Saliwe Mutetwa-Zakariya and Yeukai Muzezewa are part of a network of more than 100 Coady graduates in Zimbabwe, and though they live and work on opposite ends of the country, they share a common bond. They are dedicated advocates for women and girls’ empowerment through education, health, and business.
Both graduates of Coady’s Global Change Leaders (GCL) program, they are currently active participants of the START4GIRLS initiative – working to strengthen the agency and capacities of adolescent girls and young women in Zimbabwe, and the education system that supports them.
I find so much warmth and comfort in the fact that the Coady family is quite a tightknit family and they have been able to offer ongoing support. Not just with the Coady graduates – it goes beyond that. The Coady staff also goes out of the way to offer support throughout the whole journey. I’ve maintained strong relationships throughout, and the support is tailor made to your particular needs.
From Learning to Practice
Though Saliwe has only been back in Harare for several months, she is already putting her learnings into practice.
“The GCL experience really enlightened me on certain aspects with regards to feminist approaches and also, just the teaching methodologies that we were exposed to,” she says.
“We work with vulnerable women and girls in terms of economic empowerment and livelihoods through our street business school curriculum. Then we also have a leadership development program that we run with young urban women.
“Prior to my attending GCL, we were looking mostly at work readiness skills and life skills – getting young women internships so that at least they can get some work experience. But with the exposure that I got with GCL, we’re now trying to incorporate some of those elements into the work that we do.
“For starters, there’s the theater of the oppressed, and art for healing therapy, and just the general understanding of what feminism and a feminist approach is – we are trying to incorporate those when looking at the ways we can empower women, particularly young women, to be able to have the confidence and the courage to speak out about issues that affect them and let the voices be heard.”
My Coady experience didn’t only transform the way I was doing my work in the community, but even the way I view myself personally – it also transformed my family.
To me, it made me feel that I’m able to accomplish anything; whether I am a woman or I am a man, I still have the capacity to do everything that I want to do.
For Yeukai, the program experience was a personal one.
During her childhood, her mother gave birth to eight girls, then lastly gave birth to a baby boy.
“I’m coming from a patriarchal society,” she explains. “It’s not that my mother wanted nine children, but I’m coming from a society where the girl child was looked down upon. It’s like my mother had to have nine children; it’s like the boy is the end of the of the line.
“It was like all of us, the eight girls, we are nothing. It’s only the one boy was recognized in the society that I grew up in.”
Yeukai says her experience limited her own view on what she was able to achieve as a woman.
“When I came to Coady, it was not only about the (classroom) teaching but also the interactions with other young women. I realized that I can achieve whatever the male child can achieve.
“There were 17 women from different countries in my group, and one thing that I realized was that most of the young women that I was learning with were running businesses or their own organizations, they’re holding big posts in the organizations that they are working with. To me, it made me feel that I’m able to accomplish anything; whether I am a woman or I am a man, I still have the capacity to do everything that I want to do.”
Yeukai says she’s also been able to apply practices from the program within her household.
“I had been working for a faith-based organization with this attitude of waiting for missionaries to come and help us, but when we learned about the Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) approach, it really changed my way of thinking because I realized we have been waiting for a long time but, we actually have a lot that we could use to develop ourselves – to develop our communities, and to develop our families.
“It actually changed the way we saw ourselves even as a family.”
Yeukai says her experience at Coady motivated her to start her own business. They held a family meeting, and they mapped their assets together.
“I can tell you from that family meeting, we came up with ideas. We identified the skills that we have, we identified the assets that we have, and we built a business out of that.
“So, for me, my Coady experience didn’t only transform the way I was doing my work in the community, but even the way I view myself personally – it also transformed my family.”
Graduates Supporting Graduates
Though Saliwe and Yeukai attended programs in different years, and live on opposite sides of the country, they have continued to connect with each other and with other graduates in Zimbabwe who are working on similar issues. They have leveraged online tools such as Facebook and WhatsApp to create groups of graduates used for sharing educational information, opportunities, and to celebrate each other’s successes.
“When I came to Coady, I connected with some Zimbabweans who were [a part of] the Diploma in Development Leadership,” Yeukai says.
“One specific person is Robert Mtisi. Robert is skilled in women’s empowerment through beekeeping training. So, when I was doing community work in one rural area, he was able to come and train the women in the community I was working with.”
Yeukai says graduates have also come together to respond to calls for proposals to work further across the continent.
“There was a call for work that was to be implemented in three African countries,” she explains. “So, we utilized that opportunity to say there’s a Coady graduate in Kenya, and another one in Zambia, and another one in Zimbabwe, and we responded together as three Coady graduates from different countries.”
Saliwe says the network and the ongoing relationship with both graduates and staff makes the Coady experience unique.
“I find so much warmth and comfort in the fact that the Coady family is quite a tightknit family and they have been able to offer ongoing support. Not just with the Coady graduates – it goes beyond that,” she explains.
“The Coady staff also goes out of the way to offer support throughout the whole journey. I’ve maintained strong relationships throughout, and the support is tailor made to your particular needs.”
Saliwe says a casual conversation turned into a weekly writing support group ‘championed’ by former Coady staff bin Neustaeter, while Sarika Sinha (Program Teaching Staff) leads the post-program mentorship “where she’s linking us up with various feminists” to further knowledge and practice. Yeukai notes a future meeting planned with Veronica Torres (Program Teaching Staff) “to take us through how we do research”, and that she’s had numerous opportunities to engage in more Coady programs, conferences, and other opportunities since the GCL program in 2018.
Both graduates note that the ongoing accompaniment from staff separates the Coady experience from other educational opportunities.
“The key for me is getting an opportunity to practice what we are taught because it’s one thing to acquire knowledge, but it’s also another thing to be able to impart it to others,” Saliwe says.
L to R: Martha Fanjoy (Coady staff), Veronica Torres (Coady Staff), Saliwe Mutetwa-Zakariya, Yeukai Muzezewa
Women Supporting Women
Saliwe and Yeukai are exploring more ways of working together through both of their respective organizations – something Saliwe says is a refreshing approach in the region’s sector.
“We find that many times in our space when we are looking at working in women’s economic empowerment initiatives, we don’t collaborate as easily – particularly in my side of the world when there’s very little funding, and there’s so many women’s organizations trying to accomplish almost similar objectives,” Saliwe explains.
“The Talia Women’s Network makes reusable sanitary pads, and I’ve been donating sanitary pads,” Yeukai explains. “So, I was talking with Saliwe to say that maybe we can actually work together. You produce for me, and I buy those from you, and I go and donate them in the rural areas that I’m working with.”
“There’s a lot of competition,” Saliwe adds. “So, it’s very rare to find someone who wants to share an opportunity with you. That’s what I appreciate about Yeukai. She was willing to share an opportunity.
“I’m really looking forward to what we can do together collaboratively. Because now that I know I’ve got a Coady sister here, we are going to support each other and advance our objectives and our mandates .”