26 Apr

SHE Makes It Happen!

by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda*

 UMW Assembly, 2014

UMW Assembly, 2014

My life story embodies the essence of the Assembly theme: “make it happen”.  Growing up as an orphan and as the last born child in a family of 11, I shared the pains and struggles of my mother’s the 27 years of life as a widow. Mine is the story of a rural and village girl, growing up in the middle of the war, surrounded by material poverty and yet living in the full embrace of spiritual riches and abundant love.  My mother, was taken out of her grade 3 class in order to marry my father, she was barely 16 years old. She was denied the education she so thirsted for. She drew on her inner strength, reached out to friends, other women in the community and her local church to help her raise us, her children. It was not easy, she had little or no choices, options and opportunities, and yet she made it happen. She feed us, sent us to school and ensured we were able to stand on our two feet. Later in life, my mother buried some of her own children due to AIDS related illnesses, while she also cared for a daughter and son with mental health challenges. She found her voice, drew deeply from her inner strength, prayed, worked with her hands and networked,  to make it all happen.  Her story is my story, it’s your story and it’s a story of billions of other women across the world.

To her poverty did not mean lack of knowledge, wisdom or leadership.  Poverty did not reduce her to a mere statistic, but she was among the many to be counted who baked the bread, served the bread and shared the bread. She co-created the miracle of feeding the multitudes. She made it happen. She reminded me often, in those moments of despair “You are a child of God and born in the image of the creator.  You are as important as any other person. Stand up tall among others, even if you are walking bare feet and with no pant! For dignity is experienced within”.

The strength of her voice and the conviction of her spirit told me that she was determined to make it happen. Today, I stand before you, as an international human rights lawyer; the General Secretary of the World YWCA, leading our global movement’s work in 120 countries  and reaching out to 25 million women and girls. My mother Rozaria, made it happen,  feeding the multitudes with almost nothing, and yes at an invisible and unrecognised cost.

I ask though, what kind of miracles do need today?  It was not easy for my mother to re-create this miracle of feeding multitudes with five loaves and two fish every day for 80 years of her life. Women like my mother are looking for a different kind of miracle, one in which they own the land, and the seed, to grow the wheat. They want to own the bakery, have the right to decide what type of bread to bake for the day, how many loaves to make, as they ensure nourishment for humanity.

Today, I am here,   I am standing tall with my chest out, it’s all  by the grace of God and the strength of a woman.  When the going was tough we sang “Mwari Mubatsiri wangu”; in moments of sorrow, pain or celebration,  we again sang “mwari mubatsiri wangu” and today I sing “mwari mubatsiri wangu”.

Thank you Yvette Richards, Harriet Olson, and all of you in this Assembly for honouring me girl from Magaya Village, for inviting me to this table to serve the multitudes with food that nourishes the work of the United Methodist women into the future. I bring with me to this Assembly my two fish and five loaves of bread ~ my lived experiences, thoughts, and ideas on how to advance the status of women and girls around the world.

I draw on the World YWCA’S 160 years of  herstory, and its focused mission on  leadership development for  women and girls for COLLECTIVE ACTION, for a world of peace, justice, freedom, dignity, health and care for our environment.  I  share this moment also with the many YWCA members, volunteers, friends, supporters and sisters who are with us today, at this moment and in this Assembly!

I celebrate with you today. We celebrate that we multiply the fruits of our work together.

  1. I celebrate that we one family, women of faith, coming together in our ecumenical tent and deeply sharing in our commitment to advance the status of women and girls around the world. We share membership, values, liturgy and vision.
  2. I celebrate our collaboration and work together for many decades and counting, in places far and near.  In the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and in Africa, as your strengthen the YWCAs’s work in communities with financial and technical resources, support girls and young women to get education opportunities. Yes, the work in Namibia, Palestine and my own country Zimbabwe.
  3. I celebrate your audacious and visionary leadership at the global level within the UN, our work together a ecumenical women with the UN Commission on the Status of Women; your leading coordination on gender and migrations and your willingness to embrace diversity and really seek to be global in your partnerships.
  4. I celebrate your stepping up as United Methodist women in bringing the voices of women within the difficult and yet importance space of church leadership. It was a treasure and a pleasure for me to work should by shoulder with you at the 2013 World Council of Churches Assembly, where together we signed a petition for the church to listen to the voices of Southern Korean women who were victims of sexual slavery during the second world war.
  5. I celebrate you for the UN Church Centre building at the UN in New York, the place women of the world claim as their own space.  I walk into those offices with confidence, to be welcomed with full embrace and warmth by Carol, Titiana, Betty and Sung-Ok among other sisters; the same warmth and embrace I receive when I come to Riverside. Am sure this is the same embrace many women around the world experience when they come encounter the United Methodist women across the world.

My sisters and brothers; what is the world today, that world in which we are striving to make it happen?

  • Feminisation of Poverty. We live in a world in which the majority of women and girls continue to experience poverty, exclusion and marginalization. Many women can barely feed their families and simply lick the spoon; a spoon they do not even own. It’s the women struggle to ends be it in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Zambia;  Bangladesh, Korea o just here in Up State New York ~ jobs, child care, gender pay gap, homelessness, no social security in old age.
  • Women’s Health. We live in a world  in which  women  continue to die while giving birth to life.  It is a world where the majority of people living with HIV who live with HIV are unable to access treatment.  Women are denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many women are denied the right and choice to decide how many children they can have, with whom and when.
  • Unacceptable levels of violence against women; family violence, sexual abuse, harassment at the workplace, child marriage and sheer disrespect of women persist. Situations of conflict and natural disasters create extra vulnerabilities and risk.
  • Education and Economic opportunities. Women and girls across the world continue to have limited access to education, training and economic opportunities. It’s not enough to have primary education. It’s no longer enough to be able to read A.B.C. Girls need access to affordable and quality secondary, tertiary and vocational education.
  • A highly militarised world, where we are all impacted by conflict and wars. Just today and this day we have Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Ukraine, Central Africa republic, DRC and an unfolding deep crisis in South Sudan, and still women are still living the scars of the second world war. It’s a world in which our governments secretly vote huge budget to buy guns and helicopters for killing our sons, daughters and husbands; when our schools have no books, our hospitals have no medicine and our people have no jobs.
  • Global Village: Making it happens, demands that we recognise the inter-connectedness of the world and our fragile relations around us. It’s a world of opportunities for possibilities for others but not all.  A village characterised by migration, enabled by technology, with possibility of free flow of capital, talent, ideas, innovations and labour. And yet it’s a village with many check points and barriers such as migration policies and visa regulations which prohibit some members of this village the said freedom to be global citizens.
  • Policy vs Rhetoric. We live in a world where we have baskets and baskets of policy statement, resolutions, treaties and commitments on women’s rights, gender equality and empowerment, and yet its world in which those baskets are half empty on implementation.
  • Inequalities.  Power, politics and poverty often results in more exclusion, discrimination, corrupt practices with huge impacts for women and girls. The digital divide, the class divide, the racial divide and the gender divide all create inequalities for women and girls around the world.

These are the real issues that women navigate each day, as they seek to claim their global citizenship and contribute to the wellbeing of humanity. The feeding of the multitudes, can only happen if and only when, we understand that the world is about all of US together, today, tomorrow and forever, Amen.

Yet and yet, we must continue to celebrate, never forget to celebrate in life. We celebrate the 1995 Beijing commitments on women. This conference reaffirmed the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Declarations that had confirmed that that women’ rights are human rights. At the Beijing conference Ms Hillary Clinton and other women of the world raised the bar for gender equality, peace and development. I was a slim, young woman, at the NGO tent and I am not sure how many of you remember seeing me there?  We celebrate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a pillar treaty for women and girls around the world.

I join the voice of my YWCA USA sister in asking the question: When really is the US Government going to sign this treaty? Just as the US advocates for respect international human rights law to protect their citizens globally, I expect that my sisters in the US enjoy the same rights, as other women elsewhere.

My sisters and brothers, what then are the pathways for us to “make it happen” for women.

  • Invest in women and girls. The demographic dividend is telling: The future is young and the future is female. The World YWCA in calling our governments to ensure clear commitments to gender quality and women’s rights, ending violence against women, and investing in young women and girls. Women’s economic, social and political empowerment is the real game changer, the lever and the key for achieving sustainable development. That should form the core of the new development agenda post 20, which the government are negotiating at the UN.
  • Adopt a human rights based approaches, an approach that affirms and aligns our rights, our faith and our cultures. An approach that recognises women and girls persons with rights and voice and not just objects of charity and beneficiaries of programmes.  A human rights based approach that demands the accountability of governments, faith communities, private sector, media and others to uphold the rights of women and girls. Culture, faith and traditions should not be abused and used to violate the human rights of women and girls.
  • Commit to gender justice, in times of peace and in times of war. The 4 Ps in security resolution 1325 calls for prevention of conflict, participation of women in peace efforts; protection of women and integrating gender perspective in peace keeping.
  • Apply intergenerational approach, that harnesses the creativity, innovations and experiences of women of all ages and invest in young women and girls, and harness the wisdom and experience of older women, as we foster the leadership of all women
  • Create safe and inclusive spaces in provision of services, and for crucial conversations for policy changes including for such issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Create and innovate to ensure sustainable resourcing of our work in communities. We can make it happen if the work of women like in communities is enabled and supported, for us to move from pilot projects and go to scale.
  • Embrace change, embrace technology and ensure that no one is left behind.

The World YWCA is prioritising the following three issues and I invite you as the United Methodist Women to journey with us.

  1. Ending child, early and forced marriage ~ within a single generation. Each day 39,000 girls are forced into marriage about 14 million each year. Calling it marriage is actually giving a blessing sexual abuse, rape, abductions and modern day form of slavery. Stand with us, together we can MAKE THIS HAPPEN. We must end child marriage. I will be on my feet with you on this call, Yes, for the girls and women around the world, and also for my mother Rozaria.
  2. Ending violence against women and girls in peace time and in conflict situations. We have been on our feet since 1855 and will continue. The YWCA is stepping up its work on prevention of and support to survivors of violence against women and girls. We have to change the social norms that perpetuate these abuses and work for appropriate legislation, its implementation and accountability. We make a special today to stepping up our efforts in South Sudan. The Bentiu massacre this Monday is a tipping point and yet the unfolding horror remains invisible to many across the world.  We must all work together to avert a genocide and ensure that women are in the decision making table.
  3. Resourcing work in communities. We must leverage significant support for women’s work in communities. The World YWCA’s  Power to Change Fund enables us to give capacity building and catalytic grants to community interventions.  It clear that communities need strategic, sustainable and quality partnerships and resources for the kind of long term change we are striving for. We can reach and impact millions of lives in communities, support the critical mass of young leaders and future leaders in our community, if we strategically collaborate. We are one family, one movement and one community. We are stronger together. We can make it happen

In conclusion, I remind you that as women of faith, we are the conscience of humanity. We connect the dots and weave the tapestry of life. Each one us in this room and many sisters around the world are changing lives and changing communities each day and every day. Your prayers and your solidarity, makes it all possible. Indeed I know that “mwari mubatsiri wangu”. You and I, together and in the presence of our Creator, must always stand with the multitudes, to be counted, to serve and to lead.

Thank you & God Bless You.

* General Secretary, World YWCA.  Presentation Made at United Methodist Women’s Assembly, 2014. April 26, Kentucky, USA


24 Apr

I Dream

By Shola Awolesi *

Shola Alowesi

Shola Alowesi

It was a quiet evening, after a long, hard days work and I was settled in for the night, the plan was to play candy crush and keep up to date with what was going on in the world around me. I subscribe to most of the main news channels on my Facebook page, so I can keep in touch with the news and with family and friends at the same time.

The news pops up – 71 people killed and 200 injured in Abuja bomb blast..it takes a few minutes for the news to sink in. Sad news and somewhat of a tragedy that this is now a regular occurrence. A quick mental note, none of my family or friends are based in Abuja. My thoughts and prayers goes the family of those killed and with the injured. I continue with my evening and admit being somewhat detached.

A couple of hours later, the thought of this is still lingering in my mind. I think to myself, this is my country and my people, men, women and children; mums, dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. 71 people killed, over 200 households affected, thrown into tragedy for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I start to feel the impact of the news and a deep sense of sadness. I ask myself the question, if this had happened in any other country, would my response have been as lukewarm? Why would my people be of less value than any other?  I reflect my sadness on my page, feeling a sense of helplessness that there wasn’t much more that I could do. I make a few calls to family, who are based in Lagos far away from the attack, just to double check that they’re ok.

The thoughts of the attack is still lingering in my mind over the next few days and deep within me is a desire to express more than the few words that I’d written on my Facebook page.

A week later, a similar kind of evening, settling in for another quiet night. I check my Facebook page, and get an update from one of the Nigerian writers that I follow, attached to his posting is the most graphic picture showing dead bodies being stacked up into a pickup truck, with the heading, “even in death Nigerians are not treated with dignity”. My fingers start typing before my brain fully kicks into gear “Much as I agree with you xxxxx, re-posting the picture doesn’t enhance the dignity of the dead either. These pictures are too gruesome….when we know better, we do better”

I am still unable to look at those pictures, but the thought of  bodies of men, women and children; mums, dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, stacked in the back of a pickup truck stay with me.

With my renewed passion for writing, the urge to write something is intensified. I feel a need to write a piece about this senseless loss of life in the hands of cowards. I’m still peculating what to write when a couple of days later I see another picture on Sahara reporters with bodies littered on the ground.

Again my fingers start typing,  “SR surely there are some global standards or ethics that you’re required to adhere to with regards to the sensitivity of the images that you use in your reporting? Whilst it is important to report the facts, there is nothing to be gained from the pictures you have posted of innocent victims of the tragic bombing in Abuja, you show no respect to the victims or their families by showing such graphic images”

The next morning, I get a notification that 11 people had liked my response and there were 6 comments waiting in my inbox. I feel a sense of satisfaction that I’d raised this and was eager to read from the 6 people who had felt equally as strongly about this as I had, strongly enough to post a response. You can imagine my complete shock, when the first 2 messages were to chastise me to stop living in dream land, words to the effect of this is their reality. Their views was similar to that of a friend that I’d just been in discussion with about my reflections.

I feel that I’m quite open minded and analytical and typically don’t put forward a view until I’ve given it careful consideration, and even though my posting had been an instant reaction to the picture, this had been building up in me since I’d seen the first picture earlier in the week. I really didn’t feel that there was anything to discuss on this issue, in my view these pictures do not need to be posted for me to understand that there has been a tragic loss of 71 lives and hundreds injured.

However, a key motto of mine is to seek to understand and in the last week, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time discussing these graphic images with friends. I’ve posted on social media twice in a week on the issues of Nigeria – which is more than I’d done over the last 2 years.

I searched deep within myself about what it is that really bothers me? Is it that the pictures attack my sensitivities, jolting me out of my little bubble? Are the pictures forcing me to see a glimpse of the harsh reality that many Nigerians have witnessed on a regular basis, since we’ve become a nation where terrorist bombing has become a frequent occurrence? I would have to admit that there is some truth in that.

However, beyond that and at the heart of it is a bigger question about what is the impact of these images.

A confirmation that people were killed and maimed

A depiction of men, women and children; mums, dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, as corpses not even worthy of a covering?

A glimpse into the state of a nation completely incapable of providing an effective response to such a tragedy?

An insight into a nation where basic systems and services are lacking to the point where people were transported on wheel barrows?

The deeper implications of this is the desensitisation and dehumanizations of people who see these images and have learnt to see this as a normal occurrence.

This happens both internally and externally, to the point where when the headlines and pictures pop up on the updates, its given just a momentary consideration until we move onto the next news item.

I remember years ago meeting a wonderful lady who I now regard as a sister; she works tirelessly to reshape the African story. At our first meeting she said to me “our continent deserves better.. her words sank deep into my heart, “our continent deserves better”… Those words have stayed with me all this time and I know that at the heart of it, that is what bothers me.

I dream of a time where these type of images have no reason to exist

I dream of a time when the images depicted is not the daily reality of so many people

I dream of a time when hard working men and women going about their day in such challenging circumstances don’t also have to worry and fear for their lives, because some people feel that the only way to make themselves heard us through wanton destruction

I dream of a time where the things that many of us take for granted is taken for granted in Africa

I dream of a time where the country has leadership that has a heart for the people and enhancing lives

I dream of a time where the treasures that are locked and trapped in children and the youth are encouraged to flourish, rather than stifled and killed from hunger, poor education, insufficient healthcare, lack of opportunities and exploitation.

I dream of a time when we can settle our differences without feeling the need to blow ourselves up

I dream of a time when leaders know that leadership is a calling to serve the people, where they are motivated to provide at the least basic services and at the best the same type of services they freely enjoy when they globe trot.

Call me an idealist, but I pray for a time where no one see such images and feels thats normal.

Shola Alowesi, is a Guest Blogger. Contact email: sholaawolesi@hotmail.com


22 Apr

Snippets of life (6) : nothing works like words to a child

By Retlaw Matatu Matorwa*


Retlaw Matorwa

In form two we sat for Zimbabwe Junior Certificate (ZJC) examinations. My results came when I was doing my form three, second term to be exact. Those results shocked me, I flunked ZJC hopelessly, dismally and it was pathetic. Immediately I thought of my mother ~ how was she going to react to those results. My father wasn’t that much an issue but Mirriam, my mother, was definitely my biggest nightmare.

That day, I delayed getting home but the word had spread “Maresults abuda” the results for form two were out. As usual being mum’s blue eyed boy, she was awaiting to see those results. When I arrived home, in my green uniform, my father was sitting on his wooden chair.  I handed him the paper, he looked at it and said “this is not impressive at all, pull up your socks, if that is what you are producing , you wont make it next year“. Of course my father was a gentleman, somehow.

Thereafter, he looked at me again , this time with a smirk on his face, a smile that says ~ I wont be the one dealing with you. Instead he said  ” You mother is in there, you can show her your results”. Our exchange of looks was a codified conversation it meant you have one more person to deal with and this one wont be as good as I am, good luck son.

I entered the house, Mirriam was mopping the floor, in her blue uniform, which was synonymous with her house chores.  “Did you get your results?” she asked. I pulled the paper and gave it to her. She sat on her bed and started looking at it thoroughly, turning the certificate to read interpretation of grades. She said “saka hauna kana one that you passed?”

I couldn’t even respond, all I was anticipating was to be insulted or a slap on my face and was prepared for it. I just wanted the phase to pass. In my heart I just wanted to have my slapping and few insults, go to the kitchen and eat.  BUT Mirrian had another trick I didn’t see it coming.

First it was her eyes. They looked disappointed, hopeless and worried. For the first time I saw how much she believed in me. I realised just by looking at her, her hopes in me faded with that certificate. She licked her lips and gave me a look which reduced me to size. Something told me then, I had disappointed her in many ways than I would have imagined. All she said was “Retlaw une shuwa” .

She gave me back my results in a melodramatic way. In soft but loud voice she started singing a song by one Marshal Munhumumwe:

 “chokwadi mwanangu uchandifunga iwe,

dzidza mwanangu uchaita zvaunoda,

mazuva mazhinji uchiita zvaunoda”.

 I was just standing looking at her kneeling in her four’s shinning the floor as she sang it for good minutes- the whole song word by word. I had tears down my cheeks flowing. From then she never spoke to me about these ZJC results. But one thing for sure, it changed my whole direction of things. Today I can’t help to notice despite having not reached the epitome of my success. Had I not followed through her song, I would be kumaraini sitting and basking the sun exchanging Madison and smoking weed. I reflect on how influential her words are, whenever I attend conferences and share podiums with great intellectuals and fundi’s.

When we were growing up, in down in Nhunzi Crescent, Old Tafara in Harare, we would see aeroplanes flying past our neighbourhood. We would shout, ndege, ndege, ndege not knowing that one day I would criss-cross the world in such a plane to share my wisdom. Had it not been for my mother’s words, I would not have shared podiums  with many such great people. I would not be read in newspapers, or command followings on blogs  or be regarded as an opinion maker. Thank you Mirriam. Thank you amai.

*Guest Blogger.Contact Retlaw Matutu Matorwa on email: retlawyaa@gmail.com


20 Apr

The daily dream scares me

(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

my africaI have this dream which scares me. Each day it becomes clearer, stronger and real. The village I was born is the location of the dream, always. I see many girls, many young people, confident, chatting, laughing, serious and determined. They are doing something, searchingly and never idle.

There is a kind of campus, a tech centre of sorts. I dream the dream while awake, sleeping, talking to friends etc. The dream pulls my heart strings big time. I will stop dreaming, when the dream becomes a life.

Dare to dream with me, my friends.

18 Apr

Nominated for the 2014 ZIWA Award



What an honour! Wow! Its humbling to find myself on the Nominees list in two categories “Professional Woman of the Year” and “Humanitarian of the Year” for the 2014 awards conferred by Zimbabwe International Women’s Awards (ZIWA)

I give my full recognition to my Zimbabweans sisters who have been so appreciated and nominated. What a day to announce the nominees, 18th of April is so significant to us as Zimbabweans. This award affirms that as Zimbabwean women we are doing our bit to bring meaning and understanding to freedom and independence in the various sectors of our society.

I invite you to vote for any one of the amazing Zimbabwe sisters for the awards, and Oh yes, including me! Thank you ZIWA, thank you sisters, thank you Zimbabwe and thank you all my friends around the world. Humbled!



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