Last Friday, Family Scholar House participant Mechelle Artis accompanied Cathe Dykstra to the IdeaFestival to hear Dr. Tererai Trent speak. Dr. Trent is the founder of the Tinogona Foundation, which builds and repairs schools in Zimbabwe. Tinogona means “it is achievable” in Shona, and in hearing Dr. Trent speak, it became clear that “it” is “anything” – when you have passion and dedication and work very hard.
As a girl growing up in Zimbabwe, Dr. Trent did not know that education and independence were possible for her – she was married by age 11, and had three kids by the age of 18. Girls in her village were not allowed to attend school, but using her brother’s school books she had been able to teach herself some subjects. And, one day, a visitor to her village from Heifer International asked a group of girls, Trent among them, what they dreamed of. Realizing that education was a powerful tool that could offer her children a better future, Trent dreamed of getting an education.
She traveled from Zimbabwe to the U.S. for the opportunity to earn a GED and then a bachelor’s, master’s, and, finally, a Ph.D. – all while raising five children and working multiple jobs to support them. Trent was then able to travel back to Zimbabwe and other developing countries to empower women and girls to improve their standing in their communities by getting an education and gaining economic power.
However, it is not just in developing countries that education is critical to empowering women to achieve self-sufficiency and gender equality – and that there are many barriers to low-income mothers earning a college degree.
Even as a teen mom, Mechelle knew she needed a college education. She saw in her family the life that a lack of education, low-paying jobs and drug addiction could provide and knew she wanted more for herself and her son. But, as the first person in her family to attend college, and with little support from her family for her dream of earning a college degree and few financial resources, her achieving this goal was not certain.
Yet, Mechelle pursues her dream with grit and determination. She became a Family Scholar House resident two years ago and began her Freshman year at the University of Louisville. She is pursuing a degree in Justice Administration while juggling her responsibilities of being a single parent. After earning her undergraduate degree, Mechelle plans to attend law school and become a juvenile attorney. Mechelle’s brother was in the juvenile justice system, and she has been inspired to advocate for children, like her brother, who do not have a voice in the legal system.
While Mechelle has an innate desire to be successful and to pass along her appreciation of hard work and education to her son – and the support of Family Scholar House to overcome any barriers standing in her way – hearing the inspirational story of and getting to meet Dr. Trent only further stokes the fire within her. After the event, Mechelle reflected, “When Dr. Trent tells her story about how deeply she had wanted to obtain an education, you can tell through every word she spoke how driven and determined she was to make that dream come true. Dr. Trent is motivating young women across the globe that we too can ACHIEVE the impossible even when the odds are against us. For that reason, she inspires me to never give up, but yet to keep striving towards my goal and to make a difference in this world. Her journey was even harder than mine. She was not a native, and it took her ten years to receive her GED. If she did not give up, then why should I?”