The right people will join you: I believe the right people will join you on your path. The right people will guild you and mentor you at the right time. All you need to do is believe in yourself and focus on your dreams and goals. Always take a moment to remember why you started. Always know why, how, and what you’re working towards. That will show your desire, determination, and passion.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Desange Kuenihira.
Desange Kuenihira is the CEO and founder of unDEfeated, a non-profit organization that provides education for underprivileged youth and women with extreme financial hardship in Uganda. The foundation supports single mothers and youth in developing entrepreneurial skills so that they can start successful businesses to support their families. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Desange lived in Uganda for twelve years as a refugee before moving to the U.S. and becoming a U.S. citizen. She holds a Bachelor of Science in criminology and a Bachelor of Science in health, society, and policy, with a minor in entrepreneurship and pre-business from the University of Utah. Desange was named Miss Democratic Republic of Congo in the 2019 Miss Africa Utah pageant and Miss Juneteenth in 2018 and continues to represent her home country in speeches and community activities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
As a young girl, I was told repeatedly that I was meaningless. An arranged marriage and motherhood before twenty — guaranteeing a life in poverty — were all I was told to expect. But I knew I had more inside me, and that education was the key to unlocking my potential.
In my memoir, unDEfeated Woman, I discuss the challenging journey of my childhood. I recall fleeing with my siblings from the civil war raging in Congo and the daily struggle of life in a refugee camp in Uganda, where I suffered many forms of abuse. I relate my journey to America, the culture clash of living with American foster families, and my quest for education and the ability to control my own life.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or change your life? Can you share a story about that?
When I came to America, I started my journey to find out who I am! A book I read was Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic. Seeing how he overcame his challenges in life motivated me to discover who I am. I no longer cared about other people’s opinions anymore. I had let the world define me; I had given so much power to other people. It was time to regain control and find the unDEfeated woman within me. It was a lot of hard work overcoming trauma and understanding that what happened to me was not okay. I am glad I took the time to understand and be honest with myself.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My mistake was giving people power over me — valuing their opinion more than mine. At some point in my life, I did not listen to myself or follow my heart and intuition. I had always doubted myself and let fear hold me back.
I have since learned to follow my heart and intuition because they have guided me in the right direction. By learning how to listen to myself, I have taken my power back. Listening to intuition is the best gift you can give yourself.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I hope this book brings more awareness to the horrors of child marriage and the importance of education for women. Although culture plays a big role, early marriages are also caused by extreme poverty that forces parents to marry off their daughters in exchange for a bride price. When a girl gets pregnant before marriage, she is seen as a disgrace to her family and society, and then the only solution for her is to leave school and get married. I believe that in investing in women, you are investing in everyone. By investing in the youth, you are investing in the future.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
The interesting story is my whole journey growing from “a meaningless girl” to an unDEfeated woman! I found it interesting writing about how I had suffered unseen and unnoticed, but at same time healed in mysterious ways! It takes so much to be able to put in the work to heal and understand yourself!
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
My “aha moment” was when I took a test in a class and I got 100% and the rest of class had to retake the test while I watched!
This is when I realized that if you work hard, have desire and determination, and believe in yourself you can do whatever you want to do!
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
This individual is one of a kind! He has helped me start my foundation, and through all the sleepless nights he has been there! He has challenged me and pushed me to keep going since day one! He also made me realize that the right people will always join you on the path you choose!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Child marriage is happening within our communities and people are not talking about it. Join unDEfeated and make a change with us by donating funds and resources or sponsoring our mission.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are leading and understand them! A leader should be able to give everyone a voice so that they feel you have listened to them. Leadership is determination, passion, love, and sacrifice!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Start now, not later: I have always pushed things off. I will be like, “After this, I will do this.” Start now because there is never a right time to start.
- You must be self-motivated: You must push and believe in yourself if you want to go far in life. Yes, you will have people to help and motivate you, but it is hard to notice it if it is not coming from you first. You must believe in yourself before anyone else can.
- The right people will join you: I believe the right people will join you on your path. The right people will guild you and mentor you at the right time. All you need to do is believe in yourself and focus on your dreams and goals. Always take a moment to remember why you started. Always know why, how, and what you’re working towards. That will show your desire, determination, and passion.
- Take a break: Learn to take care of yourself and give yourself the love that you seek from other people. Sometimes we are so focused on our goals and dreams we forget to love ourselves and check in. When you learn to care for yourself, you will appreciate your work and self more. I have learned this the hard way. I can see the significant change when I take time to care and shower myself with the love I need to keep going. Remember, you are a human begin, not a machine.
- Be grateful: It is essential to take time each day to consider what you are grateful for. Even in difficult times, there is a lot to be thankful for. We should strive to express our gratitude, big and small, constantly. Being grateful will show you your blessings and motivate you to keep going.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life can’t break you unless you let it! I believe you have everything within you to be able to overcome anything that comes in your way — as long you are willing to learn and embrace everything that comes your way! You have to be willing to put in the work to live the life you have always dreamed!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Nick Vujicic because his book pushed to find myself! From Life Without Limits I was able to learn that it’s ok not be ok. I think sitting down and having a meal with him is a great honor!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am available for interviews, features, Q&As and select byline opportunities:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success with your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How Desange Kuenihira of unDEfeated Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.