Theresa Takafuma shares how one woman’s story inspired her to pursue her dreams—and become a role model for others.
“Listening to her testimony, I began to imagine myself in a far better place: in college, neatly dressed, with long hair and holding my own.”
A Zimbabwean motivational speaker, Nyaradzo Shato once said people think in pictures, and I believe her: this is why.
At some point in my life, I had to walk over 20 kilometers every day to and from school. Actually, I did this for four years—from when I was 14 until I finished high school.
My mother is a primary school teacher. I have five siblings, and I am the second born child. This translated to me bearing the brunt of scarce resources since my mother single-handedly had to do all she could to raise us.
Every week day of those four years, I crossed two streams across 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 schooling at a mission school, so life was bliss until my biological father’s only brother passed on. You see, I had lost my biological father when I was 3 years old. After my uncle passed, this meant that nobody could afford my boarding school fees. I had to transfer to a rural school.
The first few days were hell—I did not fit in at all. First, I did not have a complete school uniform. Second, things were completely different from what I was used to.
On most school days things were bad, and I told my mother on several occasions that I wanted to quit school and look for work as a domestic helper. 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.
My monthly periods were the worst. I would walk all that distance with throbbing pain from 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 I had to share everything, down to my underwear, with my elder sister.
Our alcoholic stepdad often took our school backpacks and either sold or exchanged them for something he could use. Most of the time we ended up using plastic bags to carry our school books.
Every day I would imagine my next five years. I had a great fear of failure, and I was worried I would not achieve a single dream of mine. The circumstances were just so gloomy for me to keep my dreams alive. Yet, 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 the thing that reignited 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. She smelled divine.
She narrated how she had grown up in strikingly similar circumstances to my own, 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 my own. In my vision, I had younger girls looking up to me.
Fast forward many years later, and I became like the young woman who inspired me as a girl. I was pursuing my tertiary education, and soon after 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. She was inspired by another woman, an aid worker, who came to her village when she was in really difficult circumstances. This woman asked her about her dreams and inspired her to pursue them.
Earlier this year, I heard renowned Zimbabwean-born actress Danai Gurira give a speech at an Essence event. She narrated 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 become the force she is today in Hollywood.
When I look at all these stories, I feel the power of representation. I feel how much our girls and young women need these stories. It has made me realize that indeed we think in pictures and images of inspiration are vitally necessary.
Had it not been for that student teacher (whose name, no matter how hard I try to remember it, I have forgotten), I probably would have given up on my dreams. I remember how nicely she was dressed, and how pleasant she smelled. And how much her difficult upbringing was like mine.
A few weeks ago, I stood at a Southern Africa regional platform, to speak about an organization I co-founded called Girls Speak Out. I shared how passionate I am about empowering the girl child through access to information and technology training, and guess whose words brought me to tears? My very own 11-year-old cousin!
She told me how proud she was that her big sister—me, her older cousin—appeared on a big screen, fearless and eloquent. Little did she know that I was nervous and anxious before and during the presentation. And yet, there she was, drooling with pride and wanting to be like me!
Sharing all these moments brings me back to the dusty rural paths I trekked every day as a child. It brings me back to walking those roads after meeting that student teacher. As I wandered towards school, I would imagine myself in a better, safer, and happier place—thanks to the power of representation!
This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.