The Bantani team interviewed Abigail Tatenda Chibebe, a high school teacher living in Belgium, as part of the case study conducted for the Women Learning Together project. The WLT, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, aims to empower women to map their ways towards economic inclusión through employment and self-employment.
Tatenda was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until 2011. She came to Belgium in 2011 on a family reunion visa, as her husband had moved to the country for a new job. Since then, she has lived in Belgium with her family.
By profession, Tatenda is trained as a high school teacher. She has huge commitment to and passion for the social development. In her career, she has worked with many organisations, such as Education International, GIZ, Oxfam GB and the Swedish Development Agency, to empower women, and raise awareness of sensitive issues, such as HIV and AIDs, gender-based violence, gender inequality in the workplace and many more. She was also a participant in a commission on the status of women convened by the United Nations.
Her main objective is to provide social support to women and children, enabling them to have greater agency and control over their lives.
Tatenda has bravely faced many obstacles, both in her personal and professional life.
She comes from a very conservative culture, where women are expected to take care of the children and family. On arriving in Belgium, she had no family support and had to deal with the challenges of motherhood alone. She completed her Advanced Master’s degree at KU Leuven with a one-month-old baby. It was not an easy journey for her, with no family or friends locally, no money to hire a nanny, dealing with cultural differences and language barriers. She could not get a job because of her inexperience in the local language, which she approached as a challenge to improve upon.
To overcome various challenges, she started to learn a new language and even today, she spends time every day on improving her language skills using online tools. She visits church regularly to practice her faith and develop her own personal community.
She is good at spotting opportunities. Noticing that there were a number of English-speaking women from Zimbabwe in need of similar support and help, she created a Facebook community group, ‘LOS (Ladies of the Schengen) Zimbabwe’ to reconnect them with other Zimbabwean women. With 1300 women in the group today, which she has built like a family, she has helped women to improve their social, cultural, educational circumstances and address their business needs.
Why did she start?
Tatenda takes inspiration from her parents and attributes all her success to them. As a child, she saw her mother leading communities of women, by organising clubs, like baking, sewing, cooking lessons, which gave women in the local community an opportunity to grow and develop their skills for employment or self-employment. Her father was a teacher and a cultural dance trainer. With dance, he would help communities to come together and to bring positive perspectives to their lives. Both her parents were very present in her life. She herself likes to dance and motivate people in the community with positivity.
Tatenda is a family-oriented person, but when it comes to her own aspirations, she finds her way to accomplish them. She believes that women have a capacity to re-boot and re-start many times in their lives. In her experience, while working with women, she saw that whenever a woman faces an unforeseen situation (such as divorce, relocation, losing partner etc.), they distance themselves from society. They are not trained to face such difficult situations in life. She believes that women must integrate into and create new lives for themselves. They can start by taking small steps such as learning a new language, taking a free online course in a subject of their interest, volunteering, networking using simple tools such as Facebook and WhatsApp. She believes that self-learning and networking should be an on-going process in every woman’s life, whether they are employed, selfemployed or a homemaker. This will support and empower them to make right and better choices in their life.
‘Life is like a wheel – today I am a fully supported woman, but we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Empower yourself today!’
Another useful tip that she wants to give to women is to volunteer in their local community. Volunteering is a very effective way not just to launch your career but also to learn a new skill and meet new people.
Tatenda is a strong, resilient, and inspiring woman. With her organising and planning skills, she is able to balance her social development work, employment and family. She has faced many obstacles both on a personal and professional front, but she has overcome them successfully with her willpower, passion and grit. Many women can draw professional and personal inspiration from her.