Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
WHEN the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) project was introduced to Zimbabwe in 2016, it brought an end to 10 years of suffering for an orphaned Bulawayo girl.
From being a disadvantaged child, Michelle Madamombe is now a businesswoman who has put herself through university and has established the Yashelle product range of detergents that include pine gel, floor polish, dish washing liquid and toilet cleaner.
The products are sold in leading supermarkets.
The DREAMS partnership was an ambitious public-private partnership aimed at reducing rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in the highest HIV burden countries like Zimbabwe.
For Michelle who was doing Form Four at Eveline Girls High School, DREAMS was that lifetime opportunity that she needed to change her storyline from grass to grace.
At the age of 6, she had lost both parents and together with her three siblings, they were taken in by different relatives as the extended family could not afford to fend for them while they were still in one household.
Life with her new family was not rosy as she soon found herself fending for other children that had become part of the family.
Neighbours and church often came to her rescue as they would regularly donate clothes and food for the child-headed family.
When the time came for her to go to secondary school, Eveline was the nearest and she enrolled without any hope that she would finish as her guardian was absent.
For the first three years, she became well known as that child who would miss school for days due to late payment of school fees or bus fare challenges.
Several times she was tempted to get herself “blessers” like her peers just to source money for toiletries, bus fare and food.
However, when the project was introduced, her teachers who were familiar with her situation were quick to second her that she be the very first member of the DREAMS social assertive building club.
“Before DREAMS I had to take care of my relative’s children as she was often absent and I became known for being the last child to pay school fees. Things were tough and we sometimes had no food which was stressful as I found myself wondering what would happen if I could get a sugar daddy just to have a decent life like other girls,” she said.
“DREAMS was introduced for vulnerable girls and it was agreed that I deserved the opportunity more than all the girls at school. My teachers, especially Mr Joubert Ngwenya and Mrs Takavinga were so supportive.
“We did a module on HIV prevention and I found myself teaching other children at school, I would even do presentations. We were also mentored to do money-generating projects and after doing poultry, it was agreed that the profit would go towards my school fees, bus fare and food since my situation was well known.”
Michelle said she finally got her confidence back as DREAMS took her to a place she never imagined was possible given her circumstances.
“Mr Ngwenya was very passionate about ensuring we had skills, he kept on telling us we should be economically independent as girls so that no one takes advantage of us. We got hairdressing skills as well but I fell in love with detergent making which I managed to master before I completed A-level,” she said.
After school, Michelle was stuck at home without fees for university and she decided to use her skills acquired at school.
As an empowered girl who was now financially literate, she had savings which she used to start making dish washing liquid.
Her friends, neighbours and church mates were her first customers and to her surprise she managed to sell every bottle without much effort.
After a few successes, Mr Ngwenya helped her register her business — Yashelle (Pvt) Ltd, which has been operational since 2019.
“Now that I was out of school, I wanted to remain independent and be able to buy pads, food and clothes without stressing anyone at home. By then one of my mentors had taken me into her home so I also had to help out, she was a civil servant taking care of me and her children. I also had a dream of going to university and that was enough motivation,” she said.
“I approached shops, hotels and schools with the help of my former teachers and managed to get a few deals. That year I also heard that DREAMS was looking for ambassadors who would continue empowering young women, I applied and was blessed enough to be accepted. I am a DREAMS ambassador mentor for the Zimbabwe Health Interventions, an opportunity which has afforded me a chance to travel to Geneva. It’s a dream come true for someone who came from nothing.”
Michelle got sponsorship through DREAMS and is enrolled at the National University of Science and Technology studying Applied Bio Technology.
“From then I have been selling hand sanitiser, pine gel, toilet cleaner and floor polish to shops and individuals. I also have two assistants to help me with production. Business has been doing well and I’m happy to say that I recently got an investor, a mine owner who will help get into mass production.
“From the time I established the business we were working from home but now we will soon move into the city centre so that we are visible. I am proud of how far I have come.”
Michelle said her wish is to live in a world where young girls and women are empowered to make money for themselves which will reduce their vulnerability thereby addressing new HIV infections.
“I yearn for a world where girls are safe and in a place where they can easily access sexual and reproductive health services. I also do a lot of HIV prevention work to inspire others to stay safe so that we all contribute to ending Aids.”
Speaking about Michelle recently, Eveline High School headmistress Mrs Sithabile Moyo said she was a shining beacon of what pupils at the school were doing, through numerous self-help projects under the supervision of Mr Ngwenya and Mrs Takavinga. — @thamamoe
Article Source: The Chronicle