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Sunday, September 24, 2023

I’m a jack of all trades -Divorced mom-of-two who fled abusive marriage to build small-scale business

Within the confines of our homes, where love and safety should thrive, the spectre of domestic violence casts a malevolent shadow. It is an issue that plagues communities and leaves countless lives shattered. But amidst this pervasive darkness, there are those who find the strength to defy the odds, rewrite their own stories, and reclaim their power.

Today, we bring the story of Grace Utibe, a resilient woman who weathered the storm of domestic violence in marriage and emerge a beacon of strength and inspiration. Her journey serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges many women face behind closed doors.

Join us as she shares her experience…

My name is Grace Utibe Usanga, and I am from Akwa Ibom State. I was born in Lagos. I grew up in a humble family, and I am the third of five children. My major influence as a child was my mother. She is a very hardworking, strong, and prayerful woman. Thankfully, she instilled those virtues in me.

Education
The first school I attended was Holy Child Academy, in Ikeja, before proceeding to Central High School in Isolo, both in Lagos State. My childhood dream was to become a lawyer; however, after completing my secondary school education, I met someone who promised to support my tertiary education.

I was humiliated to the point that I lost my voice

The genesis of my sorrow
I was a naïve girl when I met him. In the beginning, I fell in love with him because he was kind to me and my family. We dated for three years, and during that period, I used to visit his family. His father was very nice to me, but he (father in-law) passed away shortly after my marriage introduction.

Grace Utibe

My now ex-husband was living in his father’s house when I knew him, but he promised to rent an apartment. However, after we got married, he bluntly told me that he wouldn’t spend money on accommodation when there was a family house.

It was a three-bedroom flat, and as a new wife, I tried my best to please everyone. I would run errands, cook and do all the domestic chores; yet, some of his family members were not pleased with me.

If you are living together with your in-laws and you have a very supportive husband, it would be easier to build cordial relationships with his family. Unfortunately, in my case, my ex-husband disrespected and abused me in the presence of his siblings. In addition, he would beat me up at every slight provocation and left bruises on my body.

It was an intertribal marriage, and I didn’t know that my sister-in-law wanted him to marry someone else. I used to be a cheerful and outspoken young woman, but in that house, I was humiliated to the point where I lost my voice.

my ex-husband disrespected and abused me in the presence of his family. He would beat me up at every slight provocation and left bruises on my body

Talking about verbal abuse, I was called all sorts of derogatory names, and gradually I started losing my self-esteem. While all this was going on, I couldn’t speak to my mom about it; instead, I was hiding my wounds from her. Why? When I was getting married, my mother told me that no marriage is a bed of roses. So, she advised me to always pray about my marital issues and to never involve a third party. Sadly, I misunderstood her statement and decided to hide the truth from her.

One of the painful experiences I had was losing my first child a few weeks after he was born. He was a healthy baby, and the doctors couldn’t even ascertain the medical cause of his death. After that incident, I had a spiritual attack and was in a coma for days. When I woke up, I could not recognise anyone except my mom. Also, I couldn’t speak coherently.

After spending some weeks in the hospital, my mother was advised to take me to a prayerful church; otherwise, I would die. So, that was how I spent three months in the church. After I got better, I was supposed to have left the marriage at that point, but I didn’t. Why? I was bothered about what the society would say. So, I went back, hoping that things would get better.

mom advised me to always pray about my marital issues and to never involve a third party

Fast forward to a few years later, when I had given birth to two sons. The first one was more than a year old, while the second was barely seven months old. As I mentioned earlier, my sister-in-law didn’t like me for reasons that are best known to her. So, on several occasions, she had directly or indirectly instigated a misunderstanding between me and my ex-husband. So, one day, she conspired with three other people to bear false witness against me.

I was accused of a crime that I didn’t commit. While I was still trying to prove my innocence, my husband told me to pack my belongings and leave the family house. It was already late in the night, so, I pleaded with him to allow me stay till morning, but all my pleas fell on deaf ears. He even threatened to throw me down the stairs.

When I saw that the commotion was beyond control, I left that house by 12 a.m. with my two kids. Thankfully, my little sister was around. So, she carried my older son while I strapped the youngest on my back. Where were we supposed to go in the middle of the night? There was no vehicle, and the street was empty and quiet. So, we had to trek until we saw a taxi that took us to the house of a family friend.

After that incident, I reported the matter to our church authority. I even went to his hometown and told his kinsmen everything that happened. When they heard my story, they were shocked at my husband’s behaviour. They tried to talk to him, but he insisted that I would not return to the house. So that was how we got separated, and my journey as a single mother began.

Amidst the challenges I was facing as a single mother, I decided to prioritise adding value to my life by furthering my education

The struggles of single parenting
I was in my mid-twenties when I became a single mother. Since I had neither skill nor degree, how was I supposed to fend for two toddlers? My ex was sending N10,000 monthly, but that amount wasn’t even enough for the baby’s milk.

The first thing I did was to start selling eggs with the little capital given to me by my mom. I didn’t have a shop and was displaying the eggs on a table outside. There was no shade over my head. Then, one day, when one of my customers saw me and my kids sitting under the scorching sun, he bought a very big umbrella for me. He also gave me N2,000 to support my business.

For me to make a good profit, I needed to sell more eggs. So, I pleaded with the wholesaler to give me the eggs on credit. He accepted, and that was how I started selling from 20 crates to over 600 crates of eggs weekly.

Amidst the challenges I was facing as a single mother, I decided to prioritise adding value to my life by furthering my education. So, when I had little savings, I applied to study Business Administration and Management at Yaba College of Technology. After I got admitted, I knew that it would be so difficult to balance my responsibilities as a trader, student, and mother. I couldn’t afford to hire a nanny, so I decided to send my kids to their father so I could focus on my education and business. It was a very hard decision, but I had to make it to prepare for my future.

It took me four years to complete my programme, and during those years, I was always going to see my kids. The only challenge was that my ex-husband wouldn’t let me see them. He would beat me up and disgrace me in the compound. There was a time that my sister-in-law slapped me for the same reason. They wanted to cut off the ties I have with my kids, but I refused to let that happen. So, I changed my tactics and started going to my kids’ school. When he found out that I was coming to see them in school, he instructed the principal to restrict me, but I was too stubborn to obey.

my ex-husband made me lose my zeal for life and I attempted suicide thrice

Sometimes, I would wait for my kids outside the school gate just to talk to them. I didn’t want them to believe that I abandoned them, and as soon as I obtained my degree, I filed for child custody. It was not an easy battle, but after several back-and-forths, I won and became reunited with my kids.

Meanwhile, regarding the allegations that caused my marriage to shatter, the truth came out four years later. Those who had lied against me confessed what they did when karma started dealing with them. My ex-sister-in-law specifically called me on the phone to ask for my forgiveness. At that time, she was very sick, and I was supposed to visit her to let her know that I had forgiven her. Unfortunately, she passed away before my visit.

After she was buried, my ex-husband came to plead for my forgiveness. He narrated that everything he did in the past was a mistake and that he was under a spell. He wanted us to reconcile and become a family again. Did I accept his request? No! I’m a human being and although I forgave him, I didn’t forget that he made me lose my zeal for life and that was why I attempted suicide three times.

What about the scars on my body? They were a constant reminder of the abuse I went through. That aside, I wasn’t ready to raise my kids in a dysfunctional family. So, I said a very big ‘No!’ It’s been 11 years since I became a single mother, and although the journey has not been easy, I’m happy for the woman I am today.

I experienced criticism and discrimination for being a single mother

Prekam’s Global Brand
My slogan in life is, ‘No pain, no gain.’ I don’t have a wealthy family to run to in times of financial need. So, I work hard every day to foot our bills. I’m a jack of all trades. I have sold honey, onions, potatoes, and even thrift clothes. I used to walk from door to door, begging people to buy fairly-used clothes. Sometimes, you would see me and my kids walking on the streets of Lagos.

At some point, the egg business capital was squandered, and I had to start from the scratch again. I have worked as a school teacher, and my salary was N11,000 monthly. Along the way, I learned how to make plantain chips and started producing delicious chips.
I also ventured into importing high-grade Turkish and Chinese fashion items. Last year, I started selling palm oil and also joined the real estate industry. All these businesses make up the Prekams Global Brand.

Challenges
Life as a single mother is challenging. However, one Person who has kept me going is God. I have experienced criticism and discrimination for being a single mother. I have experienced lack and abundance.

In 2020, during the lockdown, I was duped of all my savings and life became very tough. My children couldn’t go to school, and we also had accommodation issues. In the past, there were nights when we went to bed hungry. But in all these challenges, God has always shown up by opening new doors of opportunity. He has also been my comforter. Today, I’m grateful because things are better now, and I believe that the best is yet to come.

I’m grateful because things are better now, and I believe that the best is yet to come

Final word of advice
While navigating through life’s journey, don’t forget to enjoy every moment. Embrace the joys and triumphs, and learn from the setbacks and failures.

No matter what, don’t let anyone steal your joy. Let happiness radiate from within, for it is in your happiness that you create a positive environment for yourself and your children.

Finally, don’t forget to add value to your life. Your worth is not defined by your relationship status but by the love, value and strength you bring to the world.

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