April 17th 2014
Tinashe Saka. She’s the co-founder of a successful non-profit, a skilled community organizer, and holds a Master’s degree in International Development. She’s educated, articulate, and passionate.
She’s also from Malawi, a country where less than 7% of girls finish high school and many are forced to marry before they reach age 16.
Tinashe grew up within a family that valued education. Her father was the first in her village to complete high school and her cousin was the first to graduate from college.
At age 11, Tinashe went to live with her cousin and her time with him transformed the way that she perceived education. She remembers that “he brought both men AND women into his home who were highly educated, who had traveled and studied all over the world. He taught me that you can be educated and can commit to using that to gift your community.”
In Malawi, high schools are tiered, with the government schools offering the highest quality education and community schools left to run with few resources. The better schools are highly selective and students who are denied admission are often subsequently barred from college.
Tinashe was rejected twice from the government schools and was forced to attend the one in her village where teachers were unreliable and textbooks were scarce.
Due to the poor education she received, she wasn’t ready for college upon graduating. At this point, many others would have opted for an easier path, a road not so marked with struggle and work and waiting.
For a year she worked as a teacher while studying to re-take her final examinations. She was accepted at the African Bible College, where she was exposed to new worlds of opportunities. It was there that she learned about an internship opportunity with UrbanPromise International in Camden, NJ, where a whole new chapter of her story was to be written.
Tinashe spent a year with the children of Camden, working in UrbanPromise’s AfterSchool programs and SummerCamps. She also built crucial skills in executive management, project development, effective communication, and servant leadership.
She worked with Bruce Main, founder and president of UrbanPromise, and was impressed by his commitment to Camden. She says she was struck by “this idea of living and working in the same community. It was huge for me to see Bruce live and work in his own village. UrbanPromise was more than a job-this was a giving up of your life to help change the way kids live and dream”.
A graduate of our entrepreneurial leadership program, Tinashe arrived with dreams and left with a vision. Our program meshes passion with practicality, providing promising young leaders with the opportunity to develop their ideas into viable proposals to be presented and funded by our Board of Directors.
After her year, she left Camden and made the journey back to Malawi to birth a new ministry in Madisi, a small village in a rural district outside the capital.
As the only youth-serving organization in the district, RiseMalawi reaches over 200 children through AfterSchool programs and SummerCamps. 80 students are enrolled in their high school, where they have access to skilled teachers, educational resources, and new opportunities.
Tinashe remembers that “In the beginning, we arrived as outsiders, and there were doubts. But now that we have students who have graduated, those students are serving as a model for the next generation.”
She believes in the importance of modeling the pursuit of audacious goals. She believes that the way to encourage girls to value education and explore new worlds is to lead by example.
As Tinashe says, “Who they see is who they dream to be.” As girls see women like Tinashe living and working among them, I am sure that the scope of her life, the battles she has fought and won, her tenacity and her strength will serve to broaden others’ beliefs about what is possible for the youth of Malawi.
Margaret Wooten, Director of Special Projects