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“One thing I dream of achieving is having someone say about me, ‘Because she believed in me and my dreams, I am here!’” said Shantel Marekera, a senior in Barrett Honors College majoring in justice studies.
Marekera has won a fellowship that will help her achieve her dream of helping others.
In October, Marekera attended the Igniting Innovations Summit at Harvard University, which unites students, academics, and leaders who are passionate about developing innovative solutions for today’s most pressing problems. The Resolution Project, an organization that seeks out and supports the efforts of socially responsible young leaders, partnered with the Innovations Summit to award fellowships.
The fellowship awarded to Marekera entails a $2,500 prize, seed funding, advisory support, access to resources that include trainings, professional development, materials and a network of other like-minded community driven students. She went through several rounds of online applications, and became a semi-finalist to present her project in a science-fair-like setting at the Igniting Innovations Summit on October 20.
Successfully proceeding to the finals for the competition, Marekera gave a quick, 5-minute presentation of her project to the judges on October 21, and answered questions for ten minutes. She was among students from Bates, Harvard and Smith who also won the fellowship.
With support from the fellowship, Marekera is launching the Little Dreamers Foundation in Harare, Zimbabwe to open a subsidized pre-school in an area called Glenview 8 for low-income children whose guardians cannot afford to send them to local pre-schools. The target student population for the school is children between the ages of four and eight, with a ratio of one boy to three girls. This will give low-income young girls access to education and help them discover their potential early.
“I care a lot about the empowerment of girls, so initially I wanted to create a preschool for girls only, “Marekera said. “But it's not allowed, so enrollment in the preschool will be in the ratio of one boy for every three girls. This is because families in Zimbabwe still are guided by the underlying values of patriarchy. When faced with such economic hardships, most families would prefer to send their boy child to school instead of the girl who they believe can just learn crafts such as sewing which do not require any education as she will get married soon anyway.”
“I am very passionate about the empowerment of the girl child. I believe that there is so much potential in the girl child and with the right mentorship, resources and efforts, girls can do so much more than the world ever expects,” she said.
The Little Dreamers Foundation also will help youngsters, especially girls, fulfill the Zimbabwean government’s mandate that children attend preschool before enrolling in primary school, Marekera said.
According to Marekera, the subsidized preschool will help young children avoid the domino effect caused by lack of access to preschool; if a child does not attend preschool, they essentially miss their chance of attending primary school, high school and college because they cannot be enrolled in a primary school without showing that they have graduated from preschool. In effect, they are finished before they even get started.
Glenview 8 is a high-density area and paying for preschool is a challenge for most parents, she said.
“In such high-density areas, guardians are self-employed low-income parents, stay at home grandmothers or older siblings who are not employed,” Marekera said. “Local preschools charge more than $70 a month, excluding groceries and stationery for each child. This places a huge financial strain on the local families who cannot afford these expenses to an extent that most young girls simply stay at home with no form of education whatsoever.”
The project will launch in early July 2018 with a cohort of 12 children. It will be a grassroots effort involving local government, churches, and community members.
Marekera said two other ASU students, Ntombizodwa Makuyana and Lavender Phiri, have recently joined the project. In Zimbabwe, students at local universities, Chishamiso Tinorwirashe, Luann May Gwanzura and Tanyaradzwa Chauruka, also will be part of the team.
“I am where I am today because some people believed in me,” Marekera said, citing the support she has received from the United States Achievers Program, MasterCard Foundation, the Resolution Project, and ASU, as well as her faith in God. “They believed in my dreams and aspirations and I want to be the person who believes in the dreams and talents of those children.”
Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism