A Sisterhood Without Borders
Before Olutosin and Urmila met in person, they had already changed each other’s lives.
Although they are divided by their geography—Urmila lives in India and Olutosin in Nigeria—the two women see themselves as sisters. Their online friendship has boosted Urmila’s confidence as a journalist, strengthened Olutosin’s evolving role as a mentor, and surprised both women with the depth of love that can grow from a few supportive messages sent through the Internet. Here they join their voices together to tell their story.
Olutosin: After three years of online friendship, I couldn’t believe I was finally in my dear sister Urmila Chanam’s home in Bangalore, India. Her whole family was there to welcome me with food, love, storytelling, and eager conversation. Urmila’s sister-in-law confided in me, “We have never had such a huge feast in this house before, and I have never anticipated the visit of a foreigner like this.” Her mother went into her wardrobe to decorate my neck and ears with her precious jewels. Her elder brother said to me, “Young woman, I have heard so much about you from Urmila. Please make yourself comfortable. Our home is your home.”
“My daughter,” Urmila’s father advised me, “Go and write your story. Make it into a book for the next generation because I made a mistake. I did not write the story of my experiences in the Indian army. Now I have forgotten everything and it will enter into the grave with me. Write about your experiences, make others read and learn from those facts.”
Later that night as I lay in my bed I reminded myself of Urmila’s father’s advice. I whispered into the wall in the thick darkness: “Olutosin, go and write the story of sisterhood before your memory fails.”
2011: A Friendship Sparks
Urmila: Our relationship began through a medium most consider frivolous—the Internet. Olutosin would read my articles on World Pulse and leave comments. I don’t even remember how the comments on my stories transitioned to undivided support, to affection, to understanding, to love. I began to share everything with her and she returned by sharing everything with me. From messages on World Pulse, we also began communicating through Facebook and Gmail. We used Skype to talk to each other, share our dreams, our aspirations, our thoughts, and our souls. We also shared our disappointments and our heartaches. We shed many tears for each other’s hardships.
Olutosin: On World Pulse, I had already experienced incredible support, motivation, love, solidarity, and kindness. I received six months of citizen journalism training. I was mentored by two great women who were committed long-term to my cause. I had access to help in times of distress or sickness, and recommendations for leadership programs, grants, and awards. I knew I had a home in more than 100 countries. I had a mountain made of sisters. I had international recognition, respect, improved writing skills and self-confidence. I had new dreams. After receiving so much from World Pulse, I decided to give back to every aspiring sister who raised her hand looking for friendship and sisterhood.
Finding a Shoulder to Lean On
Urmila: In the afternoons my bedroom gets very warm. I remember a day when the back of my neck was wet from perspiration. I was drowsy and demoralized like never before. But I knew I could not rest yet. I had to look up more job portals and apply for more jobs. I needed a job and I needed it badly. I had lost count of how many interviews I had been to.
A good job is hard to come by in India, where it seems journalists are sworn to poverty. I was a social development journalist and I couldn’t find newspapers with a beat other than politics, crime, fashion, travel, business, and food! My self-esteem and my resources started to dwindle. There came a time in my life when I began to think how much a meal would cost me and if I could make do with eating just boiled corn in the street before I got home. . . .