Betty Makoni is a woman who has turned devastating adversity into a strength that is impacting and transforming thousands of lives and the generations that follow. She is a gender activist who founded the Girl Child Network (GCN), which cares for Zimbabwe’s young sex abuse victims. She has earned two degrees from the University of Zimbabwe and has been awarded numerous national and international awards; in 2007 she won the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child and in 2008, Amnesty International awarded her its Ginetta Sagan Award for her with the the GCN. Betty is the principal subject in the documentary film, Tapestries of Hope.
My Definition Of Success | Success means overcoming hurdles and challenges to reach a goal. I encountered a lot of challenges as a girl but I kept telling myself to work towards an educational goal. For a poor girl like me setting myself on an educational path even with full knowledge I had no money to pay school fees and rather had my brains to negotiate for my continued education speaks of my success. Success therefore means everything I stood up to do on my own with self-belief that I could achieve it. There is a time when I read about people who had done well in their careers and this reminded me always I could achieve the same
What Drives Me | As a girl who survived rape and who lost a mother in domestic violence, I listened to stories of other girls had been raped, fell pregnant, forced to marry and dropped out of school. This gave me determination to fight for my education and career so that one day I become their voice. Today I am the voice of the voiceless. I grew up with the anger that society orchestrated the girls they were supposed to protect. Since I started my work to protect girls since 1998, I have seen girls transformed from perceived victims into survivors and then leaders walking in the fullness of their potential. This is what drives me to do more and more leadership and empowerment programs for girls. For all I know from my story is that no one is born victim, we are all born victorious.
My Highlights | I set to attain education at a good girls school with full knowledge that I had nowhere to get the school fees to pay for my education. The fact that I was poor by then did not discourage me from attending this school because I knew I had no money but I had my brains. I used my brain to negotiate to work for my school fees during holidays. Each time I walked back to school during holidays through mountains and thick bushes I always told myself that if only I had just been given a donation of school fees then I would not have imagined how hard it is to work and earn. I worked during holidays and attained my education. Everything I have today is because I sacrificed my holidays as a child.
All that I achieved in my career I developed it through sheer hard work and commitment. When I became sexually abused as a child, I sought a place to share my story but could not get one. I tried to look for someone to pay for my school and all doors were closed against me. In developing a career that would make me feel my passion, I built four Girls Empowerment Villages in Zimbabwe and to date they have rehabilitated over 70 000 girls into confident women they are today. I started a Women as role models scholarship fund to assist poor girls and today I see many of them who scored highly academically and are in high positions. To see women empowered today because they went through Girls Empowerment Clubs is something I am most proud of. I wanted to leave a story of Never again, not to any woman or girl again which is title of my official autobiography. Every program I designed from my empowerment program has spread across the world and I am proud that my model of empowering girls has been replicated in six countries in Africa .
My Key Talents | I think I have a strong intuition and creativity – a sense and a conviction in me that is inborn that makes me predict success or failure even before I come up with an innovation. As a child I survived some situations that were unbelievably so hard because of my strong intuition. I have a talent to visualize something, design it in my head and then go to do it. Even when I had no slightest idea where I would get funds to build Girls Empowerment Villages for my project in Zimbabwe so that we protect girls from abusers and facilitate their healing, it is my intuition that told me to push the idea forward because somewhere and from someone funds would come. And I did working on fundraising and true to the point all funding I needed to build four Girls Empowerment Villages came my way.
I have a talent to speak with passion. I speak on everything I believe in without being artificial and people who are my fans find the courage to also speak out and get help. I have found writing poetry as a great talent I have. I have realized that for all we are and do, we never create a rhythm in our lives and hence we lose our positive energy. I have successfully put words together and to breathe life into many who had lost hope. I always think and feel that words can heal as much as they can harm and hurt. I find use of words as something that can transform human beings and give them the power to lead. Speaking and writing poetry is one talent overlooked by many but in simple words the world heals. Prince Deun Adodyin Solarin called me a Wordsmith.
Key Behaviours | I have applied the three behaviors assertive, aggressive and passive tactfully in every situation I find myself in. There are times I find myself in a situation where there are bullies and to counter their attitudes I have remained assertive knowing when to respond or not. I have also realized when it is appropriate to withdraw depending in situation and resorted to passive behavior. I always use assertive behavior whereby I know my rights and responsibilities and I know others too have rights and responsibilities. I think one action I have consistently maintained is to know what I want and work to get it. I have a strong conviction that as long as one stands up to something, they will achieve and get it. I have also learnt to position myself strategically and made deep analysis of every character around me. Again my intuition always directs me to the right people and at the right place and at the right time.
Principles I Live By | I have a set of principles that I adhere to daily and these include honesty, I want to remain truthful in everything I do. I have want to say truth to myself and to others. Once my foundation is built on being honest and truthful my actions and everything I seek to do will be achieved very well. I want to do my work with passion and commitment knowing that what I give into doing something is out of goodwill and good intent.. I want to do and not to say and so I want to walk the talk. What happened to my mother, my grandmother and myself should not happen to any woman or girl again. As long as I get to know, I will stop it.
Lessons I Have Learnt | Never give up. Giving up something you are passionate about is like giving up the air you breathe. Your chances of survival are slim. From I know you don’t stop being poor because someone is acting on your behalf. From all that I know it is me and only me who can break the vicious cycle of poverty before it breaks me. Whereas for many who are privileged it is a known fact that opportunity knocks on their door daily whereas for those poor and marginalized you have to constantly knock on doors of opportunity. Unless you do nothing comes your way. We now live in a civilized world. My story is not oral history. My story has been written and shared with dignity it deserves. Anyone who wanted to distort it should know that in this day and era, everyone has social media to help them reach out and share their story. Do not be oral history. The digital world brings dignity to our legacy.
Anything that one does with passion pays a bigger price.
There is something that happens when you have self-belief and you are self-empowered. You begin to act from within and deliver change for yourself before you claim you can change others. Oftentimes we are made to believe someone out there changes us but not ourselves.
Doing something is better than doing nothing
I am not ashamed to share my story because besides being past, it reconciles my present and future and sets me free as a victim and ushers me into era where I am leading. Donating my story to transform millions round the world is like donating my organs to save a life. Let my life story be inspirational to future donations. I am not a millionaire with dollars but a millionaire with inspirational words. If money can do so much and so do inspirational words.
I am born victorious and not victim
In every chaos, great things do not emerge only emerge but great thinkers and philosophers emerge. Not all of us are given more than one chance. For me I had one bus to catch for my interview, I had one University to apply to, I had one life time chance to pass in school, I had one life time chance to call a woman my mother, I had one life chance to move from poverty to prosperity. Every time I realized I had one chance, I never took anything for granted. I believe so much in poor people. Even though some market women who stopped the bus to my school interview did not have an education, they fought their poverty through me. Even though the woman who lived in our make shift house was a prostitute and had no education, she encouraged me to work hard and never to go to the pub like her. She educated her son and died before she could even to live to celebrate her achievements. The poor always achieve through others. Yes they missed their one life chance but they still can fight for their children never to miss it.
For girls, books first and babies later.
Everything that I have learnt fast is through doing.
Anything you work for with your hands, you hold tight and it is treasurable. Anything you get on a silver plate, you let it slip away recklessly.
Before you receive always think about how to give. There are many life lessons in giving that receiving.
I am happiest on earth because I have learnt to be grateful about the things I now have which I never dreamt of having.
My Critical Skills | I have used critical thinking as a skill to analyze people, situations, programs and what results I get from my actions. I am a highly emotional person who gets easily moved to do something just by seeing even tears on someone. I am someone who gets easily carried away by a situation but critical analysis skill has helped me to think before taking action. I am a good communicator, prolific speaker and passionate writer. The new digital world we live in today has helped my advocacy work because I have many mediums of communication to reach the world and share on the plight of the girl child at my disposal unlike before. I can now speak to thousands of people via internet radio and social media. I can share my written work through books two of which are now available online. I have shifted myself from an invisible activist in one country into a global leader who embraces new technology. I think my greatest skill is the ability to communicate at every level and build informal and formal networks to support my work and that of others.
Using My Mind | I use appreciative inquiry in whatever I do. This is a skill I developed when I was very young and I have used it in many difficult situations. I always believe that any situation that is a tragedy can be turned into triumph. I believe the impossible can be possible. I believe chaos can be calm. I believe to every problem there is a solution. When I was expelled from school because I could not afford school, I never took this in a negative way like others who then gave up and opted to get married. Rather, I went out to seek a solution by vending on the streets to raise my money for school fees. If I had chosen to go to the brothel for instance, this situation could have been worse by now. So my approach to life is that anything that is negative can be positive only if you take a positive approach and use the best in you to solve the problem.
Things I Would Do Different | There are professional skills I need to develop in me as a human resources manager. I think the biggest mistakes I made in my life is to recruit or approve recruitment of wrong people to work closely with. I underestimated how hard and next to impossible it is to change behavior of an adult. I once recruited a woman who did not have the passion, experience and knowledge of running girls programs. When I met her I was so touched by her story and I was so moved to give her a job with hope she would transform and help other survivors. Little did I know her post traumatic disorder had reached such levels it could not be dealt with even by offering her a job to deal with others survivors. What followed her appointment was horror. She influenced all other employees to be disobedient. She shared all financial documents of the charity and often exaggerated to press . She did not submit reports and any training you sent her to she was not willing and able to do it in order to improve. For years I was mentally tortured by her bully behavior and she caused confusion and pain to everyone. Firing her was not easy under the labour laws and many times she was called for disciplinary hearing and even became worse. The next thing she did was to seize a charity vehicle and make false labour claims and she won the case without the charity being aware. She wrote to false letters to all donors and they had no choice but to listen to her. Even though she had not been to work for six months she is the one who came for an evaluation and voiced out her lies at a time when I was in exile. I have learnt to have boundaries between who is a professional and who is a client. Wrong recruitment can result in chaos and only if I was not truthful to what I do and standing to truth this woman was so determined to bring down the whole charity I started. Today I learnt that in dealing with anyone at work just make sure you document everything to avoid such unprofessional people taking advantage of situations or using their government links to destroy you. Even if she won the labour court I managed to write the whole story with truth and accuracy because I am good at documenting and so I exposed her underhand work in my autobiography. There are times when things go to extremes and so my advice is that always document your work, contracts, agreements and just every action you take because some people win by using false statements against you.
Dealing With Doubt | Self-doubt is something I dealt with single handedly as a girl. I was confident that I had the brains and capability to achieve academically and I stood by self-belief. Even with the worst insults on my physical appearance especially my faulty teeth which I failed to have fixed as a child due to poverty I kept opening my mouth to speak until people embraced their naturalness. I accepted myself as I am and embraced how unique and natural everything on me was.
But of course issues on fear and negativity are issues I had to deal with. I recall receiving death threats on my phone and at many times being forced to pay life safety fee in Zimbabwe so that I could be allowed to continue with my work and livewithout being harassed by the Zimbabwe secret service. What made me most fearful was the insecurity and the physical threats on my life and they became more. To be frank after listening to many stories about Zimbabwe Secret Services I just got so terrified and lived like a prisoner in Zimbabwe. The day the Law and Enforcement Order took me to police in 2007 and spent days interrogating me over political issues is the day I feared working in my country of birth. I could not understand why someone like me would think of replacing a life President let alone turning my charity into a political party. To be honest the interrogation over false accusations made me afraid. I had never been so insecure in my life and it was for the first time. I kept asking myself why the biggest Intelligence of a country could be so well misinformed. This is when I realized that someone was an infiltrator in the charity. I did not want to be a dead hero at all. I wanted to live and save girls lives and so I decided to go into self-imposed exile and to another country where I could fear less and allow my vision and passion to be. When I feel place, space, choice and voice is threatened, I find a safer place to do my work. There are many situations that can stop what we do but my intuition knows when, why and how to move from a place of danger to a place of safety. Right now in UK I keep doing my work and I keep helping girls in Africa but I feel very safe. Not a day have my documents seized or I have been falsely accused and thrown into jail. My freedom is something I value. My life is granted only once and I take full responsibility to be heroic but remain safe.
Performing At My Peak | I always believe that working informally and without bureaucracy and where I supervise myself and take responsibility of everything I do is the best. I also believe in team building and working with a team that has the same passion and drive. I always choose to be in circles of compassion where everyone is supported and they support each other.
Resources I Use | I have studied English Literature, African Literature, American Literature and Shona Literature and I must say every book I read greatly inspired me. I love all of William Shakespeare especially Macbeth because it relates to governance. I like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and I like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have read Tsitsi Dambarembwa, Nervous Conditions and Spiwe Harper Footprints in the Mist and also Tantra Zawadi, Bubbles. I love movies like Iron Lady, Diana and the Queen. I love every movie where Nicole Kidmann features. She is an actress with a vision. Any film with royals in it I am a big fan because I have royal blood too. I love music from Rebecca Furgeson, Pah Chihera from Zimbabwe, Leona Louise, Don Williams and all country music. I love gospel music and I am fan of Lloyd Tvedzai. I also need to say I am also featured in the documentary Tapestries of Hope. I love Demetria Karonga who is main subject in excerpt of my book called Never again. I love watching Princess Arize show on Ben Television by Princess Deun Adodyin Solarin. I love to live in rural settings because it is less populated and gives me some quiet and some great traditions in food and dance. The people I love to meet are those who are ordinary but doing some extra ordinary work like Founder of Inspired Khaya Women`s Conference Vonayi Nyamazana based in UK, Pauline Long who Founder of BEFTA which is largest award giving organisation for Black and and Ethnic Minorities in UK. I spend my time in women`s empowerment conferences.
My Dreams And Ambitions | I dream of taking a high position at United Nations one day. I have started working towards strengthening my knowledge as a gender based violence expert with Preventing Sexual Violence started by UK Foreign Office. Of course I will keep my charity as work of passion but I want a position that will give me an opportunity to inform and implement policy and a position that will use my skills and experience to end poverty and violence on women and girls. I have a dream to build the first ever Girls Empowerment and Education Fund to assist girls at risk and those who are in difficult situations. My goal is to save as many lives of girls as I can.
The organisation has so many requests for a global service to rehabilitate rape survivors, build more girls empowerment clubs and train girls to be confident, link girls to resources and the need for girls breaking silence on the abuse they are going through has trebled. At the moment the statistics has given us a global picture that what girls face was not unique to Zimbabwe. Abuse of girls has claimed lives and it is one of those silent global genocides whose magnitude has gone beyond comprehension. Girls as young as 8 years are being married in many parts of Africa and the world. The global crisis on girls is just like that caused by a wide scale Tsunami or earth quake. Whereas an alarm can be done in such situations, you will find with girls it is often silenced about.
You will find out that this era women have been open in sharing their stories and this has greatly inspired girls to do the same. There are many books I have helped launched with inspiring women`s stories. Social media like Facebook has changed traditional ways of police stations being places where people open up. I receive at least 10 cases of girl child abuse in my inbox only. Whatsup, twitter and many other social media have opened spaces and no wonder we are rolling out training on girl child abuse reported via social media. Yes cases are reported to police as per tradition but many girls know that such cases get stuck and so they are passed on to social media activists like us.
Inspiring Others | I have developed a brand taken from my royal title Muzvare. So far I launched my autobiography and did something I feel will live in history. We had a royal night where everyone came in their best. There was positive energy in the room. After that we made a movie overnight and it now a movie about us all everyone bringing their powerful story. People who came to my event thought it was going to be about me but a surprise from my film shows it is about us. In addition I write poems about all great people I meet and during their events I recite poems of how great they are. It keeps everyone in rhythm of their greatness as opposed to daily negativity they bring. On 5 April 2014 I am launching my third book of poetry bringing out greatness in everyone I met in my life.
My Family | I am married to a gentleman who I love and I keep him in my heart. I have all sons and I wait one day to have daughters in love and not daughters in law.
The Legacy I Want To Leave | I want the world to remember that I am the girl vendor who survived rape and poverty and was bold enough to start a charity that changed girls lives in simplest of actions. Through my book, Never Again, not to any woman or girl again, I leave over a million inspirational thoughts any woman and girl can inherit on courage, confidence and perseverance. I leave inspiration and the world inspired. All that I want to achieve for other girls and myself is mission accomplished and I pass on the legacy to many other girls. What we can do with passion and not money is so much. I am happy to have my royal title Muzvare and I leave a great legacy to have passed on the royal title to every girl and woman I meet.