A story to inspire all of us

Tererai Trent on Oprah Winfrey show

Tererai Trent on Oprah Winfrey show

‘When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dreams.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘Any time anyone tells you that a dream is impossible, any time you’re discouraged by impossible challenges, just mutter this mantra: Tererai Trent.’ — Nicholas D. Kristof

‘My personal story is not about me. I think my story personalises the possibilities Heifer International offers to women and girls who are struggling to achieve equality and social justice.’ — Tererai Trent

Tererai Trent (pronounced TEH-reh-rye) was married off at the age of 11 to a man who regularly beat her, had less than a year of formal education (her father thought education was wasted on girls). Hardly the most auspicious start in life. Sadly the tale of many women in rural Africa. When Heifer International visited her village in Zimbabwe and asked what were her dreams, she wrote them down on a sheet of paper: study abroad, obtain a degree, a master’s degree, then a PhD. Most unlikely goals for a semi-literate African women, equally surprising that these gaols should enter her head, that she was even aware of a master’s degrees or doctorate.

What Tererai Trent found hard to believe was that the head of Heifer International Jo Luck had come to her village and was prepared to sit down in the dirt with them and ask them to express their dreams.

She went to work for Heifer and several Christian organisations as a community organiser. She saved every penny she could, undertook correspondence courses.

In 1998 she was accepted into Oklahoma State University, but she insisted on taking her five children with her. She feared that if she left them behind her husband would marry them off. Her husband would only agree to her taking them with her if he came too.

Heifer pitched in with funding, her mother sold a cow, friends and neighbours helped. She managed to raise $4,000 and set of to the US with kids and unwanted husband in tow.

An impossible dream come true, but the dream turned into a nightmare. She had no money, mouths to feed and a bone idle husband who refused to work but regularly beat her.

With no money they were forced to eat out of trash cans. She worked all hours to try and earn enough money to get by. The crunch came when behind with her fees she was facing expulsion from the university.

Luckily for her the local community and church stepped in to help her. She was found low cost housing. A sympathetic Wal-Mart employee would give her the nod and leave past sell-by-date food for her to pick up. Her violent husband was kicked out of the Sates and deported back to Zimbabwe.

Working all hours, she managed to get her degree on education in agriculture, then whilst she was working on her master’s degree, her husband returned from Zimbabwe dying of AIDS. Feeling sorry for him, she took him back and looked after him until he died.

She has now completed her dissertation on AIDS prevention in Africa for her PhD at Western Michigan University, whilst at the same time working as a programme evaluator for Heifer.

Next month she will be awarded her PhD. Finally she will be able to tick of the last item on her list, and yes, she still has the sheet of paper on which she had written her dreams. The list she had placed in a tin and buried in the ground. She would return, unearth her tin box and tick off her dreams one by one. She is now encouraging other girls to do the same, write out your dreams, bury then in a tin box so that they are not forgotten, then as your realise your dreams, return to your tin box, unearth it and tick off your dreams.

How many people are told their dreams are unrealistic, to forget them?

Tererai Trent is now the Deputy Director for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at Heifer International.

Maybe she is the exception not the rule.

In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus established the Grameen Bank. He knew nothing about banking, but he did not let that stop him. He lent small amounts of money to people who needed it. People who commercial banks would not lend to. The only criteria was that they needed the money and the community would stand as guarantors. But only to the women as the men could not be trusted with the money.

The attitude Muhammad Yunus takes is if you can survive in the Third World on less than $1 a day, then you have amazing entrepreneurial skills. All you need is a little seed capital to succeed. And his faith in people has been justly rewarded.

I went to a very rough school. The people I used to know then are either dead or in prison. It was the sort of school where you carried a knife and knew how to us it. You were dumped into shit jobs. You were brainwashed into taking shit jobs. When asked what I wanted to do I said go to university. I was laughed at. But I proved them wrong.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a modern fable. Santiago an Andalusian shepherd boy decides to follow his dream. He sells his sheep, with gold in his pocket, he travels across to Morocco. But tragedy befalls him on his very first day. He allows a stranger he trusts to run off with all his money, leaving him with nothing. The day before he had been a shepherd with a flock of sheep, that morning he had gold in his purse. Now he is left penniless in a strange and foreign land. Most people would have given up. Santiago sits crying in the square, but then he picks himself up, and thinks to himself, well I always wanted adventure and this is the start of a great adventure.

The universe conspires to help us realise our dreams. Santiago learnt to read the symbols, the language of the Soul of the World.

How many of us follow our dreams? How many of us bemoan our fate? The difference is there are those who grasp the opportunities life offers us, those who do not.

I am often called upon to help the less fortunate in life. I will help them to get back on their feet, but if it is tea and sympathy they are looking for, then they have come to the wrong person. For what I find in nearly all cases is that it is not that Fate has dealt them a bad hand as they would like everyone to believe, it is because they have failed to grasp the opportunities life has given them. Even when you give them a helping hand and point them in the right direction, rather than heed the advice given and help themselves, they would rather expend the effort on bemoaning how hard done by they are.

Next time someone bemoans their hard life and tries to tell you their hard luck story, tell them the story of Tererai Trent, hand them a copy of The Alchemist and suggest that they read it.

Special thanks to Paulo Coelho and Jane Stewart for drawing to my attention the story of Tererai Trent and Priya Sher for pointing me to the article on luck. And for my lovely friend Claire from Zimbabwe who was impatient to read what I was writing.

See

Triumph of a Dreamer

Half the Sky

Hope in a Box

Creating a World Without Poverty

Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn

10,000 hours

The Alchemist

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3 Responses to “A story to inspire all of us”

  1. danceswithcrayons Says:

    Keith… I am thankful that we looked for, and found each other. On the same day, at the same time.

    Thank you for being my friend. Love and appreciation you, Paulo, friends – to Tererai, Muhammad Yunus, and the world of dreamers, earnestly in search of their treasure.

    If one lives to be amazed at the miracle of life, we will surely be more than that!

    A heart full of Love and gratitude to you Keith : )

  2. Triumph of a Dreamer « Dances With Crayons Blog Says:

    […] https://keithpp.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/a-story-to-inspire-all-of-us/ […]

  3. keithpp Says:

    Thanks Jane for your kind thoughts.

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