mine is a typical Ugandan story. I had a great start, my father John William Babigumira was a fairly wealthy and successful medical doctor and my beautiful mother was a certified nurse. We lived a happy and luxurious life until my father died from tuberculosis in 1988; I was only six years old. Although my father had been a wealthy man, he was also polygamous; he had two families and twelve children to fend for. His death suddenly plunged the family into poverty; many times we had nothing to eat and mother had to borrow beans and posho to stave off starvation. But thank God for my mother who was as hardworking as she was enterprising. She got herself a job at the Kabale Nurses’ Training Institute as well as started running a drug shop. Her busy schedule meant she was away from home a lot and relied on relatives and the house help to raise us.

This unfortunately exposed us to mental, physical and in my case sexual abuse.  I was about four or five when the incident happened. At that time I did not understand what was going on but as I got older, I started suffering from shame and self-blame just like most sexual abuse survivors. I started believing the worst about my life which was an easy transition into alcohol and promiscuity as I tried to numb down my pain, anxiety and lack of self-esteem. This went on until 2009 when God blessed me with a beautiful daughter. I knew it was time to change, I knew I had to reclaim my life for the sake of the innocent life I had brought into the world. I went back to church, I recommitted my life to Christ and he in turn gave me a new life. One of the things I had to do in pursuit of my healing was accepting that the absence of my father had a huge impact on my life.

As I developed a relationship with my father in heaven I felt the need to heal the one I had with my physical father. So one time I had a long chat with him and I told him, “Dear dad, your daughter was no princess. But now I am on the journey of reclaiming my title. . . As I rebuild myself recovering from years lost with a lack of identity, with this void that I didn’t know how to deal with, first I want you to know that I am still standing. I still have the Babigumira in me. The strong one through hard times. . . I am now focusing on what I know to be the truth. That you would be proud of me. That you left me with a smart brain, great attitude, a legacy, a great sense of humor and an entrepreneurial spirit.”

The hope and insight I gleaned from my journey made me realise that my story was never meant to be kept secret; it was meant to birth that same hope in others. This led me to write No makeup on: The rebirth of identity. In the book, I recount my journey to discovering who I actually am. I am now aware that what is most important is-knowing what and who you actually are. Your ways, your likes, your idiosyncrasies and generally your life depends on all those intrinsic things you have by birth or you acquired during the process of growing up. Your experiences determine your personality. Once you know it, it answers most questions in your life.

Perhaps the most important part of you is your moral substance. Values and morals are instilled within us from childhood, and these depend upon the background of the family as well as the location and society where the kid is brought up. I was brought up in a religious home. My mother instilled in us the importance of faith, prayer and God within in our lives. When I left home for secondary school, I turned to the world for my instruction because I felt it was the cool thing to do. I was anxious to conceal my poverty stricken and provincial background by imitating what the urban cool kids did. They drank alcohol, read racy novels, slept around and generally broke every rule in my mother’s book.

So with these very extremely contradicting lifestyles, I was left with no choice but to take the easy road until I realised I was lost.  Courageously, I set out in search of the real truth about me myself. But how do you search for something you do not know? How would you know you have found it, and when you did, what would you do with it anyway?  There is a saying that when you do not stand for anything you fall for everything. And I did.  In my attempt to identify and validate myself I did everything that promised to show me who I truly was.  But everything in life, friendships, hobbies, choices, habits are temporary and in hindsight I thank God for that.  Just when I would think that I have figured out who I was, things would change and I would hit the road was again in search of me. After many years of heartache, disappointment and frustration I started getting an idea of who I was by knowing who I was not. I realized that I was not my social status, not my career and I most definitely did not like the lifestyle I was living.  I realized that I was more than just that. And if there is one thing I want you to learn from this book is that you are more than who you think you are. Going back to my christian roots gave me back my life; I  now live a life of purpose. Freeing myself from bondage has given me the privilege to dream again and to have the courage to chase my dreams. I am back in the ministry learning to praise and worship my God. I also have renewed energy and enthusiasm for Zuba my clothing line and have new items in stock.

Excerpts from No makeup on: The rebirth of identity

Love yourself, treasure your body, and wait for the right person and time. Believe in yourself enough and have faith that things will work out.

When do you believe in yourself, when do you appreciate your own beauty? When do you believe that you are smart enough? Who cursed you with a weak will paralyzing your efforts to grow out of your poverty and disease?

So my dear Ugandan girl, what will you choose to believe? Will you be the sad, abused, mediocre woman that everyone believes you are or will you get up and be the best you can be? Go sing like an angel, go dance like gravity does not exist, write a book that will put those Harry Potter books to shame, find that cure for malaria, invent that new app that only you can. Come out of hiding.