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Yvonne

District Operations Officer, Zimbabwe

Giving up is not an option for me; I work hard and make use of every available resource and support system to achieve my goals. I am hopeful and a strong believer that something positive will come out of any uncertainty or dilemma that I find myself in. That’s how I have got where I am against the odds, and how I inspire other girls and young women that they too can succeed in education, in business, or whatever they put their minds to!

I was born and raised in Rushinga, a rural district of Zimbabwe. I am the first born in a family of three children, two girls and a boy who lives with a disability, cerebral palsy. My parents rely on farming to feed and support our family.

When I first joined secondary school, I entered the school campus with the mission to change our home life. I wanted to complete school with good grades and one day have a profession that would enable me to take care of my family, especially my brother. So, with my friends, I used to form study groups in between lessons and give my best shot to every subject.

Unfortunately, my parents really struggled to pay my tuition fees due to huge medical bills for my brother, and being sent home became the norm in my life. l would go home and ask my parents for my school fees knowing very well that they did not have the money. Then, I would stay home for the rest of the day and go back the next morning, hoping that I would not be sent away again. I felt uncertain and confused about my future.

If my parents were struggling to afford fees in the first year of secondary school, how was I going to get through to fourth year? And how would we cover the expensive fees for me to sit for my national examinations?

I was in the third year of secondary school when I heard about CAMFED for the first time, after it started operating in my district and school. One of our female teachers made an announcement during the school assembly, saying that CAMFED wanted to support girls who were at risk of dropping out of school, including because they were vulnerable, had lost a parent, came from child-headed families or were living with a disability. Immediately, I applied for the bursary scholarship, hoping and praying that I would get selected.

When I received CAMFED support I was so happy, and, for the first time, I was sure I was going to complete my secondary education. All my school and examination fees were being paid for!

I remember when the CAMFED District Committee visited us for the first time during their regular monitoring. One lady talked to us and encouraged us to read and study hard. She gave us menstrual products, stationery, a school shirt and a skirt. The school bag I had could not contain all those — it was the first time I had ever had the full set of eight exercise books we were meant to have for class! I had nice shoes too. I was extremely happy. It gave me confidence and hope for the future.

Yvonne from Zimbabwe pictured at her desk in the classroom, during her time in school.

Here I am wearing my smart school uniform and sitting at a desk in the classroom.

During my Advanced Level (upper secondary school), I met a CAMFED graduate from another district who was studying at Ashesi University in Ghana. She shared her story and explained how she got to where she was. From then on, I started imagining myself being in her shoes, studying abroad, and getting to tell my story to others. That sounded like the fairytale of my education journey. So, when I went back to school, I worked hard to get good grades and qualify for such international scholarships.

When girls are educated it creates a ripple effect. It will not only benefit the single girl but the family and community as well.

When I completed school I joined the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. My ‘big sisters’ in the network helped me pursue my dream of going to university by sharing adverts for scholarships, guiding me through the application process and setup of G-mail and Skype accounts to be able to do my online submissions and interviews. With this support, I was successful in securing a place to study Social Work at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

CAMFED supported me during this time as well, by providing resources for internet connection, vaccines and accommodation on my traveling day, since I was to depart at around 1:30AM to fly to university.

This was a girl from a remote village in Rushinga district, who never thought she was going to complete her ordinary education, now finding herself at university. I remember I would pinch myself to check I wasn’t dreaming.

It was a dream come true but it was also overwhelming, because I never thought I was going to make it this far due to my family’s financial background. I was studying in Ghana, away from my home country. Finding myself at such a huge school with many people from different countries was unbelievable. I had to keep reminding myself to live in the moment.

I had exposure to different cultures and people, which broadened my world view. This made me see life differently and become more resilient by understanding that some challenges we face are similar to those that other girls across Africa face. Most importantly, my confidence and leadership skills flourished, helping me to get the role I now have at CAMFED.

Becoming a ‘big sister’ in turn

On returning to Zimbabwe, I wanted to give back to my community and help learners build different life skills including decision-making and being assertive. I trained as a CAMFED Learner Guide and started delivering My Better World sessions at my local school while also sharing my testimony with many children, encouraging them to also study hard in order to secure a better future.

Many children face similar challenges to those that I had faced — shortage of stationery, school fees, food and lack of internet access.

As Learner Guides we try to support learners with stationery items whenever we have some money to get them. Those in need of meals or support we cannot provide, we refer to Parent Support Groups (local moms and dads who are CAMFED Champions) or Teacher Mentors (government teachers with additional training in psycho-social support) so they can stay and thrive in school. In some cases, we Learner Guides can use smartphones from CAMFED to help learners do online research for their various assignments.

I was able to go even further to support a girl who had stopped coming to school because she was pregnant. When I realized that she was missing in my sessions for two consecutive weeks, l visited her to encourage her to return to school. I made the home visit with the help of Parent Support Group members, and together we managed to convince both the girl and her parents that she should come back. We also referred her to the school’s guidance and counseling team for psycho-social support. With support from us all, she successfully completed her education.

Creating employment for myself and others

In becoming a Learner Guide, I also had the opportunity to participate in business training, starting in 2020, and in agribusiness training, from 2021. We were encouraged to follow the example of a female entrepreneur who was doing well in horticulture, poultry farming, and running a piggery. I learned the importance of record keeping, business diversification, market research and how to stay ahead of competition.

I started poultry farming in 2021 with a batch of 25 chicks, having also learned from my mother who used to ask us to help take care of her chicks. By June 2022 I managed to drill a borehole and install a solar system to pump water for irrigation, which allowed me to also branch into horticulture in July 2023. Achieving these things has brought increased status and respect not only to me, but to my whole family.

Getting here has not been without its challenges — mainly in sourcing durable equipment from reliable suppliers. Some would try to overcharge me or even ignore me when I made enquiries, thinking someone of my age and gender could not be a serious buyer. With guidance from a CAMFED District Committee Member who is also from the Ministry of Agriculture and Women Affairs I was able to get what I needed.

It comes with a huge relief knowing that I am able to earn my own money, making investments back into my business and being able to make a living out of it.

I support my community through employment creation, as well as providing fresh vegetables and water. I have given a full time job to one person from my community who helps my parents manage and look after the garden, while other community members come for seasonal, part time jobs such as weeding, harvesting and land preparation. Now my community can get fresh vegetables even in the dry season.

People see me as a role model and a testimony to the impact of girls’ education. For example, there is an elderly man in my village who always says: “Studying is so good. Just look — Chari’s daughter has been able to drill a borehole and start irrigation for her parents. We never thought someone with only girl children would get that.’’ I believe this is a motivation for parents in my community to support their girls in education.

I extend my support to numerous girls, averaging around 10 per year, providing them with essential items like stationery, uniforms, shoes, and food.

It is so fulfilling when l see them proceeding from one class to the other, primary to secondary level, and ordinary to advanced level. 

It’s life changing knowing that l have had a hand in adding to someone’s success.

Using my expertise at CAMFED Zimbabwe

As both a CAMFED Association member and a CAMFED District Operations Officer, I do my best to multiply the support I received by mentoring other young women to also succeed in different endeavors. Some in business — by linking them with experts from the government for mentorship and guidance on how to access resources — and others who want to further their education, by taking them through the application process of various scholarships, both local and international.

Yvonne Chari making a presentation at the 2023 Annual General Meeting for CAMFED District Committees in Zimbabwe

Making a presentation at the 2023 Annual General Meeting for CAMFED District Committees in Zimbabwe

My professional role also involves work with different government ministries and organizations to provide holistic support to young women and the girls in my community. For example, I work with the Ministry of Women Affairs, referring young women there for business skills training. I also collaborate with the National Aids Council, who educate young women and learners about sexual and reproductive health, to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and contribute to a healthy community.

When I see the young women I have supported thriving in business, in school, and at university I feel contented and proud.

The biggest challenge we face as CAMFED is having limited resources to cater for all girls to secure their education and young women who wish to go further. It is so heartbreaking seeing some not getting the opportunity to unleash their dreams.

My motivation to keep going comes mostly from understanding how it feels to be in need and wanting so badly to change your life trajectory.

I donate school items and share my skills and knowledge, not because I have a lot or know it all, but because I know how it feels to be without.

As CAMFED graduates we have that intimate understanding of the background of CAMFED clients. Just as I found CAMFED Association big sisters as relatable role models, I believe when learners and recent graduates see more of us showing them that they can also change their families’ life status, it encourages them so much.

We are like candles that light each other to shine in the darkness, and we believe the more we are, the brighter we shine.

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