Child prodigy shares a story of optimism and hope

She became the youngest university student in Africa when she enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe at the age of 14, and has gone on to be ranked in the top five of the Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. CLEMENCE MACHADU caught up with Maud Tanaka Chifamba.

Maud Chifamba – with patience and time, a mulberry leaf becomes silk.
Maud Chifamba – with patience and time, a mulberry leaf becomes silk.

Chifamba, born in 1997, lost her father in 2002 and her mother in 2011. She lives in Chegutu, in the care of her stepbrother. In 2007, despite her difficult circumstances, she was the best student in Midlands province, after gaining four units at grade seven. In 2012, she was accepted onto an honours degree course in accountancy at the University of Zimbabwe. She was just 14.

Last year, she was invited to give a speech in Rome about her experiences and the importance of good quality education and equal opportunities in the empowerment of women and girls. Already this year, she has received the GR8 Young Achiever Award at the GR8 Women Awards held in Dubai.

“In 2003, l began my first grade in our rural area. In 2005, during the mid-term exam for grade 3, l was mistakenly given a grade 4 test paper and I passed it,” says Chifamba. “The following term, l requested to sit for the grade 5 end of year exams and l was the highest. When I highlighted that I was attempting grade six, l faced resistance and discouragement from family and some teachers. But l managed to somehow convince them to believe in me and give me an opportunity; a chance to prove myself.

“I didn’t have the funds to go to secondary school so l studied on my own and, come 2009, l managed to pass all five subjects l sat for at ordinary level. In 2010, I enrolled for advanced level and got a sponsorship to cater for the tuition fees required later in August. I went to school and then, in 2011, I scoped 12 points, with which I managed to secure a place to study accountancy at the University of Zimbabwe.”

A bright future

Chifamba is aiming to achieve a doctorate in her field before she’s 25. After that, she hopes to use what she’s learnt in business.

“I intend to set up a scholarship fund, as a way of giving back to the community on a personal level, because I have had too much charity in my life,” she says. “The other reason for the scholarship is to help those who are academically gifted but whose bright future is at a risk of being darkened by their underpriviledged status, just as mine was.”

Chifamba says she chose accountancy because she has a passion for numbers and because of her background.

“The family I grew up in tried several times to have a small subsistence business but dismally failed. I suspected that they lacked accounting skills, so I committed myself to making those available to them. Now, though, it has grown much further than family need. Accounting has been a passion I’ve always had.”

Learning alongside students who are much older could have been difficult for Chifamba, but she says she’s taken the bad with the good.

“Ever since I was eight, I had to learn with people who were not my age. My classmates always treated me as a baby; some protecting me and others taking it as a chance to push me around. I have learnt to deal with that.”

And asked about what life has taught her so far, she is equally tolerant.

“Not everyone we expect to support us does so, including our families. But when faced with that, it’s best to have patience. With patience and time, a mulberry leaf becomes silk.

Overcoming challenges

“No matter how difficult the situation is, there is always a way out if we are prepared to pay the price and think outside the box. Hard work always pays off – and shirking hard work has its consequences too!”

Chifamba believes she’s already started to change perceptions – that only boys make excellent academics, for example, is something she’s proved to be wrong.

“As far as academic prowess is concerned, girls can do just as much as boys, or even better,” she says. “I have committed myself to helping underprivileged academics realise their full potential, fully aware that this must take more than just providing them with educational funds. I also hope to use my life story to give hope where it’s needed and motivate people.”

Asked if she feels that circumstances can hold people back from achieving their dreams, she says everyone has a choice.

“You can choose to let the circumstances hold you back, or actually let circumstances make you realise that you need to do something, thereby pushing you to change the status quo.

“The key to everything is belief, and you don’t need everyone else to believe in you or your cause – you alone is enough. If your mind can conceive and your heart can believe, then there is nothing stopping you from achieving iand being a successful someone in life. However, we have to be willing to pay the price – quoting a writer who said: “Heights reached and kept by great man and woman were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, kept toiling upwards during the night.”

Post published in: News
  1. peter nhemachena
  2. matara tererai

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