Fadiah Yahya: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Fadiah Yahya wasn’t granted the easiest path to success. But after years of wanting more for herself, she took her fate into her own hands and was guided to a fulfilling life.

Looking back at the journey of my life towards becoming a strong woman, one principle comes to mind: believing in myself. Life has thrown me left and right, putting me in positions I never imagined. I’ve experienced living with good and bad people, tried things I never thought I would try and learned to understand the concept relationships. As an Arab Yemeni woman, so many of my rights and privileges in life have been taken away from me in the name of culture and tradition. For so long in my life, my life and personal decisions were made to accomplish everyone’s needs except mine. I wasn’t even allowed to take on opportunities that were provided to me. Choices that could change my lifestyle were available, but I could not reach them.

As the second oldest of my siblings and the oldest daughter, my position in my family came with heavy responsibility. I had to keep up with school assignments, assist my mother in the house and help raise my eight younger siblings, while surviving hardships that came to our family and community.

I was both fortunate and unfortunate to come to the U.S. In the first two years of my life in the U.S., I was involved in an arranged engagement that I had no plans to participate in. I had dreams to accomplish and a future to build, and they vanished as soon as I got engaged at the age of 16.

Problems erupted when I mentioned that I wanted to go back to school. Culturally, a woman’s educational value isn’t of much importance when she has a husband that can provide financially. Culture often disregards Islam’s encouragement of women to be educated and equal to men. Fortunately, the gentleman and I separated after a short period of time.

The next couple of years were spent supporting my mother at home and raising my younger siblings. At the age of 18 I received another proposal for marriage. At the time, it was the only solution to relax myself from all of my responsibilities and create a household for myself. It was also an opportunity, I thought, that would present me with a partner who would understand my situation and support me in my personal pursuits.

Although the expectation didn’t come true, God blessed me with three beautiful girls who made my life worthwhile. In the next nine years of marriage, I did everything in my capacity to support my husband with his life, and while doing that, I forgot about my personal well-being. No one ever took a moment to think or care for me or my desires. I felt like I had no purpose in life except to give and never receive.

Amidst the struggle of unraveling who I was, I realized that the people who pretended to love, encourage and admire me believed I was to simply be a mother, spouse and a housewife for the rest of my life. They believed the dreams I wanted to accomplish were fairytales and would never be accomplished.

One day, I mustered up the courage and made my decision: “I won’t take it anymore, it’s time for me to rise!” I stood up against my family, culture and people with everything in my power.

In 2009, I moved forward with a divorce and started my life as a single mother. I secured a job at ACCESS, where I worked for four years, and as a result of my savings, bought a beautiful house. I did not settle for anyone’s opinion of me because nobody understood me but myself. After completing my GED, I returned to college as a part-time student. Fast-forward a few years, I am now receiving a certificate in medical reception as well as a certificate in phlebotomy. Recently, I joined Amway, a worldwide business network for social, financial and mental purposes.

One important lesson I will always carry with me is that we are all human, created equally. It doesn’t make sense that the people around you who claim their unconditional love for you are also the same people who discourage you from creating something of yourself. Why can’t our culture and communities be built and shaped on kindness, peace and unity with one another? How difficult can it be for a husband to care and support the mother of his children and his companion in life, especially when Islam requires and encourages the notion? It’s important for people to respect one another and what they believe. Do not underestimate anyone because every individual has a unique story and talent within themselves.

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