“I don’t just think, I haven’t just read, that education can transform lives, I have lived it.”
Angie was a star student at primary school, but what should have been carefree childhood days were blighted by the desperation of poverty. She remembers the indignity of arriving at school barefoot, wearing a torn dress, and offering to do chores for her teacher in return for a pencil. At home Angie would often find her mother with eyes swollen from a “migraine”, only later realizing she had been weeping for the education she could not afford for her brilliant daughter, an education also denied to her.
Angie’s teacher used to tell her how much her intellect reminded him of her mother’s. These were bitter words for Angie, who wept the same tears, because she knew her education was coming to an end. Though she graduated primary school not only with the best results in her school, but in her district, there was no hope of continuing to secondary education.
At this time CAMFED Zimbabwe had just just started its first program in her rural community, and Angie qualified for educational support. She was provided with secondary school fees, uniform, books and sanitary pads, and was supported to stay in the school’s boarding house, as she lived too far away to walk to school every day. All these items had simply been out of reach before. Yet Angie remembers feeling guilty when she had regular meals at school, wondering if her family would manage to eat that day.
“It wasn’t easy to stay in school, because it meant you had to pretend you were not aware of the challenges back home or the challenges still facing you.”
She sank into a kind of depression until a male teacher, who’d come from a similar marginalized background, lectured the group of students. He said that dropping out was not going to help their families - it was through their education that they would be able to secure a different future for their loved ones.
That’s when Angie fully seized her chance to learn and excel. She became one of the first 400 girls to graduate secondary school with CAMFED’s support, and was a founding member of the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support , also known as CAMA. Coming together for the first time, Angie and her peers knew that even after the triumph of completing school, many obstacles lay ahead. All eager to support their families, they remained at risk of exploitation and early marriage, as they sought a source of income in rural areas with high unemployment.
“It was a commitment to say, we’re going to be there for each other, to address this isolation that we encounter. We are going to go back to our communities, and do what we can.”
Angie with children in Zimbabwe in 2003 (Photo: Mark Read/CAMFED)
Angie with secondary school girls in Zimbabwe in 2017 (Photo: CAMFED)
Angie found the strength and charisma to stand as their leader, and was elected by her peers as the first ever CAMFED Association Chairperson in Zimbabwe. She knew that separately their endeavours might fail, or they might become trapped in lives of early childbearing and domestic labour. However, as a sisterhood they could share ideas, knowledge and opportunities, protect each others’ interests and grow into the female role models desperately needed by the next cohort of girls finishing school.
“We shared our experiences… and as we did that, we realised it was a beacon of light for parents and children, people themselves who were drowning in desperation.”
Angie went on to volunteer for CAMFED, then became an employed program coordinator, and eventually CAMFED Zimbabwe’s first Executive National Director.
Many of CAMFED's supporters in North America got to know her story from the best-selling book ‘Half the Sky’ by Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, released in 2009. Angie was part of the team leading CAMFED's expansion into Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, using her own experience to build trust in partner communities, and was eventually promoted to Regional Executive Director for East Africa.
Angie played a key role in the launch CAMFED’s Learner Guide Program, which sees CAMFED Association members returning to their local schools as mentors and life skills coaches, and fills the gaps young people identified in school and after school. CAMFED Association members are integral in galvanizing communities to support their children in education, understand the challenges they face, and band together to find solutions.
“Every child deserves the chance to go to school and every community deserves the chance to give the best that they can to that child in their midst.”
Angie Murimirwa (left) with two CAMFED Association sisters and Malala Yousafzai’s youth ambassadors in New York in 2015, including Malala’s friends Kainat Riaz (in red) and Shazia Ramzan (in yellow), who were also injured in the attack on Malala in 2012. (Photo: CAMFED/Anke Adams)
Angie Murimirwa (far left) and Fiona Mavhinga (far right) stand with CAMFED Association leaders, a traditional leader and the chair of a Mother Support Group in Zimbabwe, all partnering to educate girls and empower women. (Photo: Harriet Grigg/CAMFED)
Angie continues to be an active member of the CAMFED Association, and works closely with her friend and colleague Fiona Mavhinga - Executive Adviser, CAMFED Association - to lead their powerful movement . Association members collectively support tens of thousands of children each year to go to primary and secondary school through their own philanthropy. Angie is particularly proud of the Association's unique and vital role in ensuring CAMFED’s work is scalable and sustainable.
“For every young girl that is starting on her educational journey, the CAMFED Association provides that vision of what’s possible...”
In 2017, the Clara Lionel Foundation presented Angie with the 2017 Diamond Ball Honours Award, recognising her past, present and future support of young leaders, entrepreneurship and civic engagement. At the end of the year, she was appointed CAMFED’s Executive Director in Africa, and continues her work overseeing our programs and as a global ambassador for CAMFED.
“CAMFED Association members are the experts, these are people that have lived it, these are the people that personify what we are trying to do in Africa.”
Angie Murimirwa speaks alongside other leaders and social entrepreneurs at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, on the theme of Epiphanies in Proximity: Personal Stories of Turning Points
“We have been through a thunderstorm – showers won’t frighten us”