Growing up, I have always thought that I am a change maker and I wanted to change so much in my world, the world I grew up in. This stemmed out of the frustrations that I had when I looked at how some things where done in the society that I lived in. I saw how girls my age could not reach their full potential because their parents could not afford to see them through primary education, let alone secondary and higher education. Most of the girls would end up married off to older women at an early age whilst their male counterparts would continue with school. Boys were generally given first preference to education, with some lame excuses such as “they carry the family name and they can take care of the family even if they marry unlike women who will be married off to another family and forget about their family”. I lost my mom at the age of 11 and I was withdrawn from a good boarding school into a rural school because my dad could not afford my tuition alone on his teacher salary. I used to see children my age come to school hungry, without books, shoes and basic school requirements, I was lucky that my dad could afford these things and we lived relatively comfortable than most of families from which my classmates came from. Most of the terms I would come top of my class, while girls in my classes flanked, besides my boarding school background that helped me excel, I think these other girls were not so good because they lacked books to read and the background from which they were coming from was not so supportive of their intellectual growth. It is then that I decided that when I grow up I would do something to change things for the better for girls in my society.
I took up public speaking at 12, in 2010, I competed among 9 other young people for a seat to represent youth in my area in the Junior Parliament of Zimbabwe at the age of 15. The competition was stiff, all the other 9 where from group A boarding schools in the province who wore blazers which gold ribbons, all with 2-5 badges to highlight their prowess in public speaking and leadership skills, young women who used English as their medium of communication everyday of their school lives. Then there was me, I had spoken English only for a year or two that I was in boarding school, the only time we spoke English at school was at a Public Speaking Debate competition (which we rarely won as a school), when presenting an answer to the teacher at school because most teachers required us to do so. I didn’t wear a court shoe because it was unheard of at the school I attended as some students could not even afford to buy the lace up shoes which were part of the uniform, I never owned a blazer, in fact no one at our school owned one so I wore just my blue basic skirt without pleats, a jersey on top of my white shirt and a pair of white ankle socks inside my Toughees lace up shoes. I had prepared my campaign speech which I read at school assembly the day before I traveled to the competition that was being held at another school. This was not a problem as I would just focus on the piece of paper and read out what was there, I have always been good at reading in class but I realized that I was not as good as my rivalries who demonstrated such eloquence as they practiced in front of me backstage before they went onto the stage. I felt inferior, I almost decided that I would withdraw my candidature before I present, especially when I thought of the impromptu segment where one was supposed to pick a topic card and start talking about issues affecting the youth around the topic and what they would do if they were selected to be MP. Honestly, I went into onto the stage filled with so much fear, anxiety and feeling inferior because I was competing with the “best” that boarding schools had to offer, our worlds were apart. As soon as I got to the stage, I remembered the situation of girls my age back at home and the promise that I had made to change their lives and the lives of future girls and I knew I had to make this work, I had to be the MP, I needed to represent girls from rural areas in my community in parliament to make their lives better, to open more opportunities for them, to look up to one of their own. Cut the story short, I presented well, I could see the judges and the crowd warm up to me as I presented in both segments, the prepared speech and the impromptu speech. I was selected Junior MP and I must say although I had thought that I did my best it came as a shock because to me it was so obvious that one of my competitors was going home with the title. I cried, I couldn’t believe I had done even with all odds against me, I still remember the moment my name was called out as the winner, I still remember the contents of both my prepared and impromptu speeches. My journey began there and then, I was asked to give a speech as the newly appointed MP which I did, I remember feeling proud of myself as I saw my teachers clap and children from other schools clap. The following months were full of events as I traveled to Parliament sessions, did projects for the youth in my constituency and traveled to various places around Zimbabwe to attend and present at various platforms. My term ended a year later and I was happy about what I had achieved for my school and girls in my community but that was not enough for me.
I still had the desire to do more, become more and change more systems so I carried on with mentoring others to be speakers, advocating for children’s rights and lobbying for opportunities for rural school going youth. This I did parallel to advancement of my education. I passed my O and A’ levels and proceeded to university where I chose to study Development studies with the hope of acquiring skills that I would use to find a job in an NGO which does charity work in rural areas so that I would impact the lives of children in rural areas eg CARE INTERNATIONAL, PLAN INTERNATIONAL, WORLD VISION, OXFARM, ACTION AID AND UNDP, I would work for these and get a lot of money to make my life and that of my family comfortable (killing 2 birds with one stone). Thinking of it today, I feel like I did the degree for all the wrong reasons but I don’t regret doing it, because I learnt a lot of things and acquired skills that proved to be handy in my career. When I finished I started to look for a JOB, I didn’t know what job I wanted, which ones were available and which ones would perfectly fit my skills. Despite all the career fairs I had attended, the career/mentor ship programs I had headed and graduating with a degree from university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, which career route I wanted to pursue and I know I am not alone in this, many young women in Zimbabwe are in the same situation right now. The unavailability of jobs has also compounded the situation with most of us settling for what is available, if it is ever available.
I did a short course in Front office management that scored me an administrative position at a local university to provide for my upkeep but part time I still do things that make me happy by volunteering for an organisation that advances rights of girls and young women. The search for a job never yielded anything even after more than 2000 application with occasional regret replies from some companies and charity organisations, I think this was actually a blessing as it has pushed me to rethink and re-brand myself and focus on the things I am passionate about, advancing the rights of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW), empower them to reach their full potential, mentor them to lobby for equality and create a gender responsive world. The desire to empower girls was not totally written off in my mind because of the rush to find myself career-wise, in fact it pushed me into the area of gender equality advancement and advocacy for gender justice. I realized that I have been a gender activist, and a feminist at it for as long as I can remember and looked back to a project that I had developed in 2014 throughout college but had shelved it for lack of resources and knowhow to kick-start it. I have I have accomplished a lot in the area I am passionate about especially that I have to do it part time and I have to balance between my full time job and my volunteer roles. I was appointed secretary for a trust that monitors and champions SDGs in Zimbabwe, I an affiliated member of a local gender advocacy group, I was selected as a gender mainstreaming expert for the sector specific youth strategy development under our ministry of youth and I have been called to speak on various platforms as a gender equality advocate. Right now I am in the final stages of development of my organisation to empower women and girls, funds permitting it will be functional by the end of the year this year. In the meantime I challenged myself to start with a project to do a pilot of how the success of the organisation would look like, I developed a GBV online campaign (given the sharp rise in GBV incidences and cases in Zimbabwe due to the COVID 19 lockdown restrictions) and started fundraising for it. Instead of waiting on resources that I am yet to get, I decided to use the ones available to me now and make the change that I can do now. The project name is “She Awakens Movement” and it has the same name on Facebook or use this link to follow my progress (https://www.facebook.com/10047839507474/posts/10340742484571/), I am happy with the response and support I got from world. So far I have received a US$200 minigrant from Peace First to help me set up and I am still going, I am doing applying for grants and resources to support my project , help push the project objectives and I hope to make meaning impact for Adolescent Girls and Young Women in my community. The day I realized that I am the change that I want to see is the day I started working towards a gender equal world and SDG 5 is guiding me, shaping how I achieve that change and I believe I will reach far as a young woman. I also hope to be a writer, writing pieces on gender as part of my advocacy work and activism. I hope I inspire others with my story too....