Hope is having open possibilities every day.
Aimmee Kodachian shares the above message with riveted audiences across the globe during her keynote speeches. Listening as she interviews experts from a wide variety of fields on the Empowering Humanity TV Show, it’s hard to believe that she arrived in America unable to speak, read, or write English. A well-dressed, confident businesswoman, there is nothing in the way that she acts or speaks to betray the fact she never received more than a 4th-grade education and had no job skills when she came here. Despite the challenges and setbacks along the way, she’s accomplished what many only dream of doing: becoming a successful business owner, published author, keynote speaker, and TV show hostess, producer, and director.
The War That Stole Her Dreams and Crushed Her Hopes
Aimmee was just 12 when the Lebanese civil war began. Growing up, her father was constantly travelling, and her mother battled severe depression that left her unable to care for her children. When her father was home, her parents fought. Her middle brother, Elie, sexually abused her and physically assaulted her beginning at the age of 7. He told her that everyone would blame her if she told anyone. She kept her silence out of fear that it would cause her favorite brother, Robert, to kill him if he found out, and then her oldest brother, Jacques, would kill Robert. She also didn’t want to add more reasons for her parents to fight.
Born with dyslexia at a time when learning disabilities were neither recognized nor understood, she was ridiculed at school by the students while her teachers encouraged them. School became a nightmare.
She thought that was all coming to an end one early spring day in 1975 when Robert asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told him either a lawyer, so she could fight for those who were being treated unfairly, or a teacher so that nobody ever had to feel the way she did at school. He promised to help her achieve her dreams. Her hopes soared. She thought things would finally go her way. Moments later, a bomb dropped onto the family’s living room where she’d been standing moments earlier, killing her brother Robert in front of her eyes and throwing her life into chaos.
No one had room to take them all in and her family was separated. Aimmee was forced to return to a boarding school where she’d been molested by a teacher and scorned by students. As the war intensified and roads shut down, the nearest power plant was struck by bombs leaving the school without water, food, electricity, phones, or basic supplies. In the middle of that horrific experience, still grieving the loss of her brother, she had a breakdown and surrendered to the only thing she knew bigger than the darkness around her: God. Light replaced the darkness inside her as she was filled with inexplicable hope and joy. It was that hope which would carry her through the dark times ahead and inspire her to spread it to the rest of humanity.
Months later, she was reunited with her family, but her mother struggled to feed them all. Aimmee’s beauty attracted the attention of a young man from better circumstances who sought her hand even though Aimmee was just 13 and he was 20. Her mother encouraged the match thinking it was a chance for Aimmee to escape poverty. The pressure on her grew intense and Aimmee gave in, marrying him three days after her 14th birthday.
The Marriage That Forced Her To Make a Choice
Rather than being a path to prosperity, the marriage proved to be a disaster. She was treated as a slave by her in-laws and forced to cook and clean day and night for them while her husband did nothing to stop them. He began distancing himself from her. That marriage led her to make one of the most crucial choices of her life. She realized that while she didn’t have 100% control over her circumstances, she did have 100% control over what she would do about them. She chose to rise above their treatment and not allow it to change her heart.
That choice would sustain her through the premature birth of her daughter, the death of her infant son, and numerous hardships and tragedies as the war continued to destroy more and more of the world around her. She escaped death many times. It took years, but she finally worked up the courage to tell her father about the abuse she was enduring at the hands of her husband and in-laws. He encouraged her to pursue marriage counseling with a local priest. She was willing, but her husband abandoned her and their daughter, leaving for the United States without even telling her.
A single teenage mother with no education, job skills, or money, she faced the cultural stigmas surrounding divorce despite it not being her choice. She was blamed for failing to keep the marriage together. Her in-laws refused to help her unless she surrendered her daughter to them, and she was left with no home and no income. The only person who opened their doors and offered to take her and her daughter in was her brother Elie, but she feared he would do to her daughter what he’d done to her. To her surprise, he pleaded for forgiveness, promising to help her get an education and to provide for them both until she could take care of herself. Her hopes for a better life were again dashed when he fell six stories from a roof, went into a coma, and died. He left behind an important lesson about forgiveness and the capacity for people to change.
Her mother found work as an embroiderer in a ladies’ clothing store in nearby Saudi Arabia. Aimmee ended up joining them. The woman who owned the store offered Aimmee a job as a model in a private bridal fashion show, but Aimmee’s lack of confidence due to her lack of education made her feel like an outsider and she quit the job.
During a return visit to see her father in Lebanon, the bombing began again and became non-stop for days. She packed everything and grabbed her daughter before taking a taxi to the airport to head back to Saudi Arabia. They were the only car driving on the streets. They arrived at the airport just in time for them to catch the last flight out of Beirut.
She came to the US for the first time hoping to save her marriage and returned home to Lebanon when it became clear things would not work out between them. Her second time coming to the United States was at the invitation of her older sister, who needed a nanny to care for her two children. It seemed a perfect opportunity for them both, but it lasted just over a month before her inability to speak English or read and write became an obstacle to her ability to care for the children and they were back on a plane to Lebanon.
When she arrived the third time, though, having lived through 13 years of the Lebanese civil war, she knew there was no turning back. There was no chance for her to succeed back home.
Things did not immediately turn around for Aimmee. She lost her beloved father. Her second husband was becoming increasingly abusive, and their marriage was rapidly falling apart. “Somehow, I found the courage to pack our clothes and walk away from my troubled marriage, knowing that I had a daughter to raise. Having less than $200 in my pocket, I was taking a huge risk, but I knew it was necessary.” Everyone told her she would never make it, that she should just go back to Lebanon, but Aimmee was determined to prove them wrong. “I needed to make a tough choice for us: Either give up or step up!”
There were many ups and downs over the next few years, but she persevered and her instincts about America proved correct. The opportunities available in her new homeland allowed her to begin thriving rather than merely surviving. In time, she found her soulmate, Tom, a wonderful man whose love for her and her daughter was unconditional and enduring. “I needed someone to believe in me, and Tom needed help to start a business. We were the perfect couple to grow together.”
The Vision That Led to Empowering Humanity
By May 2005, their business was thriving. She had just finished a successful business meeting when memories of her past began flashing by like a movie trailer. Overwhelmed, she parked in a deserted area and broke down crying tears of joy, appreciation, and disbelief flowed as she felt a beautiful energy around her. “For a moment, I felt like I was in a dream. I heard my inner voice say, “It’s time to share your story.”
At first, Aimmee resisted but despite her doubts the urge to share her story became overpowering. Her husband asked her how she planned to write a book when she’d never read one. She told him as long as she had her why, the how would appear. From that moment forward, Tom supported her 100% even after she told him she would be giving 75% of the profits to benefit victims of war, sexual abuse, and those with Dyslexia. A year and a half later, the first edition of her book, Tears of Hope, was in her hands. She was asked for radio interviews and became a keynote speaker for many events. She received glowing testimonials from people who read her book and attended her speaking engagements but struggled with being in the spotlight.
She began hosting seminars, preferring the more intimate environment where she could focus on them and their journey rather than having to share all the intimate details of her own. She rewrote the book a second time. While finishing the last chapter, she felt Robert’s spirit standing close to her, telling her, “I’m so proud of you, Aimmee. You didn’t become a teacher; you became a healer! The world needs you. Go and stand up for the peace you believe in.” That led her to the vision of creating an online program where people could find inspiration, education, and transformation that would empower them to create better lives for themselves and the world. However, the challenges of balancing her marriage and her family forced her to revisit her vision and find a new way to serve. Technology provided the solution she needed, allowing her to reach people worldwide.
To some, Aimmee is the living embodiment of the American dream, a tale of hard work and sacrifice turning into success. To others, she is proof that even an illiterate and uneducated refugee with no job skills has something beautiful and worthwhile to contribute to America and is worthy of being given a seat at the table. To still others, she is the icon of the HOPE her story offers her listeners and readers, a reminder that sometimes it is only by going through the darkness that the light can be seen.
Originally appeared in Womenz Straight Talk Magazine and featured here with permission.