A woman who has been described as living proof of the power of dreams and the potential of education to break the cycle of poverty will be a guest speaker at the third annual International Festival on Saturday, Oct. 12, in Davis.
When she was a young woman living in a rural Zimbabwe village without running water or electricity, Tererai Trent wrote down her dream of an education and buried the scrap of paper under a rock in the pasture where she used to herd cattle. She will speak about turning that dream into a reality at 5 p.m. at the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St.
Admission to the festival, which runs from noon to 6 p.m., is free.
Trent also is highlighted in this year’s selection for the UC Davis Campus Community Book Project, which is “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof. Both Trent and Kristof will be speaking at the Mondavi Center on Monday, Jan. 13, at 4 p.m.
Without a high school diploma, and with only her mother’s encouragement, Trent managed to overcome her limited upbringing.
“I remember very well my father pointing to my brothers and the other boys in the village and saying: ‘These are the breadwinners of tomorrow. We need to educate them. We need to send them to school. The girls will get married,’ ” she said. “And that was just a painful experience for me.”
She secretly did her brother’s homework. “I learned to read and write from my brother’s books,” she said. When her secret was exposed, the teacher begged her father to let her learn.
Trent attended only two school terms before she was forced to marry at age 11. By age 18, she was the mother of three.
“When my husband realized that I wanted to have an education, he would beat me,” she says. “I have nightmares of that time of my life.”
In 1991, a visitor changed Trent’s life forever. Jo Luck, from Heifer International, asked the village women about their dreams —something many of them didn’t know they were allowed to have.
“I remember very clearly saying: ‘My name is Tererai, and I want to go to America to have an education, and I want to have a BS degree. I want to have a master’s, and I want to have a Ph.D.,’ ” she says. “And she just looked at me, ‘If you desire those things, it is achievable.’
“As a woman without an education, life will continue to be a burden,” she wrote. “I truly believe in these dreams, and I hope one day to work for the causes of women and girls in poverty.”
Trent not only broke the cycle, she shattered it. In 1998, she moved to Oklahoma with her husband and now five children. Just three years later, she earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education. In 2003, the same year her husband was deported for abuse, she obtained her master’s degree.
After every achievement, Trent returned home to Zimbabwe, unearthed her tin of dreams and checked off each goal she accomplished, one by one. In December 2009, the now happily remarried Trent realized her greatest dream of all — a doctoral degree.
This role model from Zimbabwe came to the attention of another woman from Zimbabwe, Nathalie Minya, who lives in Davis and is the force behind the popular international fashion show at the Oct. 12 festival hosted by International House, Davis.
“I wanted her to come to the International Festival and speak so people can be aware of how hard it is for people from Zimbabwe and Africa and around the world to get an education,” Minya said. “She can be an inspiration to school kids in the U.S. and Davis — it is a privilege to be able to go to school and it is a privilege for Davis to host this world-renowned humanitarian.”
Today, Trent is a symbol of hope in her village. On a trip home in 2009, she and her mother encouraged a new generation of girls to dream, giving them pens, paper and tiny metal tins in which to put their paper dreams.
“It makes me feel happy, but at the same time, it makes me feel empty that there are more women who could have the same opportunity but they are not getting it,” Trent said. “My story is not about me, but it’s about what can come out of my story.”
Trent earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from Oklahoma State University and UC Berkeley and earned her doctorate in interdisciplinary evaluation from Western Michigan University. As a fellow with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies in the UC San Francisco department of medicine, she is involved in HIV prevention research in sub-Saharan Africa, with a special focus on women and girls. She lives in Salinas.
Trent created a nonprofit foundation called Tinogona, which means “it is achievable.” Through partnerships with Save the Children and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation —she has appeared on “Oprah” twice — she helped rebuild the Matau Primary School in her home village and improved educational opportunities for thousands of children.
She is continuing to focus on education in Zimbabwe. For more information, go to www.tinogona.org.
— Elisabeth Sherwin is executive director of the International House, which is sponsoring the International Festival on Oct. 12.