At the age of 58, most people would be counting their successes, failures and missed opportunities and the only thing left to do is to look after grandchildren.
However, for Shirley Sithole from Arcturus Mine, North East of Harare, turning 58 marked the beginning of a new journey in her life. A moment of recounting missed opportunities was all she needed to rejuvenate her energy and take on a new path that many never thought would be assailable especially for a person of her age.
In 2016, she sat for her grade seven examinations and attained 24 Units (Shona 4, English 5, Maths 7 and Content 8).
“When I was in grade six in the 1970s, my parents forced me to get married since they said I was old enough to be a wife. My dreams were shattered but there was nothing I could do as society had its prescribed route for the girl child, so I was supposed to drop out of school and get married,” narrated Gogo Sithole.
Asked on why she decided to sit for her Grade at the age of 58, the widowed mother of two said “there is an adult school organised by one of the teachers at the nearby school. So when I heard about the programme at the beginning of 2016, I asked myself, why not.
“I used to love school when I was young, so when I heard about this opportunity, I just gave it shot. I will tell you, that’s the best decision I have ever made. I felt reconnected with my past,” she said.
But how did Gogo Sithole juggle between her school work, house chores and keeping her nine months old grandchild.
“I would wake up at five in the morning and start my chores so that by seven I will be making porridge for my grandchild. So I had to make sure she has all she needs for the day as I would spend most of my time away from home doing menial jobs in town.
“Coming back home in the afternoon, I would prepare and leave for school from 3pm to 5pm. Sometimes, I would prepare supper for my children so that I can stay behind for extra studies. My teachers encouraged us to be serious with our school work so I took their advice which is why I managed to get better grades,” said Gogo Sithole.
Gogo Sithole has earned herself a hero status as her neighbours are stampeding to emulate what she has done.
One of her neighbours Amai Nyasha, said “When Gogo said she wanted to go back to school and seat for Grade seven, we took it for a joke. We just did not understand why at that age she would bother going back to school. We were all happy after we learnt of her success. She has inspired most old people in this community.
“I’m currently in the process of enrolling for the same programme that Gogo undertook and I’m looking forward to even do better,” said Amai Nyasha, who is also enrolling for her grade seven this year.
A local girl, Paida, Gogo Sithole’s classmate paid homage to the old lady saying she was touched by her determination.
“Some of my school mates would mock her, but Gogo never gave up and she worked even harder than some of us. So she taught me a lesson that I should never give up,” said Paida.
Ambuya Mutsa, Gogo Sithole’s friend said though she will not follow in her footsteps, she has learnt so many lessons that she will apply in her life.
“I have known Amai Proper (Gogo Sithole’s first son’s name) to be a hard-worker and I’m so happy with what she has achieved. We are of the same age, I dropped out of school when I was in Grade four but to be honest I cannot go back to school,” said Ambuya Mutsa.
However, the road to this achievement has not been rosy. In 1990 she tested positive for HIV/AIDS and it is during this time that there was little or no knowledge about the pandemic and there was no medication to treat her.
She faced discrimination from members of her own family.
“When I tested positive for HIV/AIDS, it was one of ff the most difficult moments of my life as I lost all hope of living. My family and friends abandoned me. They discriminated me and some of them said it was just a matter of time before I die,” she said with a smile on her face.
She has started a pig rearing project to raise funds to fend for her family
While secondary education is her next goal, she still believe that one day she will register for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Shona which she says is her favourite subject.