A Zimbabwean motivational speaker, Nyaradzo Shato once said people think in pictures, and I believed her: this is why.
At some point in my life I had to walk over 20 kilometres every day to and from school.
No, it is not just "some point". I did it for four years-from when I was 14 until I finished high school.
My mother is a primary school teacher, I have five siblings, I am the second born child, and this translates to me having to bear the brunt of scarce resources as my mother singlehandedly did all she could to raise us.
Every week day of those four years I had to cross two streams, cross plains and forests to get to school, sometimes on an empty stomach, because apart from the general scarcity of resources at home, my stepdad was not exactly a kind man.
I started my Form One at a mission school, so life was bliss until my father's only brother passed on (I lost my biological father when I was three) and that meant nobody could afford the boarding school fees so I had to transfer to a rural school.
The first few days were hell—I could not fit in at all because, first, I did not have a complete school uniform and second, things were totally different from what I was used to.
Things were bad on most of the school days, and I had told my mother on several occasions that I wanted to quit school and look for work as a domestic helper because I felt I was going nowhere with all my ambitions.
One day, a woman from the community told me point blank that most of the girls who came from that area could not go past form three before getting pregnant or eloping.
Monthly periods were the worst—I would walk all that distance with throbbing pain from period cramps and more often than not, the sanitary wear I could afford (mostly pieces of cloth) left my inner thighs bruised.
I didn’t have more than four decent changes of clothes, most of which were hand me downs from my maternal aunts, and had to share down to underwear with my elder sister.
Our alcoholic stepdad often took our school backpacks and either sold or exchanged them with something he could use, so most of the time we ended up using plastic bags to carry our school books.
Every day I would imagine myself in the following five years, with a great fear of failure, not having achieved a single of my dreams because the circumstances were just so gloomy for me to keep my dreams alive, but all the same I kept dreaming.
I started being very active at the Scripture Union (SU) Club in a bid to resuscitate my wounded hope, and that is when something that made a total overhaul to my dreams transpired.
One day, a group of student teachers came to our SU club to fellowship and share their stories with us. Among them was this tiny lady, very neatly dressed, with long hair and smelled divine.
She narrated how she had grown up in strikingly similar circumstances to mine, and I needed no one to tell me that life for her was better now.
Listening to her testimony, wide-eyed, I began to imagine myself in a far better place, in college, neatly dressed, with long hair and holding up my own, with younger girls looking up to me.
Fast forward many years later, on a different career path, I became that young woman—pursuing my tertiary education soon after which I got a job in my dream working place-the newsroom.
Recently, I came across a video of Dr Tererai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman who hid her dreams in a tin, under a rock, was inspired by another woman, an aid worker, who came to her village when she was in really difficult circumstances, asked her about her dreams, and inspired her to pursue them.
Earlier this year, when the movie Black Panther came out, I listened to renowned Zimbabwean-born actress Danai Gurira give a speech at an Essence event, narrating how, when she was still a kid, a Black American visitor to her school in Zimbabwe held her tiny face and told her she was beautiful, which gave her the confidence to go and be a force to reckon in Hollywood.
When I look at all these stories, I feel the power of representation, and how much our girls and young women need them. It has made me realize that indeed we think in pictures, and those images of inspiration are vitally necessary.
Had it not been that student teacher, whose name, no matter how hard I try to remember, I have totally forgotten, I probably would have given it all up, but the only things I remember is how nicely she was dressed, and how pleasant her scent was.
A few weeks ago, I stood at a Southern Africa regional platform, to speak about an organization I co-founded (Girls Speak Out), and how passionate I am about empowering the girl child through access to information and tech training, and guess whose words brought me to tears? My very own 11year old cousin!
She told me how proud she was that her big sister appeared on a big screen, fearless and eloquent but little did she know that I was nervous and anxious before and during the presentation—but there she was, drooling with pride and wanting to be like me.
All these moments always bring me back to the dusty rural paths I trekked every day, where after meeting that student teacher, I would imagine myself in a better, safer and happier place—the power of representation!