Comfort Dondo: “I am because the fire in me burns more than the fire around me”

Interviewed and edited by Edinah Masanga

Comfort Dondo is confronting racial challenges, ethnic hostilities, and gender-based prejudices to confront domestic violence in the African immigrant community in the United States. We asked Comfort to share her story with us.

What inspires you to tackle a subject so touchy and in so volatile an environment?

As President Obama said during his presidency, change will not come if we wait for the other person or wait for another time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek. My personal pain and challenges are what has inspired me to change other people’s lives. I am a survivor of childhood, sexual abuse, adulthood domestic abuse. When you have been there, you develop a deeper sense of empathy. Having people in my life who could hold my hand and see me through my struggles, I decided to do something about the social issues I was observing in my community. To me, inspiration means, in spirit.

My life purpose has been to live a meaningful life, so taking my personal hardships and challenges and desiring to turn the pain to a purpose, that is my inspiration.

Tell me a bit about your story before the now

I was born and raised in a small township of Mabvuku out of Harare. I am currently based in the USA where I am the founder and Executive Director of a Non-Profit organization that is working to end Gender-based violence locally and globally. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and violence, out of these experiences I have been called to the work that I do. My mom, who survived gender –based violence for over 30 years, and is now a survivor and my inspiration.

She became my first client when after graduating from University. I went to rescue her to safety. She inspires me in how she has been using her pain to serve others where she lives now. My mother at 70, takes care of orphaned children, she raises chickens and is an amazing farmer. She is the blueprint to how I live my life and how I have always lived my life.

From as young as I can remember, my mother, despite being beaten up and a victim herself, I saw her giving of herself to others. I recall her cutting up some pieces of beef to give to widows in our neighborhood. I remember her giving counseling to young women in the area. Looking back, I also realize that I do my work and empower women from my personal pain and struggles, I care about the women and girls I work with because I am also going through and have gone through their similar situations.

I always ask women who inspire them because I enjoy hearing most of the time that it is other women. Take me through who or what inspires you.

Overall, my mother has inspired me to know that Love is not loving until you give it away, there is never a perfect time to love and serve others.

Even when you are at your lowest, you should find it in you to serve; there is always someone in a worse situation.

I have to ask, Comfort, you must prepare yourself for challenges every single day?

Because of the endemic nature of racism, colonialism, white supremacy and xenophobia in the United States, as well as barriers that result from global cultural contexts, it is sometimes hard to do this work due to these systems.

As an African Immigrant woman, I have to prove myself three times over before I can be taken seriously. Also as an African woman living in the Diaspora, sometimes it is isolating, you feel like you do not belong to the U.S.A and you are disconnected from your home-country. Speaking up against Domestic Violence is a challenge because, in our African culture, there is often silence around this subject.

I face a lot of resistance and there is a perception that our work breaks families apart.

Other African women are also sometimes my greatest challenge; we compete instead of completing one another.

I hear you, sometimes the system socializes us to want to rely on men such that we become blind to our oppression and begin to project that on one another. What advice would you give if another woman were facing similar challenges?

To women who may be facing challenges; you are the part of the I AM THAT I AM. A Spiritual being having a Human experience, nothing is ever wrong in your world, everything you may be facing is by divine order, no matter how much sense it may not be making. I would encourage women always to try to find the purpose in their pain but above all, be discerning in picking up whom you confide in as you seek to heal. Find that one sister you know is your confidant.

It never has to be resolved all at once, one step at a time, sometimes it is one hour at a time. I often put my life in compartments and deal with one challenge at a time.

Always look for purpose in your pain, remember where we came from, hold on to your spirituality, and I would say to women if Prayer is you speaking to God, intuition is God talking to you. Trust God, trust your Gut, and trust that small still voice always. Remember without vision we perish, ask yourself, what is your PURPOSE? Start there and even when faced with the toughest challenges, dig deeper, search your purpose, find it in that pain.

And to those who unfortunately sometimes work to detract others?

I would like to challenge my African sisters to start to work together, collaboratively, lovingly and genuinely with one another. Look at the women around us who are doing well; they work together. Let us get rid of competition and start completion.

In my work, many women end up getting killed because they are scared of what the community will say if they leave their husband. We need to start shifting this and start building a true sisterhood, especially in this globalized age. We are spread out around the world, we need each other, and we are the ones we have been waiting for.

I am truly inspired I can feel my tears coming. Walk me through your achievements so far.

I am a Scholar of Public Affairs at the University Of Minnesota Humphrey School Of Public Affairs and currently elected to seat on the Governor’s Taskforce on the Young Women of Color Initiative where I contribute on African Immigrant young women. I received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Social Work/Women’s Studies Minor from St Catherine University, St Paul Minnesota and is currently a Masters of Public Affairs and Leadership candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minnesota.

Last year I became Fellow of the New Leadership Council Fellowship and also the recipient of the Gary DE Cramer Community Leadership Award and the Founder of Phumulani, Minnesota African Women against Violence. A Non-Profit Organization that focuses on combating domestic and sexual abuse in a culturally specific manner.

I also worked as a Researcher for the Zimbabwe Vitamin A for Mothers (ZVITAMBO) a USAID’s Infant and Young Children’s Nutrition Project. Nutritional Counselor for the Hennepin County WIC program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Community Health Worker for Portico Health Net, a non-profit agency that works on Health Insurance Access. She also served as the Underserved and Marginalized Communities Empowerment Coordinator for the Iowa Coalition against Domestic Violence where she worked closely with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Internationally, I am currently the U.N Ambassador of Zim-first, an opposition political party that was formulated in response to the current toxic political situation in Zimbabwe-born as a result of rampant corruption, lack of the rule of law, financial meltdown, and lack of basic human rights and needs.

In this role, I represent the people of Zimbabwe at the United Nations and work in close collaboration with UN Women and the United Nations Foundation.

I have also served as an Advisory Board member, for an Immigrant Domestic Abuse Shelter in St Paul, Minnesota, also a member of WILL and WAND Women’s Legislators Lobbying, which works to empower women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism.

I currently work closely with U.N women to ensure that gender-based violence is an issue that is combated world-wide.

Thank you for taking the time to inspire us.