My name is Samantha Chidodo I am 21 years old. When I was 17 years old, I experienced child marriage. In this marriage I faced a lot of challenges and I started realizing that it was not working out. The man whom I was married to would tell me that he never loved me.

We started arguing a lot until I made the decision to go home to tell my parents that the marriage was not working. The husband was very abusive; he used to beat me, verbally and emotionally abuse me. He even used to criticise the way I look. I approached my grandparents first to be the mediator between me and my parents. My parents asked me what I wanted to do and I indicated that I wanted to go back to school. My parents made it clear to me that they were going prioritise my other siblings’ education first before me because I had distracted myself by getting married. They also said that if I decide to go back to school, there was no one who will be able to look after my child during the time I will be I attending school.  Whilst I was still struggling to find out how I would pursue my education, I heard about Rozaria Memorial Trust and how they support girls like me.

Championing Girls’ Rights in My Community - Nhanga
Samantha Chidodo – ©RMT/2021/Farirai Gumbonzvanda

Rozaria Memorial Trust started to support me with my school fees; they even supported me with stationery. The educational assistance I started to receive from RMT helped to ease conflicts and arguments between my parents and I. When I started receiving educational assistance, my father was left without any reason to argue against me going back to school as they initially thought they were going to use a lot of money to look after my child.

I was a person who was looked down upon even in my society people used to say a lot of things and I never imagined I would reach the stage that I am today (a first year law student). People used to say, “This girl was once married”. Rozaria Memorial Trust helped me heal through psycho-social support and counselling services. These counselling services helped the wound to heal and now I can stand for myself if people start reminding me of my marriage. I acknowledge that I have a child and I am also a human being and I am able to go to school. Now I am influencing other survivors of child marriage to go to school, to join the re-entry program which may change their lives. I managed to write my A’ level exams and I passed with 12 points. Now I am a first year law student. I truly appreciate Rozaria Memorial Trust partnering with ELMA Philanthropies and HIVOS for the support they gave me until now.

I am now spearheading Nhanga sessions in my community and I am game changer – my mission is to become a lawyer and fight for an end to child marriage and injustices against girls’ rights and wellbeing. I started my advocacy work in my community where I reside because cases of child marriage, teenage pregnancies and school dropouts due to SGBV are rife.

Thanks to the Gamechangers trainings conducted by Rozaria Memorial Trust, I am now conducting advocacy using my social media profile, I use my WhatsApp to post statuses about the importance of education because I am also an example to others because I went through it. I record videos and audios which I send to other girls and convey during Nhanga sessions. I started with the girls from my class and I established Nhanga. I used to talk about Sexual Health Reproductive Health Rights and teaching each other. As for boys we taught them not to laugh at girls if they spoil their clothes during their menstrual period. It usually happens in the lower grades though; I was just trying to make them see that it is common for ladies to spoil their clothes during menstruation and also taught girls ways to avoid spoiling their clothes.

At school we used to encourage each other as you know so many issues come from school such as the issue of girls who elope and start cohabitating with their boyfriends at a tender age. We had cases of 14 year olds and grade 7s students who eloped as well. I asked the girls on the way forward concerning these cases. The Advanced Level classes (lower six and upper six) suggested that these people should be given penalties and I shared with them about By-Laws which will be implemented by the Chief Bushu and Chief Nyamaropa. Now girls are able to report those cases. As a game changer I always get in touch with the Chief and his wife to discuss about the increasing rate of child marriages in our wards and the chiefs will assure that they will take action.

We also talk about Nhanga and our Nhanga is very exciting, now a lot of girls like Nhanga. It was really difficult in this place to start Nhanga but I thrived with the help of other girls who were committed. We taught each other about health, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights so that the girls will have more information and knowledge. We also motivated each other as girls in the Nhanga to be empowered and asked ourselves how we can be empowered.  Currently, we have a garden that was given to us by a community member; it has security fence as well as source of water. All girls from Nhanga got excited the day we were given the garden and started planning on what they were going to bring for gardening.

We suggested different types of crops to be planted in the garden; we will start our gardening this week. We also talked about entrepreneurship because we have young mothers in our Nhanga who are not doing anything. So among ourselves we suggested to contribute one dollar per person to buy refreshments and snacks to sell. We have young mothers who volunteered to sell the snacks so they will exchange them with beans and will have to sell the beans close to our Nhanga. We realized that it was more profitable to exchange snacks with beans than to sell them. We have also other girls who are showing their talents, we have girls who love soccer. We were blessed with a ball by Mr Mangana who was delighted with the way we conducted our Nhanga sessions. Now we have one Volley Ball. A certain individual from the community also promised to give us balls for soccer, netball, and handball so that it can be inclusive and everyone would be able to make a choice.

This is another form of support that we are getting from parents in the community who are happy with what is being done by the girls. Some are even appreciating the behavioural change they are noticing in their children, it is because we teach the topic about morals and we ask our moral values because young people in Shamva are often swayed by illegal gold panning activities and men who promise to alleviate their challenges. We have been able to reduce the rate of such cases because girls now know if we sell our beans we will have our own money and we have our own money in Nhanga. We encourage each other to leave the habit of dating these gold miners.

I have also approached the religious sector; because cases of child marriage are also rampant in certain religious sects in my country. I first approached Salvation Army church because it was the closest in my community. I first talked with their Pastor and the religious leader gave me the permission to talk with the youths. We talked about Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, Gender Based Violence as well as early child marriage. Young mothers in the church also shared that they were not aware of their sexual rights. When we started having discussions they realized that they have rights as women and as a girl child. The session was inclusive and it helped because everyone participated and gave their views both boys and girls. Boys gave their views as being the perpetrators and girls being the victims so that they can have a solution. Young mothers who were there suggested that they also wanted to participate in re-entry program like what I did.

I started sharing my story with them and was free as someone who has confidence and they were able to note where I am from and how I managed to do what was said to be impossible and they shared that they also wanted to go back to school. I once visited a certain church called Hamadza Mwari Apostolic Church and the church is almost the same with Johane Marange which perpetuates child marriage and because we talked about it they ended up liking the topic though at first they argued with me until we discussed about the cases of child marriages which made them to realize that child marriage is wrong. I am learning that advocacy is not always easy as we often face resistance from religious leaders however it’s important to always speak your truth and stand up for what you believe in. Now girls understand that they are special and they can do anything.

I appreciate Rozaria Memorial Trust and its partners for joining hands with traditional leaders like Chief Bushu and Chief Nyamaropa. The bylaws developed by Chief Bushu and Chief Nyamaropa are helping to save girls from risk of child marriage and the emphasis on girls’ education in their Chiefdoms is critical to eradicating child marriage and stopping girls from child abuse. Girls living in rural communities need opportunities for them to thrive. I am happy I was awarded with an opportunity to go back to school.