Desange Kuenihira‘s life has been all about learning how to dance in the chaos. No matter how many hardships she faced, she remained an undefeated woman. Desange lived in Uganda for twelve years as a refugee before moving to the U.S. to become an American citizen. She then founded Speak Undefeated, a non-profit organization that provides education for underprivileged youth and women.
Join Alicia Dunams as she talks to Desange about her book “unDEfeated Woman.” Discover why she decided to write such a powerful book and how it can inspire you to move forward no matter the odds. Have faith, keep hope, and be undefeated.
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Awakening Your unDEfeated Woman With Desange Kuenihira
I am excited to introduce my next guest, and her name is Desange Kuenihira. I’m so excited to introduce you to her. Let me tell you a little bit about her first. Desange is the CEO and Founder of unDEfeated, a nonprofit organization that provides education for underprivileged youth and women in extreme financial hardship in Uganda. The foundation supports single mothers and youth in developing entrepreneurial skills so that they can start successful businesses to support their families.
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Desange lived in Uganda for twelve years as a refugee before moving to the US and becoming a US citizen. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and a Bachelor of Science and Health Society and Policy with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Pre-Business from the University of Utah. This is a fun fact. Desange was named Miss Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, Miss Africa Utah Pageant, and Miss Juneteenth in 2018 and continues to represent her home country in speeches and community activities.
It’s wonderful to meet you, Desange.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
We’re going to be jumping into your book. Your book is called Undefeated Woman. In this story, you talk about your life and what you have learned from being a young girl going into arranged marriage and motherhood before twenty and living in a life of poverty. We’ll jump into your life, your memoir, and some of the lessons in your book. First, Desange, as I like to introduce many of my guests, I want to ask you. Why did you write a book?
When I came to the United States, they first gave us therapy. They wanted us to try out therapy first and see if it worked out. At this time, I did not know or realize all the trauma. I was not in touch with my emotions. It was very hard to open up to someone when I was not opening up myself first. I was not realizing this issue with myself as, “I went through this trauma. I need to walk through it.”
How could I be honest with someone else when I’m not honest with myself? I was like, “How do I dig deep with myself to find myself?” One thing that motivated me to start writing a book was to inspire other kids who needed to see how many opportunities they had and how much they could do to change someone’s life to make a difference around the world.It's very hard to open up to someone if you can't open up to yourself first. Click To Tweet
As I started writing my book, it was no longer about that. It was about finding myself. It was about me opening up, being real and vulnerable with myself, and trying to know who I am, trying to know all these experiences I’ve gone through, what they have taught me, and why I have gone through them to understand my emotions and be in touch with myself because I was not in touch with myself. I did not know who I was. This book is just not a book for me. This is my therapy. I put it all on paper and found my way of healing through it all.
I have a program that I’ve worked on with some of my clients called Book Writing as Therapy. The book-writing process is extremely therapeutic. I love that you started with that. I want to back up a bit. You mentioned when you were brought to the United States, they offered therapy for trauma. Was that part of the process being brought here? That probably leads to your book anyways. Maybe tell a little bit about your story. You mentioned why you wrote a book because it’s healing and therapy for you. Let’s jump into your book. Tell us a little bit about you and some of the lessons you’ve learned in your life. I know that’s a big question and you have had a lot of life in these years. Share a few lessons that you have learned and more about yourself and your book.
Of the few lessons I’ve learned along my path over the decades that I have lived so far, one of them is knowing who you are. Growing up, I did not know who I was. I let the world define me. I was told I was a meaningless girl. I was told the only value I had was a diary that a man could marry me. I always allowed people to define me or whatever they thought of me. “I believed in that. That’s who I am. That’s how they define me.”Know who you are. Don't let other people's opinions of you define you. Click To Tweet
Their opinions and words had power over me. I did not know what to say to myself or what to decide for myself. Taking the journey of finding who I was, of finding this undefeated woman, people’s words no longer have power over me. I know who I am. You can come here and tell me you can’t do that, and I’ll laugh in your face because I know who I am. I know what I’m capable of.
That has helped me to keep going forward. Knowing who I am has allowed me to keep pushing in life and knowing the right people will join me on this path and following my heart, trusting my gut, being in touch with my emotions, allowing myself to be a human being, and understand why things happened that way they happened. That’s one lesson I have learned. That’s a big one for me.
The lesson is to know who you are. How is your book laid out in terms of how many lessons you have? I’m curious about how your book is laid out so I can get a sense of the lessons you share.
There are a lot of lessons in the book when you read it. You can even get your own lessons maybe that I did not even see. Another one I talk about is different cultures on how to balance my African culture and my American culture, not losing my African culture because that’s who I am. That’s where I come from. That defines me. I talk about my experience as a refugee and living in a refugee camp.
I talk about coming here and being put in the foster care system, how to overcome that, how to embrace these different things, and how to survive. I talk quite about a lot of things in the book, but the main one is knowing who you are and trying to find the person within you and stop doubting yourself. We doubt ourselves a lot, but we don’t know that we have the power to make the change that we need.
We don’t know that when we set our minds to something, we can accomplish it when we believe in ourselves. Another thing that I learned was to believe in myself before anyone else would believe in me. I had a lot of people believe in me, but I did not believe in myself. That was not helping me. If I believed in myself, someone else believed in me, which would’ve pushed me further in life. Believing in yourself before anyone could believe in you is another one.
Also, start now, not later. That’s another thing because we keep pushing on, like, “After this, I’ll do this.” Whatever goal you have or you are trying to do whatever goal, jump into it. Start doing it. The right people would join on your path. Sometimes it’s, “I don’t have the investment. I don’t have this.” Do it. Go into it. The right people will see your passion and your determination. They’ll see your vision and join you on that right path. Even if it’s just one person to push you to get where you need to go, you have to start that path.
If you keep putting it on, you will never get there. Sometimes, for me, it’s to believe in the unknown and to keep going even if you don’t know where this journey is taking you. Some day, somehow, it will all make sense. Somehow, all the points and all the dots would connect. Keep going and jump in that. Another lesson would be to take a break and breathe. Sometimes we overwork ourselves. In my last year of high school, I overworked myself. I did not know who I was. I forgot my self-care and all that. Sometimes it’s okay to keep going and to look back and breathe.
Let’s jump in there because you shared several lessons for people in terms of empowerment. I want to delve a little bit into your story. Would you be open to sharing a little bit of your story growing up in Uganda and your process of coming to the United States?
I also talk about that in my book. The process is very long process. We waited for almost 7 or 12 years for us to get our visa to come here. It’s a very long process. It’s not the easiest. You do interviews after interviews. If you are lucky enough, it will not take long, and you’ll come. Even some people who were in the refugee camp with me, they are still there. They’re still waiting for their process to come through. It is not the easiest thing.
You have to keep praying and hoping. This is where I talk about having faith, believing, and hoping in the unknown. You don’t know when it will happen, but you have to have faith. It gets to the point where you get tired of waiting, “I’ll go to America. They’ll call me.” You keep doing interviews. Sometimes in the year, you do zero interviews. Sometimes if you are lucky enough, you will do a couple of interviews or even one.Have faith and keep believing in the unknown. Click To Tweet
It’s a matter of fact to keep believing. When you get your luck, you come. Growing up in the refugee camp was not the easiest thing, but I’m glad I was able to see that side of life. Not a lot of people are privileged to be able to see that. This is another question that I have gotten when I was doing the interview. They asked me, “In the past ten years of your life and the past ten years you are spending in the USA, what difference has it made?” That hit me. I have never thought about it that way. Looking at the last ten years that I lived back home has prepared me for these ten years because all the experiences that I learned in the last ten years have been my motivation to keep pushing me in these ten years of my life.
Seeing how blessed I am made me grateful. My life started out the way it started because it gave me the bad side of life, and learning how to believe in the unknown when everything does not make sense, being hopeless, and coming here, “I have this opportunity. Now I have all the resources I need. Keep pushing and keep going.” It has been a very interesting journey. I would not say that my life has been boring. My life has been learning how to dance in the chaos, and I have enjoyed it.
My experience with you is very joyful. I love hearing about your stories and lessons learned. For everyone who’s reading, where can people buy your book?
You can find my book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can find it online also. I know other retailers that are selling it. I don’t know their name, but there are multiple stores where they’re selling it, and you can find it on Amazon.
Amazon, and you could always check in your local bookstore. We’re going to jump into our speed lightning round. This is where I ask you questions, and you share what’s the first thing that comes to your mind. The first question is this, what is your legacy?
My legacy is unDEfeated, to help other women find their voice, especially women who have suffered through child marriage and now are fighting for their daughters not to go through the same, who are fighting to end this child marriage, this cycle of poverty repeating. It’s about seeing these women embrace themselves, come out with their talents, and give them their voices back.
After their marriage has failed, they disgrace their family and the community. They come back home with these kids and don’t know where to begin. They’re hopeless. We’re giving them a business to support them and their kids and see these youth embrace themselves and follow their dreams. I’m giving back the resources I wish I had as a little kid growing up to be able to push my dreams and say, “You can start here and keep going.”
What’s your favorite book, Desange?
Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic. He doesn’t have arms and legs.
What is your favorite author?
My favorite author is Maya Angelou. She’s my favorite.
What are you reading next, Desange?
I’m going through my own book now. I’m reading through my own book to get familiarized with it and to see, “This is where life has brought me,” holding the physical copy and saying, “I finally achieved it.”
I love that. You get to celebrate writing your book. What are you writing next? Do you have another book that you’re working on?
I am writing stories in poems that I can put into words.
Desange, in our lightning round, you were sharing about being a child bride. I know that the nonprofit that you’re working with supports women who are child brides. Can you describe to us those reading what particular child brought bride crisis or situation is in Uganda and other countries? What are some of the things that you’re finding out about it? I would love for you to educate us on that.
This is when a family can no longer support kids in school. They would say, “The girl is to get married.” Usually, the girls know nothing about it. Sometimes they grab them, or they’re going to pitch water or something, and they carry and take them. That’s where their life completely changed. If they’re lucky enough to know about it, some of them hide or run away. Some of them tell the teachers to try and help them out and things like that. After they catch you and you’re gone, you can try to run away, but it’s not the same. Some families think that giving away their kids to marriage and getting this appraisal from the man’s side of the family will help them build something. Maybe it will help them get out of poverty and stuff like that.
Usually, it ends up not helping them with anything. This girl’s future is ruined, and she doesn’t have any hope afterward. It’s very hard on girls. It’s very traumatizing. Growing up in a culture where you don’t talk about your emotions, you have to bottle and suck it up. These are the girls who have trauma which went through it, but they don’t want their kids to go through it. In June, I was back home in Uganda, talking with some of these women, which was hard.
Talking with these girls reminded me. Growing up, I always had that fear of being given away in child marriage or getting married against my will. There was quite a lot of fear and reminder of that. That gave me more motivation to keep fighting and going forward, knowing that these girls would have a future like me. Sometimes I thought, “That could have been me.” It has been quite an interesting journey to see how life plays out.
Thank you for sharing that. That shows an undefeated woman sharing your life story and that even something that is so tragic of your own personal life experiences that you learned lessons from it. You used this book as a way to heal and as a catharsis to support you in your own journey. Can you share with us how people at home can find out more about you or follow you on social media? Can you give us your websites and social media handles?
You can follow me @Kuenihira on Instagram. That’s my modeling account. You can also follow me @SpeakUndefeated on Instagram. You can follow us on our organization’s Instagram. It’s called @Unefeated_UG. You can find us on Facebook by my full name, Desange Kuenihira. You can also find us on LinkedIn Desange Kuenihira and Speak UnDEfeated. That’s our page. Also, our website is www.SpeakUndefeated.org.
If you need collab with your small business and stuff like that or want to support someone, reach out through my social media account. You can find my email and phone. Feel free to shoot me a text or a call. We can always chat and see how we can collab and work together. Don’t hesitate. We have our fundraiser going on now. The link is in our bio on Instagram. We are raising funds for tuition for students and also funds for women’s businesses. Feel free to donate as small as you can. Everything counts.
That’s fantastic. You can support the work of unDEfeated and the women and children they’re helping in Uganda. Desange, I’d love for you to leave us with some words of advice and wisdom, something that you want to leave the audience at home.
Remember, life cannot break you unless you let it too. You have all the power within you to keep on pushing life. Whatever you’re going through, don’t see pain as a bad thing but try to embrace that pain. Learn from it. Understand why you are in that moment and what God is trying to teach you. Learn all you can because you never know when those lessons will play a big part in your life. Sometimes God puts us through things, so we can learn from them and also help the next generation or help whoever is going through that. Also, don’t be scared to face the girl or the man in the mirror. Face that person because when you know who you truly are, nothing can defeat you.
I love that. It reminds me of Beyoncé’s song, Break My Soul. It’s wonderful, and thank you so much for being here and sharing your wisdom. Everyone at home can purchase Undefeated Woman on Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Be well, everyone, and we’ll see you in the next episode.
- Undefeated Woman
- Life Without Limits
- @Kuenihira – Instagram
- @SpeakUndefeated – Instagram
- @Unefeated_UG – Instagram
- Desange Kuenihira – Facebook
- Desange Kuenihira – LinkedIn
- Speak UnDEfeated – LinkedIn
- Email – Speak Undefeated
- Fundraiser – Speak Undefeated
About Desange Kuenihira
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