As ACT marks United Way Week, we celebrated the spirit of giving with an incredible guest speaker to follow International Day of the Girl Child. Dr. Tererai Trent, a woman for whom “education is the only pathway out of poverty.” Dr. Trent, born in the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), was married with three children when, at the age of 18, a woman visited her village and asked her, “What are your dreams?”
“I had no idea, as a woman, I was supposed to have dreams,” Trent said, as she recounted her story at ACT. Girls in her country didn’t often go to school, they became early wives and mothers. A baton she said was handed to her from her mother and her grandmother before her. But Trent dreamed of changing that baton to one of education and ambition.
Dr. Trent had what she called, the “Great Hunger.” There’s a Little Hunger and a Great Hunger. The Little Hunger are the things you want now. The Great Hunger is the hunger for personal meaning, because, as she said, “when you don’t have purpose, you become bitter, you try to numb your pain.” For Trent, that Great Hunger was education.
It wasn’t easy, she told the audience at ACT. For eight years, she struggled to get her GED. She fought and failed, each time taking the test by hand, and mailing it off to have it graded. Until she eventually passed – and tackled her bigger dream of going to America, getting a Master’s degree, and eventually a Ph. D. But her mother challenged her further: “Your goals are not about your goals, your goals must be tied to the greater good.” And with that, Dr. Trent aimed to do more for the betterment of her community.
And do more she has. In 2011, Dr. Trent was declared Oprah Winfrey’s “favorite guest,” and during a segment on the show, was given a $1.5 million donation to build a school in her village. Not only has she built that first school, but 10 more schools, because as she says, “Women plow resources back into their families, into their communities. That’s why it’s so important to educate women as well as men.”
She told the team at ACT, “I salute you, people who see education as the most important thing in the world.” Dr. Trent, we salute you and your incredible passion for education!