Last Friday I had lunch with Leila, one of THE most courageous people I know. As she filled me in on her life in the 10 years since I saw her last, I was alternatively shocked, saddened, angered, and ultimately inspired.
Coming into Australia as an Egyptian Somalian refugee in 1999, Leila had already experienced a tough life in her short years. I met her as a workplace mentor when ANZ offered work placements through the Given the Chance program, and I liked her immediately. Her infectious smile and her curiousity about everything masked her deep thinking and an incredible strength.
Leila was happy at ANZ, and grateful for the opportunity she had been given to work and learn.
When she was married soon after, Leila’s happiness was complete: Good job, peaceful country, loving husband, happy home. This happiness was short lived when her husband became increasingly violent. Soon, Leila was afraid for herself and her three children. Living in a subset of the community that sees domestic violence as normal, Leila’s efforts to get out of her situation were unsupported.
What Leila endured, no woman should endure.
After one particularly violent incident, her then 9 year old son said ‘Mummy I will kill him. Everything he does to you I will do back to him.’ That comment gave Leila the courage she needed to break through the fear.
Leaving was hard. Divorce was even harder, as she battled the resistance of her broader family and opposition from religious and community elders. Leila persisted, and late last year was granted a divorce, her home, and custody of her children.
Now Leila and the kids are happy, relaxed, and rebuilding their lives. ‘Corrinne I am free now’ she told me a number of times.
Leila recently told her story to 100 people at Parliament House in Canberra. She was nervous… Was her English good enough? Would they believe her? Would they care? They did care! They clapped, cried, and one lady stood up and declared that she was proud to call Leila an Australian. Me too!
Fearless Leadership requires courage, curiousity and compassion, and Leila is all three personified. Last week she made the decision to go back to university and finish one outstanding subject so she can graduate. I have no doubt that she will go on to be a leader of significance. And although she doesn’t realise it, she already is!
What can you learn from Leila’s story? What are you convincing yourself is ‘okay’, when really you know it’s not? What could you do if you were ready to be as courageous as Leila?