For the most part, you seldom hear about a person who begins their advocacy work at the young age of nine, let alone founding a nonprofit by the time they become a teenager.
16-year-old Makanaka Chikowero isn’t most people.
“My advocacy work actually started in about fourth grade,” Chikowero said. “We were assigned to do a Lego project and we had to pay close attention to how women and girls were portrayed differently than men and boys.”
It wasn’t too long after that project where the Madison, Wisconsin resident, by way of Zimbabwe since the age of 2, was then brought to a conference in New York by the Rosario Memorial Trust. By the end of the conference, Chikowero’s discovery led her down the path she currently finds herself on.
“I learned how women and girls here were not necessarily treated the same in rural communities in Zimbabwe [as they are in the States],” Chikowero said.
“It really bothered me because here in the United States, I have been offered many opportunities and I can play sports of my choice while not being discriminated against. And so that led me to become a founder of the Memorial Trust Girls Club, where I led a group of about 10 girls to the United Nations Youth Conference yearly.”
The sub-group would learn about gender-based violence at the conference, leading them to donate school supplies as well as sports kits and equipment to girls in Zimbabwe. However, when Cyclone Idai ravaged through her home last year, Chikowero took the next step.
“That’s when I stepped up and created my own organization, which is called MTC Educate a Girl, inc,” Chikowero said.
The foundation focuses on providing mostly orphaned girls in rural Zimbabwe the opportunity to continue their education in addition to participating in a sport. The idea was inspired by one of Chikowero’s sports of choice: soccer. The foundation includes a community-based girls and womens soccer club called MTC Sirens FC.
Giving back to her home country became something Chikowero wanted to do as she got older, and her determination grew the more she learned about the different challenges girls face there when compared to the States.
“Learning about how girls in my home country could not do the same things that I did,” Chikowero said, “it made me wonder why. That could have been me who was not allowed to play sports, let alone go to school, because I am a girl.”
Chikowero admits that COVID has posed challenges working in tandem with a rural community back in Zimbabwe
“There’s, of course, a digital divide between me and the girls I’m working with,” Chikowero said. “And during this pandemic, it’s become even more difficult because they cannot gather in certain locations to connect with me.”
Through it all, Chikowero has always felt encouraged and she credits her incredible supporters for who she is today.
“I’m glad that I have those people who are a positive support system for me,” Chikowero said, “because without them, I would not be able to do half the things I’m doing right now on my own.”
When asked what she would like to say to these people, Chikowero’s message was clear.
“Thank you so much for all the support that you give me on a constant basis. I would not be the young woman I am today without your help, your support, and all the love that you continue to give me every single day.”
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