Written by Jewel Halaby, CNN
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Josephine Kanyira Mambor was stuck between the worlds of adults and children in South Africa.
By age 12, Josephine had completed 10 years at an English language school in Durban, a gap that opened up when her father became unemployed.
As she often discovered, age 12 was the minimum age for leaving the hostel and joining a South African village, where most of the school’s students were older. Josephine slept in the local dorm, where most of the students were 21 or older.
Embarking on a path of uncertainty in South Africa meant she met many adults she was too young to approach.
“The older ones were sex workers. They would come to my dormitory looking for older girls, and I would feel shy. I would stay away, and I would drink Tabasco sauce to make myself strong.”
“When I started speaking in English, a lot of adults would try to force me to have sex with them, and I was very scared because they were powerful people.”
Josephine was also coming to terms with daily violence towards her parents. The violence intensified after Josephine tried to leave Durban for the first time, in 2015.
Her father’s death was one of the triggers of the change. Fearing for her safety, Josephine decided to move to a country where she was considered a child refugee. She flew to Chad, where she spent a year living with a relative and completing elementary school.
Josephine believes that her uniting message is to never give up. Credit: Pietermaritzburg University, Liwonde campus
Back in Durban, Josephine’s family’s home burned down in December 2015. Josephine stayed in an abandoned local asylum center with an uncle until they could find their place of refuge in the city’s Orangetown township. The government provided the building with Josephine and a 15-year-old cousin.
Josephine and her cousin were soon joined by a child migrant children’s living at an orphanage, and a younger neighbor from the same orphanage whom Josephine was becoming close with.
Embarking on a path of uncertainty in South Africa meant she met many adults she was too young to approach. Credit: Pietermaritzburg University, Liwonde campus
Today, Josephine and her neighbor are 15, 16 and 17 years old, respectively. They are all in high school and set to start their compulsory national service next year.
Josephine believes that her uniting message is to never give up.
“I am a very strong girl,” she said. “It is so sad when I watch South African society. South Africans are so down in the dumps and don’t have hope.”
For Josephine, it is the men who have the biggest impact on how she feels about gender.
“I learned a lot about my femininity by being with guys,” she said. “As a child, I would get hit by a man who was working in a diamond mine in Orangetown, where I was staying. That was my worst day. But I was also hit by a man who was trying to have sex with me in school. I was always left in the middle. Every day, I would be either touched or touched. I learned a lot by watching.”