“You have to fight if you want to survive.”
These were the words of 33-year-old Hellen Baleke, a Ugandan woman who is determined to make a difference, according to CNN. Growing up in one of the largest slums in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, Baleke was forced to learn at a young age the importance of self-defense.
While the average 16-year-old is beginning to learn independence, and maybe even getting their driver’s license, at this young age, Baleke faced a brutal beating by a man in the slum, according to VOA News. Defenseless, she returned home with a bloody nose and a realization: she could not live another day knowing she was susceptible to attacks.
It was time to make a difference in her life. Baleke kept the attack to herself, not even sharing it with her mother. Every morning she would sneak out of her house, trading out a couple hours of extra sleep for training herself, according to VOA News. Baleke was going to become a boxer.
Over time, as Baleke became stronger and stronger, she was given the opportunity to attend the African Games in Rabat, Morocco, according to VOA. At the games she won a bronze medal and made history; Baleke was Uganda’s first medal-winning female boxer in 18 years, according to VOA.
After this achievement, Baleke faced the realization that mastering her own self-defense was not enough. Understanding the fear that was inflicted upon her after her brutal attack at such a young age, Baleke wanted to make sure no one else would have to experience that ever again.
In order to make a true difference in her community and ensure that women all over Kampala could defend themselves, Baleke started her own women’s self-defense group, according to CNN.
According to VOA, these African boxing clubs are seen as a way to keep young men engaged in a sport and off the streets, but Baleke boxes to empower young women to defend themselves.
One of the women Baleke trains, Christine, shared the level of inspiration Baleke has brought out in her with CNN.
“I admired her since childhood, and I want to become like her. I want to become a senior boxer in Uganda,” Christine said to CNN.
Furthermore, boxing is not the only skill Baleke has taught. Baleke has also created her own tailoring business, according to CNN. Through this business, she teaches young girls how to sew, and pays them for their work. Baleke shared that sewing opens up other opportunities for women as well, according to CNN.
“If you [are] on the sewing machine making something, you can make money. You cannot box for your entire life,” Baleke said to CNN.
From starting as a young girl, afraid for her life in the slums of Kampala, Baleke has illuminated the fact that in order to make a difference, you must take a stand. Through her determination, motivation and compassion for others, Baleke has not only changed her entire life for herself, but for many other women in her community.