community builders:with Takemore Mazuruse
The wise posit that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and this ideal has worked well for women empowerment enthusiast and Talia Women’s Network founder and MD Saliwe Mutetwa Zakariya, who had to weather the most difficult stages in life in her quest for women emancipation and self-actualisation.
A married mother of two whose occupation is empowering marginalised and disadvantaged women with leadership and survival skills through her organisation, Zakariya believes she is living her calling and owes her success to the Creator.
“I have lived through the worst moments in life and I really know what it means to lack. It was actually during those low moments of life that I made a vow to God that if He was to take me out of my predicament, I would dedicate my life to empowering other women,” Zakariya said.
Zakariya, an accomplished development worker, remembers the agony she had to endure when she lost her job with one of the international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), while her husband, then working as a banker, also got his contract terminated.
“That was a double blow and life got really bad. It was during the 2007 to 2008 difficult era when my contract with an NGO I was working for ended. My husband had left his job in the banking sector and we were both jobless and could not afford rentals,” she said.
“We were living in a dilapidated house in Mt Pleasant with broken windows, no water and no electricity. Our neighbours, out of pity, would drop a hosepipe over the walls for us to get water for family use.”
That sad experience, according to Zakariya, was a time to reflect on her life and she never lost hope even though she wasn’t sure where her next meal would come from.
“I would walk to Celebration Church in Borrowdale and again back all the way to town. Prayer deeply moved us to a position where we said if God was to take us out of that situation, whatever blessing we get we would use to impact other lives,” Zakariya said.
As fate would have it, God answered her prayers and in 2009 she got a job with Boost Fellowship where she rose through the ranks from programmes officer to country director.
“When I got the job, I told myself that God had answered my prayer and to honour my pledge to Him, I registered Talia Women’s Network in 2009 though operations only started in 2012 when I left the organisation,” she said.
A former student of St David’s Bonda Girls High, Mutetwa Zakariya believes the six years she spent at the all-girls school helped her appreciate women’s problems better.
“My experience at a girls’ high school opened my eyes to various women-related problems thanks to what I would witness as well as various accounts from fellow students,” she said.
“In 2012 my husband, who was in agriculture, was running a programme called Food for Life where they brought disadvantaged young people to stay at Kushinga-Phikelela. I, however, felt they overlooked the needs of women since there was no consideration for basics like women’s sanitation,” she said.
Zakariya gave an account of how she would go to Kushinga-Phikelela with pads to give girls using her own funds.
“My visit to that place then helped me realise that it was not just about providing sanitary pads, but building confidence, grooming and self-esteem. Some of the girls did not even have toothbrushes and this gave rise to the hygiene pack idea composed of sanitation needs which we have now embraced at Talia,” she said.
The initiative ran for five years targeting various identified vulnerable communities until 2017 when she briefly joined International Youth Foundation.
“2017 was a busy year searching for the next job and sending out applications, but nothing came and I began doubting myself and my skills. Unbeknown to me and in accordance with my service to other pledges, God was nudging me to work on Talia full-time,” she said.
“I then decided to launch Talia Women’s Network full-time and it’s a passion for girls and women in accordance with my community service promise to God.”
Talia Women’s Network has conducted various women empowerment trainings boosting their confidence and empowering them with life skills in a generally challenging environment.
“With Talia Women, we have running programmes in margainalised communities as well as those in the cities like Harare where patriarchy and other societal ills have limited women’s potential,” she said.
“Our programme focuses on women’s rights, advocacy and lobbying as well as life skills so that beyond awareness, we also help women to become self-sustainable. We are happy with our strides and we will continue reaching out.”
For someone whose father wanted her to become a doctor, Zakariya, who recently won a Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Women in Enterprise award under the Corporate Social Responsibility category, believes she is duty-bound to serve others.
“Looking back over the past two years, Talia has had a big impact on women. We have the Young Women Leadership Development Programme (YWLDP) and so far, we have had two cohorts trained with focus on entrepreneurial ventures, while some are now in respectable jobs and living confident morally astute lives in a world rampant with moral decay,” she said.
Talia is also running economic empowerment programmes in Mashonaland Central province’s Ruya area in Mt Darwin covering areas like Masembura, Mashambanhaka and Musarara. These have groups of women involved in agriculture technical training, skills training and entrepreneurial ventures inorder to earn an income.
Projects covered include poultry production and horticulture commodities, which are doing well.
“Through Talia, we have been able to celebrate Women’s International Day and have held health and wellness expos in Warren Park, Harare, speaking on issues such as gender-based violence, cancer, non-communicable diseases as well inheritance issues,” she said.
Thanks to support from various partners like Stanbic Bank and Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Talia Women’s Network has received great feedback from clients who had no access to health care because of health costs thanks to their free medical consultation services.
They have also been able to get more partners and had the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief coming on board this year, which demonstrates growth and greater impact.
“We are hoping to continue exploring avenues for growth and we recently travelled to Kampala in Uganda, where we got trained and certified in the Street Business School (SBS), an affiliate for an American organisation,” she said.
“Our hope is to be able to train coaches and we want to secure funding for this curriculum so that we cascade the knowledge for improved livelihoods. Trends show that the results are amazing in Eastern and Western Africa with an 80% success rate.”
The Talia Women’s boss, who is married to Paul Zakariya and blessed with two beautiful children, namely Tariro and Yaniv, reckons she is work in progress and will continue pushing her vision until it illuminates the whole of Zimbabwe and indeed the world.
“I strongly believe I am called for this reason and I thank God for the support and inspiration from my loving husband and beautiful children. We have been through a lot together and I believe God will continue using us for greater good,” she said.