When one is passionate about development of their own surroundings and the communities beyond them, I call that utmost humanity.
But when that person is concerned about such, yet they still manage to run other businesses and projects as well as their own family, then that is a remarkable story to tell.
Born in Harare in 1984 to Ritah and Christopher Muchira, Beaulah Muchira-Nhongo is the first of three girls who was raised in the high density surburb of Highfields in Harare, attending Tsungayi Primary where her mother was a school teacher, and Nyameni Primary in Marondera. A self-confessed proud Monte Cassino High School alumni, Beaulah subsequently graduated from the University of Zimbabwe with a Bsc Honours Degree in Psychology.
The focused young woman consequently went on to attain a Masters in Development Studies from the University of the Free State in South Africa, a feat she says was not easy to achieve as she studied part time while working full time in a demanding job. “However, I had lots of support from my family, most notably my husband.”
Beaulah not only graduated cum laude (with distinction), but was also awarded the Dean’s medal for the top Masters Student for that year.
She advises, “When you attain an education, no one can ever take that away from you. And when I look back at my life thus far, I celebrate who I am now, not because of where I am going but because of how far I have come. I sit in a boardroom and speak to accomplished people, royalty, heads of state and government leaders; and heads of multilateral institutions such as the African Union and various United Nations Agencies, I look back at how a scrawny young Haifiridzi Township girl has so much to be proud of and to be thankful for.” But the journey has only just begun for the high achiever, who says her next focus is on attaining a PhD.
“Dr Muchira-Nhongo has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it!” she adds with a chuckle.
For over a decade, Beaulah has worked in the field of international development in various countries including her own Zimbabwe, Swaziland and currently South Africa where she is based. She explains, “International development advocates for issues such as equitable access to health care and education especially for vulnerable communities; poverty reduction; gender equality and a respect for human rights. I am passionate and committed to the work that I do because it brings about tangible change in people’s lives.”
Starting out her career in small NGOs, her focus was on access to information on HIV & AIDS, and sexual and reproductive rights for women. Beaulah volunteered for Skillshare International in Swaziland working on assisting women with breast cancer, then moved to South Africa where she volunteered for the British Council before joining the British High Commission in Pretoria as a Political Officer.
Now a Programme Manager for the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Southern Africa Regional Office in Pretoria, she explained how this role gives her the opportunity to implement and manage programmes that have a regional focus in the SADC region.
“My career has also enabled me to see the world and embrace diversity – I’ve travelled in the SADC region, and abroad to major cities such as London, Glasgow and Edinburgh in the UK; Boston, Phoenix, Minnesota and New Orleans in the United States; and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.”
The mother of two explains how she has faced challenges working as an expatriate in a system where being a foreigner hinders her progress in prospective jobs, access to financing from banks and other opportunities. “Sometimes you are told they will not recruit you because recruiting a foreigner is an ‘administrative burden’.
A social liberal at heart and an optimistic character despite such obstacles, Beaulah feels that economic development should not leave anyone behind. “In so many world economies, the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer. As human beings we have an obligation to do what we can to help the needy, so to do this as a career is to me the ultimate privilege.”
A feminist who believes in equality, Beaulah says, “I find that most people find that word intimidating but the way I see it, Gloria Steinem summed it up so well when she said “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Married for 6 years to Garikai Nhongo, the couple is blessed with two daughters, Ruvarashe Hannah and Chiedza Olivia – after whom she has named her thriving cake-making business, Hannah and Olive Cakes and Treats. “I firmly believe that we are the sum of our memories – it is the priceless moments with our loved ones that define who we are and give value to our human experience.”
But how does such a driven career woman also manage to run a successful cake baking business and yet also find time to manage her household? Beaulah says it’s no easy task.
“Baking and cake decorating is a true art and it takes a lot more time and effort than Buddy from Cake Boss makes it out to be! The best way to deal without going clinically insane is to plan and manage my time wisely – I do not take my DFID work home, and I try to do all my Hannah & Olive work after 8pm when my daughters go to bed. When I find myself still hunched over my cake board at midnight, what keeps me going is that I draw fulfillment from what I do.” Advising fellow entrepreneurs, she adds, “If you are going to be an entrepreneur on the side, find something you like doing. It makes it easier when the going gets tough!”
An avid bookworm who loves the “not the ‘serious, self-help or get rich this way’ kind of books but good ol’ fiction!” Beaulah owns over 500 books and is currently collecting the complete works of Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens and Stephen King.
Apart from her regular job and business Beaulah supports the Siyaphila Youth Literacy programme, a community based organisation that helps young girls and boys in Mamelodi, Pretoria with school work, mentorship and life skills activities. She explains, “This is through the annual Ladies Spring Affair event founded and run by the inimitable Tabitha Mautsa which brings women in Pretoria together.” She hopes to do more with this initiative as it brings together two issues close to her heart: empowering young girls and assisting them to get a good education.
Drawing inspiration from her mother, a primary school teacher who finally achieved her dream of attaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology a few years ago, Beaulah says she taught her the value of education. “I am simply the proudest daughter in the world! My mum also taught me to bake – a skill she was taught by her own mother; and which I hope to pass down to my girls as they grow up.”
Beaulah derives life lessons from other powerful women, “Two pieces of poetry by Maya Angelou resonate so strongly with me and I encourage all women to read “Still I rise” and “A Woman Should Have.”
Commenting on the impact of social media, she advises young kids, “Be wise about what you post on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts – those dodgy photos that you never remembered to take down. So often we forget that one day we will grow up and become ‘serious’ members of society. When that day comes, remember that your CV is not just the 2 paged document you send to HR!”
Not surprisingly, the ever determined Beaulah has quite a few words for fellow young people still trying to find their feet, “There is nothing you cannot do when you arm yourself with a solid education and an unshakable self-belief. That’s a very lethal combination because when other people see you believing in yourself, in a way it gives them permission to do the same!”