Ruth Butaumocho Gender Profile
Getting married when one is barely in her teens requires more than bravery to stand up and make a successful life. Apart from the fact that the union itself is illegal, the possibility of dying while giving birth, and failure to grasp the concept of motherhood at that stage make the whole process bizarre.
So many girls in poor communities across the globe have had to face this prospect.
While it is the end of the road for most, for Dr Tererai Trent, that episode of her life gave a good foundation on which to build her dreams, and escape the perennial poverty that characterised the first three decades of her life.
“Poverty, early child marriage, persecution and abuse from my ex-husband, spurred me to work harder and dream bigger than before,” she said recently in an interview at the sidelines of the African Union Campaign Against Early Child Marriage launch in Harare recently.
From an impoverished rural woman who raised her children under difficult circumstances while studying by correspondence for her O-Levels, a feat which took her 10 years to achieve, Dr Trent, a Zimbabwean who is now based in the United States, is now among the world’s renowned women. She is engaged in philanthropic work to develop communities. With the assistance of a donation of $1,5 million from well-known television host Oprah Winfrey, Dr Trent managed to rebuild Matau Primary School in Hurungwe and is currently mobilising money and other resources to build 11 more schools for the Hurungwe community, where her umbilical cord is buried.
She is investing in the education to ensure that hundreds of girls within her community would be assured of a good education that would ultimately translate into a good life later in their lives.
“Education is the foundation and basis of good life. The circumstances that I grew up in denied me an opportunity to acquire a good education and I had to work twice as hard.
“I would not want that to happen to anyone, that is why I have put my hands on the deck to work hard and ensure that education will be readily available to anyone,” she said.
Already her decision has had a ripple effect of change with the community coming together to assist in whatever way it can to ensure that education becomes accessible to everyone. Even the community realises that something important is at stake and they want to become part of it: education.
Because of Dr Trent’s determination, from being a small village school Matau has now an enrolment of over 1 200 pupils from in and around Hurungwe, with girls getting first preferences in all the grades, to ensure that they get as many advantages as boys.
Despite her disadvantaged background where she got married at 11 and bore four children before she had even reached 18, Dr Trent has become a shining example in her community on the importance of hard work and perseverance.
Dr Trent believes that one’s background should not hinder one’s determination to pursue and fulfil their aspirations.
“Because poverty and cultural traditions drive decisions at household levels with resources being allocated to the boy child who is usually regarded as the successor should the father die, I was left with nothing except to get married at 11.
“How wrong I was. Marriage was not for a girl of my age. However, after bearing four children I realised I could not continue sinking into poverty. I had to do something.
“I made a definite decision that my background was not going to define my future, neither was it going to define who I wanted to become in the future,” she says.
“It was one woman she met who inspired her to plan and dream big, even though she was living in a rural backwater and surviving on one meal a day.
“She told me that I could write my dreams somewhere and refer to them later, when I felt I was ready,” says Dr Trent. Although the inspirations and words of encouragement appeared far from being achievable, Dr Trent nevertheless clung to the advice
The bare necessities of life, that included having to contend living with an abusive husband, forced her to carve her future by writing her dream down.
“In the midst of hunger, despair and abuse, I went to my mother and told her I wanted to write my dreams down. My dream was to go to America and acquire a doctorate.
“Seeing how determined I was, my mother told me to put the paper under the muhacha tree where my umbilical cord was buried,” she recalled.
Being a firm believer in transformational change, Dr Trent did not dismiss her advice, but went to “bury” her dreams where her mother had pointed to her.
Unknown to her, that decision was a harbinger of good things to come, and a fulfilment of her own prophecy of going to America one day.
What followed was the most difficult time of her life, when she had to shuttle between schools for her O-Levels, fending for her family and at the same time trying to keep her abusive husband at bay.
“I could not be discouraged. Remember I had buried my dreams under a tree and I could not afford to watch my dreams come to nothing, ”she recalled.
Exactly 10 years after burying her dream in her village, Dr Trent took the flight to America together with her abusive husband and children, in pursuance of her dream to have a good life and assist people within her community.
“When the day arrived for us to leave for America, I was so overwhelmed that I cried so much. Looking back, I realised that dreams will have great meaning if they are tied to a vision, passion and an urge to fulfil.”
The dazzling lifestyle in America did not in any way cloud her vision to pursue her academic path and in less than three years, she had acquired a doctorate at the Oklahoma State University.
However, her achievement was not without casualties. As she struggled with her academic studies, her husband continued to abuse her and had to be deported to Zimbabwe by the American authorities.
During all her life struggles she did not forget about the commitment she made that one day she would return home to her people in Hurungwe and assist them in writing their own dreams.
Dr Trent is currently in the country to oversee the construction of more schools in her home area. She believes that tenacity, willpower and determination are crucial in setting the pace for one’s achievements
“Everyone can have a dream, but not many will be able to achieve their goals, because they lack the drive, the determination and the will power to push the boundaries.”
She urged women to play their part in encouraging the girl child to take her education seriously.
Dr Trent, who is married to Mark Trent, a plant pathologist whom she met at Okhlahoma State University, is also engaged in several campaigns to end early child marriage.