Former Canning Town resident Betty Makoni’s book of triumph against abuse
Female activist and former Canning Town resident Betty Makoni has empowered over 300,000 women around the world but she hopes her personal story told in a new book will be the most powerful lesson of all.
Betty is the founder of Girl Child Network (GCN) Worldwide, an international charity which saw Betty crowned a CNN Hero for Protecting the Powerless in 2009.
But Betty’s story has not always been one of triumph - born in Zimbabwe, she had an upbringing at once horrifying and horribly common to other girls her age.
Raped at the age of six, Betty found herself the sole provider for the family aged nine when her mother died as a result of domestic violence.
Brave even when young, Betty urged her mother to report the beatings but, chillingly, she was met with the reply: “Shh, we don’t say domestic things in public.”
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But Betty shouldered the burden of her mother’s death and soldiered on to set up GCN Worldwide which created Girls Empowerment Villages, safe havens for victims of abuse, keeping over 70,000 vulnerable women safe.
In 2008, following several campaigns against high profile rapists, Betty exiled herself to neighbouring Botswana for her own safety.
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But a new life beckoned when her husband, an engineer, found a job in the UK and Betty started anew with him in St John’s Road, Canning Town.
Much to their dismay, their home was vandalised by local children who threw debris at their house and attacked her car.
Betty remembers: “We got shocked then I thought ‘Is this England?’ because we were running away from Africa to escape violence.
“Then we thought ‘they are just kids so we will try to be friends with them.’ They were so violent and very young, only eight or seven years old and I spoke to the police but I thought it was important to also speak to their mums to tell them what they were doing.”
But Betty found there was more of anger than anarchism about the children and it gave her a new cause to align herself with.
She said: “We carried on further to say this could be our contribution to the United Kingdom - to inspire them.
“I want to go back to Newham because the children were feeling victimised. We shouldn’t hate these children or beat them, we need to engage with them and try to understand them and how their problems are coming about.”
Betty recently visited a girls school in Hackney to talk about her experiences and she hopes to return to schools in Newham because “It’s a place I do really love and it’s the place I am fond of because that’s where I arrived and it is the place I discovered it is not that people cannot achieve, it is that they do not have the opportunity and there are lots of resources in England to help them.”
Betty intends to spread her message, “We are born victorious, not victims”, by launching a book of short stories told through poetry called “A Woman, Once a Girl - Breaking Silence” which will be followed by her autobiography, “Never Again” which she is still finishing.
She chose poetry to express her past because she wants “to bring the sounds of crying, laughing, and protest to words.”
With themes ranging from women’s rights, to knife crime, to bereavement, Betty hopes everyone can find strength in her writing.
There is an open invitation to the Internationl Women’s Day launch on March 8 at www.eventbrite.com/event/2777330069/efblike and copies of “A Woman, Once a Girl - Breaking Silence” can be bought at www.bookstore.trafford.com/Products/SKU-000526911/A-Woman-Once-a-Girl.