Drucila Meireles has had a lifetime of pain. Today, the 28-year-old Mandela Washington Fellow is using that experience to stand up for the rights of women and girls in Mozambique.
When Drucila was young her father beat her mother incessantly, then turned his violent anger on his children. “This was normal to us because it seemed everyone in the community lived like that,” she recalled.
Fortunately, her father also sent his daughter to school. “I devoted myself to study,’ she said. As early as primary school, she gained the resolve and skills that would eventually improve her life.
Drucila excelled in her studies, becoming one of the top-ranked students in her province in Zimbabwe. Then, in secondary school, a roadblock to her happiness appeared. Her mother died, followed by her father a few months later. She and her siblings were sent to live with her only aunt in an impoverished rural area of Mozambique. The aunt would not send her to school. Drucila remembers crying every day, especially when she saw uniformed students on their way to their studies. Drucila thought her dreams of getting an education were dashed forever, especially when her aunt pegged Drucila to be a “cash cow” and “a ticket out of her own miserable life.”
She tried to marry her then-16-year-old niece to a rich 53-year-old man. Drucila resisted, using persistence she had honed in school.
Before long she was offered a job as an English teacher and a place to live at a nearby private school. That provided her the means to get her siblings away from the aunt. It also gave her the independence to start dating. Unfortunately, the man she dated also turned out to be “violent and irresponsible.” She became pregnant at 18, in part, she said, because her community lacked sex education for girls.
“The vicious cycle of poverty and violence seemed to follow me,” she said. Yet, she again summoned the strength to improve her situation and that of her two daughters.
She found another job as an assistant in an organization that served people affected by domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. A year later she was promoted to counselor. She also volunteered as a teacher in a school for orphans.
She then joined LeMuSiCa in Chimoio, Mozambique, where she currently is a program officer. Her employer gave her the opportunity to train in what is called the “solution-based approach” to problem-solving and to “leading from behind.”
“Every human being has strengths and resources, and they are the experts on their own lives,” she explained.
“But it takes time,” she said. “It’s not like sitting one day and seeing there is order” when faced with a difficult challenge.
Drucila also serves as an advocate for victims of domestic abuse and rape, often accompanying them to court and acting as an informal legal adviser for those who can’t afford an accredited attorney.
As a 2015 Mandela Fellow, she studied civic leadership at the University of Delaware this past summer and learned more about problem-solving. “I have the opportunity to go back home and help other women and children who are undergoing exactly what I went through … to make change in other people’s lives,” she said.