Nyunyai, the spring in innovative e-learning Nyunyai with her husband Tiwonge Machiwenyika

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer

Nyunyai Chigumira Machiwenyika’s destiny has always been shaped by courage, perseverance, and motivation.

Inspired by the divine presence, her story was never a smooth glide on ice.

From her humble beginnings to a trailblazing career in publishing, pertinently her niche in educational technology, she has remained true to her values and vision.

Having dared the devil more than once, she speaks of her journey now — the many false starts she had — the stumbles and falls, with such heart-warming glee that melts the heart.

It is late afternoon on a recent Thursday as the sun throws its fading arsenal onto the grey house under tile, which shelters Nyunyai’s publishing concern.

On its final lap into the golden rim of the west, it casts a shadow over the expansive well-trimmed garden on all cardinal points save for the east, creating an ambient environment of warmth.

Singing harmoniously in their distinct tunes, nature’s tweeting companions complement humanity’s aspirations in the foliage in this Greendale neighbourhood of Harare.

Illuminated in this therapeutic milieu, Nyunyai takes The Herald into her confidence.

Seated on a modest chair in the garden, she adjusts her dark blue dress, tags at her striped black and white jacket, and crosses her hands on her lap, revealing a studded ring on the left finger.

Then, she criss-crosses her colourful tennis shoes-clad feet, smiles infectiously, and begins her story.

“I was named after my great-great paternal aunt. Some people say my name means dribbling in soccer, but to me it’s just a noun I can respond to.

“I am proud it’s so unique that I can only introduce myself by my first name, and everyone gets to know me, globally,” Nyunyai says, her eyes glittering with confidence.

If humility were a person, then, it has to be Nyunyai.

What’s in a name? as William Shakespeare quips in “Romeo and Juliet”, for “That which we call a rose by any other name, would smell just as sweet.”

Nonetheless, true to the widely believed meaning of her name, Nyunyai has been able to dribble her way past obstacles since primary school.

But how has she been able to fare that far?

“My Christian faith teaches me the power of the Holy Spirit as an ever-present guide in whatever you set your eyes on if you believe in Him. He speaks in various ways, according to your faith,” she says, beaming with determination.

“For me, the Holy Spirit has always been that silent voice shaping my thinking and empowering me to take daring steps of faith.”

At this moment, a child calls out from the neighbouring house, “Mummy, mummy, where are you?”

She tries to ignore him, but her motherly instincts got the better of her, and she responds, “Shai, please, I am still at work.

“That’s Shai, my seven-year-old last born son, calling from home,” Nyunyai says, before resuming her conversation.

She opens up on her bumpy voyage, beginning from her childhood, through early education and career, love life, and spirituality to the birth of her reluctant baby — Spring Hub Publishing, which has taken the education sector in Zimbabwe by storm.

Early life and education

Born on March 20, 1979 at Rujeko Clinic in Dzivarasekwa, Harare, Nyunyai grew up in the mining town of Zvishavane in a polygamous family of 18 siblings.

Her father, Moffat Chigumira, a respected educationist and perfectionist, was to be recalled to Zvishavane from Harare, where he was a deputy head at Nhamburiko Primary School, to be the first black headmaster at Shabanie Mine Primary School.

He instilled in her the value of hard work and integrity, while her mother, Jennifer, to whom she was a fourth child out of eight children (five girls and three boys), taught her the essence of honesty.

“We grew up as one big family. We would crowd into our father’s pick-up truck and head to our rural home in Chikato Village, Shurugwi in the Midlands Province, where we would spend most of our school holidays working in the fields,” she says, nostalgically.

Nyunyai never got to see her grandparents, except her paternal grandfather, whom she saw just once. Her paternal grandmother died when her father was still a toddler. An only child, her mother grew up an orphan.

Nyunyai’s early life was marked by a strong sense of community and a desire to make a difference.

She reflects on the impact her Grade One teacher and headmistress at Shabani Primary School, a government multiracial institution, Mrs Drakes, has had on her life. She was also her first Grade One teacher, though briefly, and would later teach her in Grade Four and part of Grade Seven.

“An inspirational woman, Mrs Drakes had so much confidence in me, and exposed me to my first entrepreneurial experience,” Nyunyai says. “She would ask me to run the school tuck-shop in the absence of her daughter, Paula, who was one of our teachers.”

When her father wanted to transfer her from the school at Grade Four, along with her two siblings, to Shabanie Mine Primary School, Mrs Drakes would hear none of it.

She asserted that Nyunyai was destined for great heights.

She would later attend Gokomere High School in Masvingo for her secondary education, where she was momentarily gripped by cultural shock to eventually excel in both athletics and studies.

“It was at Gokomere that the academically excelling Nyunyai, whom my father yearned for, came out,” she says. “But I couldn’t convince him, an ardent Seventh Day Adventist Church member, to allow me to become a Roman Catholic nun.”

Nyunyai says she was fascinated by the nuns’ lifestyles. They drove huge twin-cab vehicles, and were always regally robed in their religious habits or apparel.

“We were once offered a ride in one of the big cars to this other parish in Gweru with one of the sisters confidently holding the wheel. It felt like royalty,” Nyunyai recollects.

The sisterhood dream would later fade away.

Armed with 13 points in Mathematics, Accounts and Geography at Advanced-Level, she bade farewell to Gokomere for the University of Zimbabwe, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Economics in 2001.

In 2010 she graduated from the UZ with a Master of Science in Economics, although she initially wanted to be an accountant.

Teaching and early career

After graduating from the University of Zimbabwe in 2001, Nyunyai taught at Chemagamba High School in Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West Province, between 2002 and 2004. She was teaching Accounts.

Though she felt forsaken by the gods of corporate affairs when the hornbill led her to the classroom, instead of the boardroom, Nyunyai feels it was God’s way of not only humbling her, but awakening her spirituality.

She recalls moving in with relatives in a police camp at the start of her teaching career, and later on moving out to her first rental space, enduring cleaning duties as a tenant for the first time in her life.

Nyunyai believes her time at Chemagamba moulded her into the woman she is today. Falling into a routine, she ultimately found her spiritual being.

Since no one could push her to the SDA Church that shaped her childhood, Faith World Ministries became her option, though unwillingly at first, in 2002.

“The late Mrs Maregere, a workmate at Chemagamba, would consistently invite me to her church. I would try to evade her, but eventually I gave in, and do not regret it,” she says.

Nyunyai credits Mrs Maregere with playing a crucial role in her mentorship, both in and out of school, and having a profound impact on her development as a young adult.

Her guidance and influence helped shape Nyunyai’s values and priorities, which remained strong as she entered marriage, and continued to influence her spiritual growth, balance, and harmony in her family, career, and faith.

On her teacher’s salary, she carried the burden of looking after her three younger siblings, two sisters and a brother, Theophilus (NAMA award winning comedian, Mai Kirifodhi), following her father’s retirement, with the encouragement of Mrs Maregere.

She would later join Delta Corporation as a graduate trainee in 2004. Her determination and work ethic quickly made her an asset to the company, and she rose through the ranks to become the group imports manager in an occupation spanning seven years.

She articulates that the Delta job had a lot of spiritual connotations as she performed below par during the interview, for she was way out of touch. Through divine providence, her future was shaped at Delta.

An epic tale of love

Nyunyai’s journey is incomplete without her rock, Tiwonge Machiwenyika, who has been her unwavering support system.

Again, their love story testifies to fate and divine intervention.

“Imagine coming to Harare at Delta, and a year later I meet my soulmate. Another one later, I am married, and another later, I am blessed with a son! That can only be God’s doing,” Nyunyai says.

The lovebirds met at Calder Gardens in Harare in 2005, thanks to a matchmaking friend, Garikai, who stayed with his siblings at the same complex.

“I gave Gari two tickets to Chibuku Road to Fame. He gave them to Tiwonge, and told him I had asked him to pass them on to him. Tiwo would later come to thank me for the gesture,” she reflects.

Nyunyai recalls the moment she laid eyes on Tiwonge, she instantly knew that he was the one. A brief encounter, a kind gesture, and a series of unanticipated events led them to realise their connection.

From a chance meeting to a life-changing bond, their relationship blossomed. Now, they are proud parents of four boys; Seth, Eli, Levi and Shai; a nomenclature pregnant with biblical significance.

Around 2008, when Seth was a year old, the couple left the complex for Msasa Park. Nyunyai’s eyes sparkle as she reminisces about their voyage — a true love epic.

Shaping the dream

Nyunyai’s journey to becoming a publisher began when Tiwonge encouraged her to apply for a procurement manager role at Tobacco Processors Zimbabwe, which she accepted in August 2011.

Although she excelled in the role, in a male-dominated environment, she felt unfulfilled and sought new challenges.

As group imports manager at Delta, Nyunyai’s job entailed extensive travelling to countries like India, South Africa and Eswatini, among others, where some of their suppliers were based.

Also, it afforded her opportunities to meet prominent people and leaders in the corporate world. It was during one of such business trips to India that she met Ankur Mittal in July 2011.

Mittal, who would later introduce her to the publishing industry, worked for a company that was into holograms and security features. Nyunyai knew him through one NK Kumah, who worked for a metallic crown company that used to supply her former employer.

India, therefore, became the launch pad of a dream that she realised eight years later.

 Spiritual calling: Birth of a reluctant baby

When Ankur moved to a publishing company, he introduced Nyunyai to the industry.

Initially hesitant, Nyunyai and her husband, also a tech enthusiast, eventually registered Spring Hub Publishing in 2016. Hence, entering the sector with a technology tilt.

With the support of Munyaradzi Mbire, an experienced publisher, who became a sound board, and Ankur, she published her first product in 2018 — a Grade Three Agriculture textbook.

She was ready to introduce her maiden digital solution.

However, her enthusiasm for educational technology was at first spurned by the authorities, since the digital content she had integrated in the Grade Three textbook was considered difficult to regulate then.

Her spiritual calling was a pivotal moment in her journey in starting the publishing company.

With no prior experience in the industry, she trusted her instincts and embarked on a journey that would again take her to India and back, armed with a vision and a determination to succeed.

It would take a spiritual visitation ahead of her 40th birthday in February 2019 for Nyunyai to get the boldness to start formal operations, marking the beginning of a force to reckon with in education technology.

She intimates that during her prayer time, the Holy Spirit urged her to start the business, despite her initial fears and lack of passion for publishing. She had a vivid spiritual encounter, feeling like she was in labour, and heard a voice telling her to “push on” and deliver Spring Hub.

Feeling a sense of relief after this experience, it dawned on Nyunyai that procrastination was no longer an option. She shared her vision with her supportive husband, and began working on the business plan.

In August 2019, she travelled to India with Tiwonge to meet publishing industry experts, including Manish and Monica, introduced to her by Mittal — an all-weather friend, who had since left the industry.

Monica, the owner of the publishing company, encouraged Nyunyai to focus on content creation, while they handled the printing.

Nyunyai says they were treated to royalty-like hospitality, including a five-star hotel stay, courtesy of Monica’s sister, who owned the facility, and were introduced to key contacts in the sector.

This visit formalised a strategic alliance between Spring Hub Publishing and Monica’s firm, which would ensure the production of high-quality and affordable products.

“It is a case of women empowering each other regardless of geographic boundaries; taking advantage of bilateral trade agreements between Zimbabwe and India,” she says, enthusiastically.

The sun, now completely eclipsed, has left a shadowy and chilly atmosphere, as Nyunyai continues with her narration.

She believes that although she had a spiritual encounter in 2019, the calling goes back to 2016, through Mittal’s obstinate encouragement. This conviction has driven her to persevere, in spite of challenges, and trust in the divine plan.

“It’s not a blessing for me alone, but for many others too,” Nyunyai glowingly says.

Interestingly, the name “Spring Hub” itself holds spiritual import, symbolising growth, renewal, and connection.

“It was inspired by the Book of Isaiah in which God says, ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland,’” Nyunyai reveals.

She envisages her publishing house as a hub out of which life defining learning solutions come out—spreading hope and inspiration. In essence, her spiritual calling has been the driving force behind the firm’s creation, infusing her work with purpose, passion, and faith.

Her story is a testament to the power of trust, obedience, and divine guidance in pursuing one’s calling. With the help of Mbire, now an editorial manager, and other authors, editors, and educators, the divine plan rapidly thrived.

They moved to their old offices in Msasa in April 2019, with only one approved title, and now have 72 titles in their catalogue, which are accompanied by over a 100 digital resources.

Nyunyai’s faith and obedience have led to the birth of a reluctant baby, which is now making a significant impact in the education sector in Zimbabwe.

Digital learning: Inspiring quest to shape the future

Although Nyunyai’s quest for blended learning was initially turned down by primary and secondary education authorities in 2018, the Covid-19 contagion came as a blessing in disguise.

Covid-19 collapsed the traditional school system as authorities sought to curb its spread, hence creating opportunities for e-learning.

Taking the cue, in 2021, the determined go-getter, approached the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education once more regarding incorporating a QR code in the hub’s textbooks to read digital data.

Nyunyai’s desire to blend hardware and software to enhance and revolutionise the teaching and learning experience in tandem with global trends was finally given the nod.

On December 9, 2021, she boldly launched her brainchild, taking the reins as managing director after leaving Tobacco Processors Zimbabwe barely three months earlier.

However, Nyunyai felt she was an outsider in her own company, as she couldn’t fit in.

Undeterred, she drew on her e-learning passion to set an ambitious launch date for the application, giving herself just 30 days to overcome the sceptics, and secure ministry approval.

With a fierce determination, she proved the naysayers wrong, and her vision became a reality.

“It was a wild ride, but my faith never wavered,” she recalls with a triumphant chuckle.

Now, with 72 titles under the Spring Up and Spring Further series, for primary and secondary schools, respectively, the hub expanded operations, moved from Msasa to a larger place in 2022, and grew its team.

Such is the power of determination, perseverance and the divine presence.

As Nyunyai looks to the future, she is determined to stay ahead of the curve in education technology.

“It’s the 21st Century; digital solutions are the way to go,” she insists. “The globe has become one huge village. And, the traditional textbook is now playing second fiddle to new technologies.”

She advises that instead of barring their children from using gadgets, parents should consider monitoring them as the digital mode is the only way.

“Learners can use cellphones or laptops to access digital learning materials, including those our hub offers,” she maintains. “The beauty of technology is that when the curriculum changes, or information in printed textbooks is outpaced by events, the digital platforms can be updated, without necessarily reprinting.”

Nyunyai is excited about the potential for e-learning to transform the education landscape in Zimbabwe in a purely Zimbabwean way, without exposing children to internet-based vagaries.

She emphasises the importance of blended learning, and highlights her publishing concern’s unique approach, which provides print and digital content aligned with the curriculum.

She acknowledges the challenges of network coverage and data costs, but stresses the potential of technology to accelerate learning and provide self-paced learning experiences.

She mentions the Nytra Zim App, which guides learners to digital learning material in her hub’s books, and the offline library solution for rural areas.

Nyunyai emphasises the social impact of e-learning, including: solving issues of limited access to educational technologies; acceptance of blended learning; designing content based on learner needs; pricing and distribution; contributing to digital literacy and digital inclusion.

She envisions a future where blended learning becomes integral to the education sector, providing equal access to quality education and bridging the digital divide.

As a role model for women and girls, her legacy will continue to inspire and motivate generations to come.

Cydee Dlamini, who has worked with her since 2019, after graduating from university, as an editor, script writer and voice over artist in some of the videos, considers Nyunyai her role model, while Mbire values her guidance and mentorship.

“She is an inspirational, hardworking and goal-driven person with a passion to see the project to its next level.

“She is such an enterprising woman, who has empowered herself to rise to the top, and be exemplary to other women out there,” says 28-year-old Cydee.

Says Mbire: “What I liked about joining Spring Hub was her vision. She was technology driven.

“Nyunyai is not bossy. She lets you lead the department; welcomes new ideas, and encourages others. She is a good guide, a mentor; and a good listener.”

Both Cydee and Mbire laud Nyunyai for her vision, passion, leadership acumen, and empowering nature. They appreciate her technology-driven approach and willingness to listen, and encourage new ideas.

Under her guidance, Spring Hub Publishing won the ZITF 2022 First Time Exhibitor Silver Award, and the Zim CEOs Network

Awards 2023—Gold for Excellence in Publishing and Leader of Impact Award.

Nyunyai cites work ethic, integrity, dedication, prayerfulness, and effort implanted in her DNA by her father as the driving forces behind her success.

As a leader, she is dedicated to fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusivity.

“Everyone has a unique perspective and contribution to make,” she underscores. “By working together and holding each other’s hand, we can achieve remarkable things.”

Through her tireless efforts, she continues to inspire a new generation of innovators and change-makers. Her legacy is one of empowerment, progress, and a commitment to shaping a brighter future for all.

These initiatives and impact demonstrate Nyunyai’s commitment to innovation and excellence in education, and her dedication to making a positive difference in the lives of Zimbabwean learners.

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