By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda
This is a special day for me. I never dreamt I would live to see this day, and celebrate 50 years, earth strong. Today, I decide to make a small mark in creating opportunities for rural girls in this world, especially in Zimbabwe, in ways that seeks to reshape the conversations about identity, capabilities and possibilities in life.
Today, as I received and cherished the birth day messages from family, friends and well wishers from around the world; my own dream hidden in my heart for decades became solid and grounded. I launch this Girls Opportunities Fund, to support African girls specially to think “global”, to have opportunities that enables them beyond the narrow definitions that have continued to ghettoise their identity, capabilities and possibilities in life.
Just like the millions of African women and girls, we are more than a statistic of under development, a measure of preventable mortalities, illiteracy, inequalities and deprivation in our communities. Girls and women in Africa are innovators, talented and change agents. Often such girls simply lack opportunities in life.
I am daring@50 to redefine the self. While affirming my Africanness and blackness, I am more than the colour of my skin and the continent of my birth. Girls must claim their space and voice in the totality of their identity without limitations of race or place of origin. Girls must have opportunities to go global, without a sense of internalised inferiority, with the ability to fight prejudices present in today’s world. They need the confidence to strive for equality of peoples, fight for justice everywhere and stand against racial discrimination in their personal lives, the workplace and their communities.
I am daring@50, to affirm that I am human first, with integrity, dignity and rights; before my identity is confined by patriarchal expectations of womanhood or motherhood. At the same time I celebrate my being female, a mother and a spouse. I dream of strong girls who can self-define their potential, their capabilities and their possibilities as individuals. Girls who do not look at marriage as an escape from poverty, whose sense of self- worth is not defined by whom they know and what heritage they carry or marry into. I dream of girls who simply stand tall based on their inner self awareness and recognition, confident that they can care for the self.
I am a citizen of ZWE carrying an identity which gives me a standing, rights, obligations and a voice. I have my responsibility to my nation, paying taxes, cleaning my neighbourhood, participating at my local school, concerned about the health system in my community. I cast my vote and have a say in how my country is governed. I equally raise my country’s flag in far off lands, knowing that I will always dial +263 to speak to my friends and loved ones at home. My heart aches when I witness violence in our country. I pain and seek solutions when huge leakages in our economy deny us of decent health care services and education for our children. I am therefore #daring@50 to walk with girls, as we rebuild a sense responsible citizenship, grounded in the spirit of our fore-mothers that knows service, always yearning for accountability and striving for justice.
Over the years, I have been privileged and trusted by young women and girls globally, on my continent, in my Zimbabwe and my community. We have prayed and played together. Parents, families and communities have opened their hearts, their doors and their feelings to me, in public and in private. I have sat on many tables of decision making, whether in technocratic or political discourse. I have dined with kings and queens, heads of states and all who are called leaders. I have sat on the floor cultural leaders and on pews with men and women of the cloth. I have followed the discourse of male engagement, analysed the protection approach in children’s rights, and joined in protests in cases of abuse and victimisation of girls and women. Whether on issues of conflict, HIV, child marriage, poverty, education, health or climate change, the Africa girl has been the centre of the narrative.
Thus it pains my heart, when the dominant approaches often comodifies African girls, and provides a narrative that does not go beyond their vulnerabilities. A mono narrative that views the girls as mostly disempowered and fragile. One that reduces them to a case study, a poster, a footnote or a box of a significant change in a glossy report. The view that stifles their voice, potential and capability, and perpetuate the external saviour mentality.
It denies full focus on the inner being and dwells mostly on the material external conditions of life. I have served in my government, has been in civil society served in the UN and undertake the reality of stable, conflict or humanitarian countries. In the last three years I had the privilege to serve as the African Union Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage. My life had never been the same since. Today I live in my village and encounter the reality of rural girls on a daily basis.
In 2007, I dared to honour my late mother in a meaningful way, and co-founded Rozaria Memorial Trust together with my siblings. Today I am excited to share that through the Trust we are rejecting the narrow identities of organisations founded in communities in global south, which are often defined as CBOs, grassroots or the field. The hundreds and thousands of girls we live and work with then also see themselves as grassroots and field stuff. Today, I am pleased that RMT has gone global with the girls. We sit in the corridors of policy making at the continental level. And much more, we are now a registered organisation in the US, thus able to bring our experiences to be truly beyond the narrow definitions of our village.
Finding solutions with girls to unleash their potential is key. African girls need to build their social and economic assets. They need opportunities in education, with technology, mentorship and exposure. We must invest in their knowledge, their voice, creativity, capabilities and their possibilities, thus enabling them to be active and critical actors in the transformation of our societies.
Today, I am therefore pleased to launch the #Daring@50: Girls Opportunities Fund. The vision is to raise $50,000 during the year long celebration of my 50th birthday, and the 10th anniversary for Rozaria Memorial Trust. I am donating my own 10% into the fund. The goal is to raise on average $4,000 per month in cash or in kind towards this goal.
There are three objectives to the fund:
- Equip two resource centres with IT facilities and books for two communities in Murewa and in Shamva. Technology is an enabler for opportunities for girls in rural communities today.
- Provide educational assistance and support to girls who have experienced child marriage or teen moms. Re-entry to education or training is critical to rebuilding the social and economic assets of girls as mitigation of the abuse experience.
- Facilitate self confidence, awareness and self esteem through exposure and creative exchange visit for girls including through sport especially girls soccer.
The #Daring@50:Girls Opportunities Fund will be administered by Rozaria Memorial Trust, a registered organisation with track record of work with girls in Zimbabwe. It had the legal, administrative and governance capacity to receive donations, and gifts in cash or in kind. For US contribution, the organisation is able to provide a tax deductible certificate.
I am inviting you to dare with me for the year. I do this in honour of my late mother Rozaria, and all the mothers who have and continue to dare for their daughters. For my late father, for the few years walked earth with me, you truly gave your very best. To my siblings, my own husband and children, you dared with me every day for the last 50 years, and maybe many more to come. I honour you.
To all my friends and people of goodwill, you bring meaning my life. Thank you for celebrating this day with me. I thank you.
Happy birthday to me.