Michelle Sophie Mtandwa is a very energetic young woman from Zimbabwe who is passionate about change, and who operates with the shona mantra "Simba mukaka rinosinira" which means strength oozes. Michelle has a deep need to give back to the community especially to those that are disadvantaged, having had a tough childhood where she grew up in a child headed household and her community playing a key role in raising and nurturing her. This need has seen her implementing a project called Giving Back, an initiative she carries out every year on her birthday. She started this initiative in 2014 and has had the opportunity to impact a host of communities in various parts of Zimbabwe which include Bumhudzo old peoples home, Mathew Rusike Children's home, Mashambanzou Care Trust, Isheanesu center for disabled children and most recently Zhombwe primary school, donating food, clothes and sanitary wear.
Michelle hopes to have her project grow in leaps and bounds so that she can touch the lives of more people, and wishes in future to start her own nonprofit organization. She sees giving back as a way of fostering a spirit of what is known as Ubuntu, an African philosophy who principle tenant is “I am because you are”. Michelle believes that society can only move forward if we look out for one another and that the task is upon us as humanity to make sure that others are well taken care of.
I had the opportunity to sit down with her and had the following interview;
John: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Michelle?
Michelle: I am currently studying towards an Honors in Social Work at The Women’s University of Africa (WUA). I am also all over the place volunteering, I am currently volunteering with national blood services of Zimbabwe, as well as I am the national president of the pledge 25 Club Zimbabwe, which is a group of young people who pledge to donate at least 25 pints of safe blood before they reach the age of 30. I Also volunteer with GarlsRUs, which is concerned with the dignity of the girl child, they provide sanitary wear to keep disadvantaged girls in school. The volunteering list goes on.
John: What inspires you as an individual?
Michelle: I am inspired by the love of God. And individuals like Martin Luther King Jnr who were so selfless in wanting to make a difference. My environment also plays a part in inspiring me the most as there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
John: What made you want to start your charity project?
Michelle: I grew up in a child headed family and I succumbed to a lot of pressures and challenges. I went through a lot as a vulnerable girl and I vowed that I would not remain silent, that I would assist as many as I could. I would share my story, impact the community and empower the younger generation. The community I grew up in did a good job of raising me and nurtured in me a good heart. I therefore repay their kindness by giving back to the community.
John: How have your projects impacted the respective communities where you have implemented them?
Michelle: The events have not only impacted the society positively, where young girls are now sharing their stories and are now prepared to fight for their future. Young boys have also joined in lending a helping hand and fighting side by side with the girls. The old people do not feel excluded and are rejuvenated in knowing that they are still an important part of the community. My life has also been impacted as well. The good thing about spreading love is you receive love back, I have learnt a lot, I have changed the way I see things and I have learnt to appreciate every little thing, for everything matters.
John: What are some of the challenges you have faced, in trying to implement your project?
Michelle: Resources is the number one challenge and a major limiting factor. In most of the activities, I use some of my personal earnings and call for help from friends and family to assist but it is never enough. Another challenge is engaging already established organizations, as most of them neither don’t support nor act upon an issue brought about by an individual due to bureaucratic structures.
John: Any words of inspiration to young people out there who would like to engage in such worthwhile causes?
Michelle: I always say instead of you asking what the government/community is doing for you, ask yourself what are you doing for the government/community. In this regard you don’t wait upon anyone to bring about the change you want to see but instead you end up being the change.
Michelle highlighted in the interview that human dignity is something that we should all strive to safeguard. She is of the position that human dignity can be safeguarded in a host of ways, ranging from but not limited to donations in the form of clothes and basic food stuffs. To giving your time to spend with other people and listening to them, this can go a long way in empathizing with people who are going through different ordeals. Sharing in the plight of the less privileged opens one’s eyes to a world that they may not be aware of. Michelle alluded to the fact that spending time with the less fortunate also goes a long way in reassuring them that they are not alone and they will never walk alone in what they are going through. By embarking on such a cause, Michelle also seeks to inspire especially young people who also have a heart of giving. To show them that a lack of financial resources should not be a stumbling block in their desire to help others, but that were there is a will, there will always be a way so they should never give up.