By Tererai Trent, Special to CNN
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.
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.