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Winnie Farao

Founding member of the CAMFED Association, Zimbabwe

I was educated with CAMFED support, and now I am privileged to unleash the talents of other young women.

My name is Winnie Farao, from Mount Darwin in Zimbabwe. I was supported to go to school by CAMFED and I am a founding member of the CAMFED Association. Today I am privileged to unleash the talents of other young women, working as a Tertiary Education Programs Officer at CAMFED. But my story could have been very different. 

I grew up with three sisters and my parents on a commercial farm belonging to a white farmer. My father was employed as a cook and my mother worked on their land. My mother was illiterate and none of my older sisters had the opportunity to go to secondary school.

We didn’t know that we could have had a better life if only we had an education.

My sisters and I used to play with the children of the farmer, fishing and horse riding, but the friendship was not equal. They could call me when I was doing my homework and I would have to go. My mom could not say no. Yet I always look at the positive side. I gained confidence speaking English and my mom used to call me ‘Miss English’.

Winnie Farao stands in rural Zimbabwe

Here I am in 2003, soon after graduating from The University of Zimbabwe (Credit: CAMFED/ Mark Read)

Both my parents worked hard but still we faced many challenges. We struggled to afford basics like food and clothing, let alone school fees. In my community at that time it was very difficult for a child to know there were options beyond primary school. There were no role models, no-one around me who was educated that I could look up to. Jobs were scarce so most families couldn’t see how sending a child to secondary school would improve their life.

The only child I knew at secondary school was a boy called Solomon, so I thought maybe only boys could go.

In 1992 my mother decided to move us to a new, more rural area and I started at a different school in Grade 6 (the year before last of primary school). I excelled in classes and was offered a place at the nearest secondary school, 17 kilometers away from my home.

The expense was high so my mother asked the school if my fees could be paid in labor, and offered to mold bricks for their new buildings. They accepted but the manual labor combined with the long distance – for both me and her to travel – became too much. The Head Teacher negotiated for my enrolment at a boarding school instead. The cost was completely out of my parent’s reach, but with my excellent grades the school authorities realized I had potential and arranged for me to be exempt from fees. I started at Form One at a boarding school in Mount Darwin in 1994.

I was so grateful for the opportunity, but life at boarding school was very difficult. I felt different from the other children and my peers knew I hadn’t paid for my own fees or food and sometimes would look down on me.

I continued to study hard, until part way through my second year the school Bursar asked me to write my story and send it to an organization called CAMFED. Later he returned and said CAMFED had read my story and agreed to pay my fees! That was the moment my life changed.

The first time my name was written in the school’s receipt book for having paid fees, was such a big moment. I realized I could be the same as other children and that I was part of the school community.

I’m the only one in my family who had an opportunity to go to secondary school. It is only when you get enlightened that you realize that it wasn’t right that my sisters never had that chance.

Here I’m on the right with fellow CAMFED Association member and current Head of Programmes, CAMFED Zimbabwe, Patricia Mangoma on the left, in 2004. (Credit: CAMFED/Mark Read)

In 1998, in my penultimate year of secondary school, I traveled all the way to the capital in Harare for an important meeting. Though I was still in school, I joined 400 school graduates who had been supported by CAMFED to discuss what our futures would look like. We shared ideas from ways to start businesses, discussing higher education, and how we could give back. The experience was magical! It was the first time I realized I had sisters all over the country with stories like mine. Most of my peers in boarding school came from wealthier backgrounds compared to mine, but in this Sisterhood I wasn’t alone.

The meeting gave me energy and excitement for my future. It was a community where we could share anything and know you wouldn’t be judged. I felt the true power of togetherness as we formed the CAMFED Association.

I remember clearly, Angeline Murimirwa, now CAMFED Executive Director – Africa, said: “If it hasn’t been done it doesn’t mean it’s not possible”. We ran with those words and agreed to take CAMFED, the organization that took us to school, to a whole new level.

When I finished secondary school, I had so much hope for the future. CAMFED had instilled in me that it can be done. I wanted my mother to work less and to be able to afford the things she so much wanted, like tea. I wanted my community to appreciate girls and to see through me that girls can do just as well as boys.

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We are the CAMFED Association, and we are not going to be doubted!

Back in 2015, I shared my future ambitions for the CAMFED Association that I helped found. Together as a powerful Sisterhood, we will be making waves far beyond our families and communities — we will be known all over the globe!

Read video transcript

Hear my future ambitions

CAMFED continued to support me after school and I started a degree in Psychology at The University of Zimbabwe in 2000, graduating in 2003 with first class honors. At university there were other CAMFED Association members and together we could support and encourage each other. One was Fiona Mavhinga, who was a senior student doing law, and another Faith Nkala. Knowing I had sisters at the university made me feel confident that I could overcome any challenges.

There were challenges that made me strong and they made me who I am now.

I started to view myself as a leader and wanted to make sure that my community would benefit from my experiences. In 2004 I completed my Masters degree in Development Studies which deepened my understanding of communities, nations and the global community at large.

I understand the joy that was brought to my family through education. I want to do this for other girls and their families.

After completing my Masters degree I started working for CAMFED as an Officer for the Safety Net Fund. My role was to support CAMFED partner primary and secondary schools by collaborating with school leaders, parents and pupils to identify their major challenges and provide grants to solve these challenges — for example funding to drill a borehole when a school was lacking adequate water supplies. I was so happy to pursue my passion for community development by linking communities with funding to create sustainable change.

My leadership skills continued to develop, and, in 2021, I represented CAMFED at a dialog organized by the Ministry of Health for a community sexual and reproductive health outreach program. I drew on my practical experience and knowledge, making sure information was relevant and useful for girls in rural communities.

On Earth Day 2022, I celebrated with my colleagues at CAMFED Zimbabwe by holding a livestreamed conversation with Vee Kativhu, education activist (green top, center) and CAMFED Association members who are studying in Tertiary education. (Credit: CAMFED)

Currently I am a Senior Program Officer at CAMFED, responsible for tertiary education. I help young women in rural areas to access university and further education opportunities such as technical and vocational education and training (TVET). I support them with applications for courses, funding, accommodation and other necessities. In rural areas we don’t have universities or technical colleges. So for a young rural woman to do a degree, she has to move away from her community to an unfamiliar area. The young women in the CAMFED Association chapter there become their new family and friends, and help her to settle into university life.

I am passionate about seeing young women prosper and advance up the ladder of education. They’re very gifted and I know they’ve got what it takes to be heard and to make a difference.

These focused young women bring the knowledge, power, focus and skills to propel our mission into the global agenda.

Part of our commitment as a CAMFED Sisterhood is to support younger generations, either financially, socially or both. As well as my own three children, I am currently supporting three boys and three girls with their school going needs. It has been a delight to see families happy that their children are learning in school.

One of my greatest role models is my mother. She is one woman who never had the opportunity to go to school, not even a single day, but she had the passion to support me. She directed me and our family in a way that I would think any other educated woman would do. My second role model is CAMFED Executive Director – Africa, Angeline Murimirwa. She brings people together. Whether you’re in Ghana, Tanzania, or Zimbabwe, we are all part of the same Sisterhood. She’s got energy, passion, she never tires. I want to follow in her footsteps!

I know not of any other association other than the CAMFED Association that makes a difference when it comes to changing lives. There are young women who are Transition Guides (ensuring a safe journey into the world for girls leaving school), Learner Guides (supporting students in school with self-development skills), and Community Activists. We make real time interventions and solve issues, particularly for young people.

Years from now, believe it, you will see [our CAMFED Association] CAMA and we are not going to be doubted!

My ambition is that the CAMFED Association gets the recognition that it deserves, because we are making a great difference to communities, countries and nations. There is so much potential for us to scale up our ambitions and achieve global influence. We can have a movement of young women geared towards change all over the world!

In future, I see myself influencing decision-making bodies that really care about girls and rural children. I will play a bigger role in setting up committees and rallying friends to support more children through school. I will work flat out to see our intentions through.

So now, 23 years after first meeting CAMFED, my focus is no longer only on my family and my parents. My focus is on building a legacy and generations of positive girls who believe they can do anything to make this world a better place. It is putting smiles on families faces by getting their children educated.

I am part of an unstoppable movement of women leaders that the world was waiting for.

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