Betty Makoni is a woman who has turned devastating adversity into a strength that is impacting and transforming thousands of lives and the generations that follow. She is a gender activist who founded the Girl Child Network (GCN), which cares for Zimbabwe’s young sex abuse victims. She has earned two degrees from the University of Zimbabwe and has been awarded numerous national and international awards; in 2007 she won the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child and in 2008, Amnesty International awarded her its Ginetta Sagan Award for her with the GCN. Betty is the principal subject in the documentary film, Tapestries of Hope
What Drives Me: As a girl who survived rape and who lost a mother in domestic violence, I listened to stories of other girls had been raped, fell pregnant, forced to marry and dropped out of school. This gave me determination to fight for my education and career so that one day I become their voice. Today I am the voice of the voiceless. I grew up with the anger that society orchestrated the girls they were supposed to protect. Since I started my work to protect girls since 1998, I have seen girls transformed from perceived victims into survivors and then leaders walking in the fullness of their potential. This is what drives me to do more and more leadership and empowerment programs for girls. For all I know from my story is that no one is born victim, we are all born victorious.
My Highlights: I set to attain education at a good girls school with full knowledge that I had nowhere to get the school fees to pay for my education. The fact that I was poor by then did not discourage me from attending this school because I knew I had no money but I had my brains. I used my brain to negotiate to work for my school fees during holidays. Each time I walked back to school during holidays through mountains and thick bushes I always told myself that if only I had just been given a donation of school fees then I would not have imagined how hard it is to work and earn. I worked during holidays and attained my education. Everything I have today is because I sacrificed my holidays as a child.
All that I achieved in my career I developed it through sheer hard work and commitment. When I became sexually abused as a child, I sought a place to share my story but could not get one. I tried to look for someone to pay for my school and all doors were closed against me. In developing a career that would make me feel my passion, I built four Girls Empowerment Villages in Zimbabwe and to date they have rehabilitated over 70 000 girls into confident women they are today. I started a Women as role models scholarship fund to assist poor girls and today I see many of them who scored highly academically and are in high positions. To see women empowered today because they went through Girls Empowerment Clubs is something I am most proud of. I wanted to leave a story of Never again, not to any woman or girl again which is title of my official autobiography. Every program I designed from my empowerment program has spread across the world and I am proud that my model of empowering girls has been replicated in six countries in Africa .
My Definition Of Success: Success means overcoming hurdles and challenges to reach a goal. I encountered a lot of challenges as a girl but I kept telling myself to work towards an educational goal. For a poor girl like me setting myself on an educational path even with full knowledge I had no money to pay school fees and rather had my brains to negotiate for my continued education speaks of my success. Success therefore means everything I stood up to do on my own with self-belief that I could achieve it. There is a time when I read about people who had done well in their careers and this reminded me always I could achieve the same.
My Key Talents: I think I have a strong intuition and creativity – a sense and a conviction in me that is inborn that makes me predict success or failure even before I come up with an innovation. As a child I survived some situations that were unbelievably so hard because of my strong intuition. I have a talent to visualize something, design it in my head and then go to do it. Even when I had no slightest idea where I would get funds to build Girls Empowerment Villages for my project in Zimbabwe so that we protect girls from abusers and facilitate their healing, it is my intuition that told me to push the idea forward because somewhere and from someone funds would come. And I did working on fundraising and true to the point all funding I needed to build four Girls Empowerment Villages came my way.
I have a talent to speak with passion. I speak on everything I believe in without being artificial and people who are my fans find the courage to also speak out and get help. I have found writing poetry as a great talent I have. I have realized that for all we are and do, we never create a rhythm in our lives and hence we lose our positive energy. I have successfully put words together and to breathe life into many who had lost hope. I always think and feel that words can heal as much as they can harm and hurt. I find use of words as something that can transform human beings and give them the power to lead. Speaking and writing poetry is one talent overlooked by many but in simple words the world heals. Prince Deun Adodyin Solarin called me a Wordsmith.
Key Behaviours: I have applied the three behaviors assertive, aggressive and passive tactfully in every situation I find myself in. There are times I find myself in a situation where there are bullies and to counter their attitudes I have remained assertive knowing when to respond or not. I have also realized when it is appropriate to withdraw depending in situation and resorted to passive behavior. I always use assertive behavior whereby I know my rights and responsibilities and I know others too have rights and responsibilities. I think one action I have consistently maintained is to know what I want and work to get it. I have a strong conviction that as long as one stands up to something, they will achieve and get it. I have also learnt to position myself strategically and made deep analysis of every character around me. Again my intuition always directs me to the right people and at the right place and at the right time.
Principles I Live By: I have a set of principles that I adhere to daily and these include honesty, I want to remain truthful in everything I do. I have want to say truth to myself and to others. Once my foundation is built on being honest and truthful my actions and everything I seek to do will be achieved very well. I want to do my work with passion and commitment knowing that what I give into doing something is out of goodwill and good intent.. I want to do and not to say and so I want to walk the talk. What happened to my mother, my grandmother and myself should not happen to any woman or girl again. As long as I get to know, I will stop it.
Lessons I Have Learnt:
- Never give up. Giving up something you are passionate about is like giving up the air you breathe. Your chances of survival are slim.
- From what I know you don’t stop being poor because someone is acting on your behalf. From all that I know it is me and only me who can break the vicious cycle of poverty before it breaks me.
- Whereas for many who are privileged it is a known fact that opportunity knocks on their door daily whereas for those poor and marginalized you have to constantly knock on doors of opportunity. Unless you do nothing comes your way.
- We now live in a civilized world. My story is not oral history. My story has been written and shared with dignity it deserves. Anyone who wanted to distort it should know that in this day and era, everyone has social media to help them reach out and share their story. Do not be oral history. The digital world brings dignity to our legacy.
- Anything that one does with passion pays a bigger price.
- There is something that happens when you have self-belief and you are self-empowered. You begin to act from within and deliver change for yourself before you claim you can change others. Oftentimes we are made to believe someone out there changes us but not ourselves.
- Doing something is better than doing nothing.
- I am not ashamed to share my story because besides being past, it reconciles my present and future and sets me free as a victim and ushers me into era where I am leading. Donating my story to transform millions round the world is like donating my organs to save a life. Let my life story be inspirational to future donations. I am not a millionaire with dollars but a millionaire with inspirational words. If money can do so much and so do inspirational words.
- I am born victorious and not victim.
- In every chaos, great things do not emerge only emerge but great thinkers and philosophers emerge.
- Not all of us are given more than one chance. For me I had one bus to catch for my interview, I had one University to apply to, I had one life time chance to pass in school, I had one life time chance to call a woman my mother, I had one life chance to move from poverty to prosperity. Every time I realized I had one chance, I never took anything for granted.
- I believe so much in poor people. Even though some market women who stopped the bus to my school interview did not have an education, they fought their poverty through me. Even though the woman who lived in our make shift house was a prostitute and had no education, she encouraged me to work hard and never to go to the pub like her. She educated her son and died before she could even to live to celebrate her achievements. The poor always achieve through others. Yes they missed their one life chance but they still can fight for their children never to miss it.
- For girls, books first and babies later.
- Everything that I have learnt fast is through doing.
- Anything you work for with your hands, you hold tight and it is treasurable. Anything you get on a silver plate, you let it slip away recklessly.
- Before you receive always think about how to give. There are many life lessons in giving that receiving.
- I am happiest on earth because I have learnt to be grateful about the things I now have which I never dreamt of having.
Part 2 can be found here.
Find out more about Muzvare Betty Makoni here www.muzvarebettymakoni.org
This inspiring story has been reposted from and with the permission of The Legacy Project : www.thelegacyproject.co.za