community builders:with Takemore Mazuruse
She is only 27, but her clarity of intent and the strides she has made to date speaks of a new generation thinker whose footprints will for a long time be etched in the human development sector history books.
Born Emelda Vhiriri (pictured below) in Harare, the young doer had a difficult upbringing punctuated by her parents’ divorce and she says at one time they had to move into a shelter as life became difficult.
The challenging background has moulded her into the strong and resilient woman she is today and it’s no surprise that at that age she wears many influential hats and deservedly so.
Vhiriri is the founding director of Cultiv8 Africa, an organisation she founded to advance her women empowerment interest. She is also the chairperson of Young Women’s Forum (WCoZ), co-chairs the Southern African Youth Forum (SAYoF) and is also an author of the book From One Invaluable Woman to Another.
“I can safely say I wear many hats, but simply put, I am a believer who cultivates lives, one person at a time. I am a transformational leader who believes that when you do not have a seat at the table, you bring a folding chair,” Vhiriri said.
She has also embraced the power of education in her pursuit of success and the desired resultant edification of her peers and the less disadvantaged of community.
“I am a developmental practitioner with a unique background in psychology, youth development, gender and women empowerment,” she said.
“I hold an Honours Degree in Psychology and a Masters in Developmental Studies with the Women’s University in Africa.
“I am the founding director of Cultiv8 Africa, acting director (ROOTS), chairperson of the Young Women’s Forum for the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe and co-chair Southern African Youth Forum Zimbabwe. Apart from developmental work, I am an author, transformational speaker and minister at Life and Liberty Churches in Zimbabwe.”
Following the divorce of her parents, Vhiriri and her mum moved from one place to another and they ended up in a shelter at some point. Those difficult circumstances did not deter her, but further moulded her resolve and quest for conquest.
“I was mainly raised by my mom, who then passed on when I was 12 years old, and then I was raised by my siblings with the help of my aunt who became my foster mom,” she said.
“All of that led me to a point of recognising the power that lies within women and the need for societies to acknowledge their capabilities while also removing the barriers to their progress and eliminating any forms of abuse against them.
“My approach is that there is more to life than just me, myself and I, due to the support that I received as I grew up, therefore I also want to give back and pay it forward. My experiences led me to women empowerment and youth development, which I sum up and call cultivation of people.”
As she continues with her community development work, Vhiriri also shared the value addition she derives from the amazing people around her and she revealed that the love and support structure keeps her going.
“The idea of family is of great importance to me and I am really grateful for their love and support. I have five sisters and one brother. Both my parents are late now, but I can safely say, regardless of the ups and downs, I had the most amazing, God-given parents,” she said.
“In my early years, as I mentioned, I was raised by my mom, but I am also happy that in my young adulthood. I reconnected with my dad and had a relationship with him before he passed away this year. I am also engaged to a supportive God-man, there is a difference between a good-man and a God-man, an explanation for another time. Having sisters, a brother, a fiancé and extended family has been pivotal in my life because for me to stand, it has been because of them.”
Through her organisation Cultiv8, Vhiriri’s current focus is on women empowerment and she is highly encouraged with her milestones to date and hopes she will reach out to many as her influence and programme reach increases.
“Youth development and women empowerment are my focus and I carry out projects through my organisation, Cultiv8 Africa, while my participation in the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe also creates other avenues for community development,” she said.
“Some of my milestones include being a recipient of the 2018 Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Zimbabwe (TOYP) Award, participating in the Agenda 2063 conversations at African Union level through the Young African Thinkers’ Forum, being elected chairperson of the Young Women’s Forum and also co-chair of the Southern African Youth Forum Zimbabwe board.”
The young leader, however, revealed that there were many challenges in her quest for social and economic emancipation of the marginalised.
“It is not easy working with and through people. Some of my challenges have been mostly in the re-defining of norms and stereotypes that limit and oppress women where there has been great resistance,” she said.
“I, therefore, recommend that individuals, especially men, must understand that gender equality issues are more than what they are perceived to be. They are also economic issues.
“Other challenges have been in financial support to expand the youth development programmes we carry out and especially those that seek to address discrimination against youths with disabilities and it is my hope that we get increased access to alternative financing including corporate and government support.”
The Cultiv8 director is also an alumni of the Barack Obama-founded Young African Leaders’ Initiative (Yali) and various other respectable institutions and organisations and she revealed that being part of such has helped shape her approach to development work.
“With Yali, I completed my course in Civic Leadership and that in itself was an enriching process. Yali has exposed me to a diverse pool of like-minded leaders who share ideas and sharpen each other,” she said.
“I am also affiliated to the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, SAYoF, Young African Thinkers and this has helped me appreciate that age indeed is just a number and also female is nothing but biology. There is so much that I can do as a young woman towards attaining the Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063 milestones as well as advancing other important developmental national policies.”
While she has already made a difference in her community and the lives of those she has interacted with, Vhiriri believes she is work in progress and the world is yet to see her best in as far as human service is concerned.
“With Cultiv8 Africa, I seek to establish the first ever Generational Sustainability Hub that is inclusive. One that teaches the values of innovation, conservation and participation, while improving youth access to information, resources, youth-friendly SRHR services and mental health services,” she said.
“This centre will transform youths, one person at a time. I also seek to write more books in line with developmental work and also to invest more in the mentorship of young women leaders.”
The passionate community builder also spoke on the need to empower the new generation so that they are equipped enough for tomorrow’s challenges.
“I strongly believe that sustainability speaks to the need to sow seeds for the future; generally being conscious of generations to come. For successful sustainable development there is the need to intentionally invest in the leaders of today, but most importantly those of tomorrow,” she said.
“There has been enough highlighting of how good we are on paper but with less of the implementation, this too needs to be addressed and individuals need to walk the talk. Let us move from conferences to beyond conferences and have more of action.”
As her parting shot, Vhiriri, who draws inspiration from the Creator, other celebrated female doers and her mentors called on fellow Zimbabweans to remain steadfast and not to lose heart even amidst the challenges. .
“Yes, we are in difficult times, but our future and approach should be summed in three words: “We Will Rise”, she said.
“I believe that as Zimbabweans, although it seems otherwise, we will become the head again, we will be the breadbasket again.
“Each and every one of us has a role to play, but together we will go far. Let us join hands and maximise on each other’s strengths and our story will change.”