Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Child bride turned scholar: Education is the road out of poverty

By Tererai Trent, Special to CNN
updated 5:55 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Tererai Trent is an accomplished scholar from Zimbabwe who has dedicated her life to bringing educational opportunities to children from a disadvantaged background. Tererai Trent is an accomplished scholar from Zimbabwe who has dedicated her life to bringing educational opportunities to children from a disadvantaged background.
HIDE CAPTION
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
The gift of education
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Poverty and cultural traditions kept Tererai Trent out of school for most of her childhood
  • But that didn't stop the Zimbabwean from fulfilling her desire to get an education
  • Trent has defied odds to earn three degrees, including a PhD
  • Now, she's ensuring kids from her village have the opportunities she lacked as a child

Editor's note: Tererai Trent is a humanitarian, scholar and speaker. She grew up in rural Zimbabwe, unable to attend school until Heifer International helped her get an education. She now has three degrees, and is founder of Tinogona Foundation.

(CNN) -- Eight-year-old Tineyi takes my hand and leads me into her mud-thatched hut in my home village of Matau in rural Zimbabwe. There, in a dark corner of the room, is a wooden bookshelf. Carefully crafted by her father, it protects her word-filled treasures from the smoky fire inside the small hut where her mother cooks. I smile, knowing that her father has recognized the value these books will bring to his little bookworm -- a life ahead of her with limitless opportunities.

It was not a life intended for many girls in Africa. As a cattle-herding tomboy, I was bound to follow in the footsteps of generations of women before me: early marriage, illiteracy and poverty. Back then, most kids in my village never had a chance to attend pre-school because it didn't exist. Instead, we would spend hours chasing birds and monkeys from our parents' fields.

Tererai Trent
Tererai Trent

Gold mines and urban factories employed men, while women remained at home to look after their children. The more men could read and write, the better their chances of being employed and able to provide for their family. As a result, families wanted to educate their sons, who became village role models. Without an education, how could girls compete? How could they become role models, too?

That was more than 40 years ago.

Today, change is happening in my beloved Matau, and all across the long red dirt roads, verdant mountains and open blue skies of Africa. The leaders of African countries have made education more of a priority, even for girls. Now, girls can be role models. Girls like me, a cattle herder who married young, and by age 18 had three children and no high school diploma. But I defied the odds, got an education and came back to build a school.

Tererai Trent: A crusader for education
Scholar: Education changed my life
Trent: Oprah changed everything

Read this: Zimbabwe's whizz-kid starts university at 14

Matau parents and villagers are seeing the value of educating girls. Girls can become leaders of our communities and our African nations. Many parents bring their daughters to me and ask: "Can she be just like you?"

Matau parents are sending their daughters to school like never before. Education is the pathway out of poverty and the road to change for boys and girls alike. Mothers, fathers, teachers, brothers and sisters have come together to feed the minds and cultivate growth in learning among children. Extraordinary things can happen when you put the right tools in the hands of communities. They flourish. They become change makers.

It is a road to change that leads to Matau and surrounding communities. Here, through a partnership with the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and Save the Children, Matau children are getting a safer school and a better quality education.

The community is partnering with Save the Children, the Rural District Council and the Ministry of Education, Sport, Art and Culture, to prepare young boys and girls for school and help older children improve their reading skills, with promising early results. It is an amazing transformation. Our teachers have been trained to keep up with this growth.

Oprah: 'Proud momma' as school girls graduate

Matau Community has become the ripple effect of change. You can see it in change makers like the grandmothers here who volunteered and molded nearly 400,000 bricks for the newly constructed school. Molding and curing bricks is exhausting, back-breaking work but when a community owns the process, nothing can stop it. The community realizes something important is at stake: education for all children.

Education is the pathway out of poverty and the road to change for boys and girls alike.
Tererai Trent

Change makers like Dendaredzi, who built the preschool center in his village, and the 346 volunteers who built preschool playgrounds made of locally available materials, and participated in parenting skills training.

Change makers like Veronica and 72 other trained volunteers who are promoting and leading after-school reading camps and creating handmade books.

Change makers like gogo (grandmother) Kawocha, who never learned to read or write but now encourages her own grandchildren to read at home. She told me in a text message sent by a village boy, "Tererai, my daughter could not read and write and died leaving orphans under my care. Now they can read at home and I get to participate in their reading, it has never been heard of until the Matau Project. It's a miracle." It warms my heart when I picture gogo Kawocha taking part in her grandchildren's education.

Read this: Millionaire educating future leaders

But there are many more gogo Kawocha's in Africa who do not even know they can be part of the solution.

How can we involve them, and how can we improve our children's education? What more can we do to encourage children to read at home? What more can we do to promote sending all children to school instead of out into the field to work? What more can we do to keep girls in school and out of early marriage? What more can we do to nurture girls as role models?

From my tiny village of Matau and all across this mother continent, we -- our communities -- have the power to bring our African children out of the darkness of illiteracy and into the light of learning. It is a light that beams brightly on progress. It is a light that lets African girls like me and Tineyi dream big. Tinogona! It is achievable.

Learn more about the Tinogona Foundation and Save the Children's Matau Primary School Project.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tererai Trent.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
The veiled female rapper tackling Egyptian taboos head on
Meet Mayam Mahmoud, the 18-year-old Egyptian singer tackling gender stereotypes through hip-hop.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
As the head of Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet was one of the first emergency responders at the Westgate shopping mall.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
Gikonyo performs a medical check-up for one of her patients at Karen Hospital in Kenya.
Leading pediatric surgeon Betty Gikonyo reveals how her life changed at 30,000 feet and her mission to save the lives of countless disadvantaged children in Kenya.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele
As a child, Biyi Bandele immersed himself in a world of literature. Today he's taken that passion and turned it into a career as a celebrated writer, playwright and now director.
updated 6:26 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Sanaa Hamri in Los Angeles, 2011.
Music video and film director Sanaa Hamri shares her story of how she made it from the streets of Tangier to the big film studios in the United States.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
African Voices meets James Ebo Whyte a passionate storyteller with a series of successful plays to his credit.
updated 5:16 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 86th Academy Awards nominees luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o has become a new critics' darling after her breakout role in last year's hit movie "12 Years A Slave."
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Celebrated designer Adama Paris reveals how she was tired of seeing "skinny blonde models" on all the runways, so she did something about it.
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Global perceptions of the tiny country in east-central Africa are often still stuck in 1994 but local photographers are hoping to change that.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
A Silverback male mountain Gorilla sits in the dense jungle canopy on the edge of Uganda's Bwindi National Park in this 29, January 2007 photo. Bwindi, or the 'Impenetrable Forest' as it is known to many tourists is home to the majority of Uganda's rare and endangered mountain gorilla population where plans are underway to habituate two more gorilla family groups to counter growing demand from a flourishing gorilla trek tourism business, a major source of income for the Uganda tourism Authority. AFP PHOTO / STUART PRICE. (Photo credit should read STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images)
Meet Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the woman from Uganda trying to save critically endangered mountain gorillas before its too late.
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Lightenings strike over Johannesburg during a storm on December 14, 2013.
Ending energy poverty is central to a resurgent Africa, writes entrepreneur Tony O. Elumelu.
updated 5:45 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
A group of young students have taken stereotypes about the continent -- and destroyed them one by one.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT