I started at my high school at Peru when I was thirteen. I was a quiet girl without much confidence and most of the time I kept to myself. It was my bad luck to have a boy in my class called Dennis. Dennis had a lot of issues at home. His mother was a single mother trying to make ends meet. It made it his mission to make my days as challenging as possible.
Dennis gave me name “Simio,” which is Spanish for chimpanzee. Our classes were structured so that we stayed in the same classroom with the same group of students. The teachers were the ones that rotated. This meant that I was stuck with Dennis all the time. Outside the classroom he made fun of me for the way I walked. Other kids started to join in. At recess when I walked by, they shouted “Simio” or “Planeta”, which was a reference to the TV show, The Planet of the Apes. Soon everyone at the school knew my nickname.
I never told my parents because I did not think that they would understand how much it hurt and would blame me for feeling so much and not dealing with it. I had some friends but they just watched and never did anything to help. “Just shut up, shut up” was their advice.
My terror was enormous and it shut me down. I wanted to hide and never show myself. I felt so sad and alone and hated being at this school. I was dealing at this time with the discovery of my being sexually abused as a young girl. Bullying added to the shame and it made me feel horrible. I focused on surviving and tried to make myself invisible. If you look at the final year video, you can see me avoiding the camera and the cool kids for fear that they would taunt me.
I studied English intensively in the evenings after school so that I could get away. When I graduated I was accepted to college in the United States. It felt great to escape this torment. I have lived all my adult life away from Peru.
I never wanted to go back to my High School. But when it came to my twentieth reunion I decided it was time to return and face my tormentors. When I entered the room, people did not recognize me. I had a successful career in finance and was doing a lot of mountain climbing and had the confidence that I lacked back then. I could see that I was the one that I had changed the most.
I walked up to Dennis and confronted him.
“You taunted me so bad. You made my life so miserable. What do you think you were doing?”
“Silvia” he said. “I am so sorry. You have no idea how bad my life was back then. I was constantly being punished and was struggling with my own existence. My time at high school has affected me heavily as a man. It took me ten years to get my undergraduate degree.”
If No Bully had been around back then, maybe Dennis would have understood the pain that he was causing me and stopped his taunting. I think too that he would have been able to relate to what I was feeling and to open up about his own challenges. He could have got the help that he needed too.
It’s important for girls that are feeling bullied to speak up or reach out to someone for help. Your self-respect is in issue. Take the chance to ask for help. Bullying is a global problem and there many more resources now than when I was at school. Ask your teachers to bring No Bully to your school. It really works.
Silvia Vasquez Lavado serves on the board of No Bully and has conquered five of the seven highest mountains in the world. She is a Principal of Enterprise Technology at Paypal.