Spotlight Series: How I defeated false comfort, excess weight, and the found the secret power in Girls for Girls
Norah is a mechanical engineer. She heads research and development at Luwero Industries Limited. After graduating from G4G STEM in Uganda, she became a team leader of the G4G cohort in Nakasongola which works with 80 girls. She is a mentor in the STEM 2 cohort and the first Makerere University Business School cohort.
Growing up as a girl, society made me believe that accomplishment is studying hard, graduating, getting a good job, marrying and bearing children. And there I was, married, an engineer with a managerial job and a lovely daughter. Life was good! I enjoyed my accomplishments, even gained a whole 21kg (I was already plus size). But, I forgot I actually had dreams.
Early this year, I signed up for the Girls for Girls STEM cohort hoping to inspire fellow women to become leaders. The Girls for Girls (G4G) program is a global, unique and powerful mentorship program initiated by alumni of Harvard University that inspires and mentors girls to follow their dreams and become leaders. In Uganda and throughout Africa, G4G was launched by Allen Sophia Asiimwe. The program consists of five powerful sessions in courageous leadership, communication, negotiation, public service and running for office, and ethics and values in decision making.
During the introduction session in the STEM cohort, I immediately came to the realisation that I was there to be mentored. The speaker, Dr. Stella Kivila highlighted imposter syndrome, communication, and confidence as issues that hold women back from climbing the leadership ladder. I revised my life plan and realised I needed confidence and courage to take it into action lest it remains just a plan.
To start, I vowed that I would shed off the excess weight I had gained over the past two years. This was because I felt the weight gain defined me and held me back. My brother had recently mentioned to me this amazing weight-loss diet, I went to him and told him I was ready to try it. On Monday 6th May 2019, I started the keto diet that I have found to be an effective weight loss program.
Doing Keto requires lots of determination as it is a complicated program. I was held accountable to the goals I had set before my fellow mentors and mentees in the G4G Cohort. I peacefully said farewell to carbohydrates, welcomed animal fat and healthy protein and took on a journey of no cravings, pain or torture. I am a chapati lover, but I was amazed by how I could fry them for my family without getting tempted to have a quick taste of a hot one straight off the pan. I now go to the gym twice a week when I have time and walk more than I used to. I soon learnt that the gym is only a happy place to go to, to feel fresh and stay healthy but unhealthy weight can only be managed by what goes into your mouth.
In a few weeks, I was changing dress sizes and by the 13th week, my wardrobe no longer accommodated me. I had dropped from size 18 to 14 and lost 16kg. After resigning myself to worries of obesity, I had now regained the initiative and had my weight in check. I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. But, I wouldn’t have done this without having a strong supportive network who had a similar goal to mine, accountability partners, and lessons learned from the Girls for Girls session on courageous leadership.
Each session in Girls for Girls included a video from professors at Harvard University, a female guest speaker sharing her story and mentorship circles for members to share their personal experiences. As I practised what I had learnt in these sessions, I found myself successfully reaching an agreement with an international organisation that had consistently declined to collaborate with my organisation for over a decade. I applied for and won a fellowship at the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs in Uganda, a U.S. White House-led Global Development and Prosperity Initiative designed to empower women to fulfill their economic potential. Most importantly, I knew specifically what I wanted to gain from this Academy.
By the time I graduated from Girls for Girls on 3rd August 2019, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. Gone were the days of sluggish comfort and false accomplishment that hampered my drive. I have since started a Girls for Girls cohort with three other members for over 80 girls (aged 12–18 years) in my rural community in Nakasongola to mentor and inspire them to stay in school and become leaders. And, as we hold the second session, the girls are already showing signs of hope and courage. As others have held my hand and empowered me to shine in this sisterhood, I shall also continue to hold another girl’s hand to shine because that is what Girls for Girls is about. I believe every girl and woman, educated or uneducated, rich or poor should go through this life-changing opportunity.