"GIVE a man a fish, and he will be hungry again tomorrow; teach him to catch a fish, and he will be richer all his life."
True to the assertion, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has come in handy to vulnerable women countrywide through the partnership between Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) and her Angel of Hope Foundation which has so far afforded over 3 000 Epworth residents a rare opportunity to acquire self-help skills from the university free of charge as part of her multi-pronged empowerment initiatives
Amai Mnangagwa started with Epworth, a sprawling settlement which is infamous for vices like prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse.
She has been working with the community to shun criminal life and prostitution which exposed them to diseases and equip them with life skills to earn a decent living through the use of their brains and hands.
Beneficiaries include ladies of the night, orphans, child head of families and people living with disabilities, among many other disadvantaged groups.
The First Lady has a passion for women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities.
The programme will be expanded to cover all parts of the country and to motivate the women, the First Lady has also selected a course to study.
The university's Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Gundani and deans of faculties were present and took the beneficiaries through what the programmes demanded.
A list of what the women and girls wanted to study was compiled.
The mother of the nation is always keen to uplift areas that are looked down upon.
Addressing the women yesterday, the First Lady said it was critical for beneficiaries to focus on their studies so that they can transform their lives.
"Madzimai we have come to change our lives and start afresh. I would want you to think deeply as an individual and think of a course you want to do. What you did long back is past, today you are starting a new life.
"As we are here we have different life circumstances, we come from different backgrounds too. Our family beliefs are different, but what we do and our decisions have a bearing on our lives. We have orphaned children and child-headed families and some who are being looked after at some care centres. We have girls living with disabilities who can work with their hands. Some worked at night selling their bodies. Today a chance to change our way of life has come. Totosunga dzisimbe vasikana kusvikira tasvika kwatiri kuyenda. (Be strong because we are going forward).
"We are not looking back because if we backtrack we remain in one place. We must use our brains and hands. ZOU has many faculties that we can learn from and I shall be among the learners. Ndinenge ndichitodzidzawo nemi and we do not want people who will lag behind," she said.
The First Lady said she will ensure everyone takes their studies seriously.
"Such empowerment programmes are rare therefore grab this opportunity with both hands. Today a university has come to your doorstep, we must take the studies seriously," she said.
"I know that changing someone's way of life is difficult, so here in Epworth if you see what I come with, it means you are always in my mind. Don't let me down madzimai."
Amai Mnangagwa urged the women to shun commercial sex work and focus on using their hands.
"I have heard of a place called 'pabooster' where ladies of the night roam around soliciting for clients. Even young girls are selling their bodies. This is not right. We should do away with this kind of life and start afresh. Education is key, let us all embrace this programme we have brought," she said.
She thanked the university for the partnership.
Professor Gundani said he was excited to work in partnership with the First Lady and her Angel of Hope Foundation for the benefit of the nation.
"As ZOU we said what we are seeing bids on us to carry our hoe on the shoulder and follow Amai and walk with her. As a university we said what the First Lady is doing for the nation is good and we praise it and where can we play a part. I have come with my team of deans and professors so that you hear what we have to offer," he said.
He said it was essential to teach people to catch fish than having to feed them on a daily basis.
"The First Lady is doing this for our benefit as a nation. As a university we learnt that if you want to teach someone, do not give them fish but teach them how to fish. This is a lesson we learnt from the First Lady," he said.
Dr Yurita Nyamanhare, a director in the vice chancellor's office said the courses were a way of complimenting the First Lady's efforts to empower the women countrywide.
"As a university we are proud to partner Angel of Hope Foundation programmes which are being spearheaded by the First lady. We have seen it fit for universities as ZOU to partner her offering different courses which can come as short courses or long courses. We are offering them for free and these are spread throughout the eight faculties that we have at ZOU.
"In the faculty of agriculture ZOU is offering crop production, animal production as well as agribusiness and marketing. In the faculty of applied sciences it is offering courses in sign language and counselling services as well. It is also offering courses on disability awareness.
"In the Faculty of Arts, Culture and Heritage we are offering a special certificate in ethics. This course is expected to restore the Ubuntu which is part of our African dignity, our own valued inheritance. Amai has been spearheading empowerment of women therefore as ZOU we are complementing her efforts," she said emphatically.
Social welfare officer Mrs Susan Ngani praised the First Lady for offering tangible solutions to problems affecting people.
"There were children who were roaming around the streets and this touched Amai and she took them out of the streets and placed then into a home called Chambuta Children's Home which has been transformed by Amai and the children are learning.
"They are in a good beautiful environment. Amai did not come to give anyone fish. She has come with life skills to give vulnerable people. That is inheritance no one can take away from you. Amai is leaving no one behind," she said .
Acting Harare Mayor Councillor Musarurwa Stewart Mutizwa thanked the First Lady for her efforts to transform the lives of people.
"I want to thank the work being done by Amai. She is removing people who are working and living in the streets and orphans so that they would have a better life.
"This idea she has come with in partnership with ZOU of giving people skills to work for themselves is a game changer. They are going to acquire knowledge and self-help projects thus leaving the streets. If the streets are clean, this becomes easy for us to manage our cities.
"We have many ladies of the night in Harare and mostly in Epworth but Amai because of her love and kindness, she is here today to empower them. We are thankful for her vision and initiatives," he said.
Beneficiaries of the programme said life will certainly not be the same for them and promised to change.
"If your mindset changes, your life will also change. I thank you for what you have done for us here in Epworth Amai," said Mrs Isabel Kapandurwa.
Mrs Lilian Chanyuka said; "We never thought we would be remembered to a point of being sent to university. We are so grateful and we will never embarrass you Amai. We shall try all in our might so that our children's children will hear about this."
Another beneficiary, Junet Banda said; "I work with people living with disabilities and have decided on what I will study. I want to learn sign language because I was failing to communicate with some people that I work with. Amai has remembered us.
"Our lives have changed. We are going to learn and transform our lives. My husband abandoned us when I gave birth to a child with disability. I know that he will want to come back if he hears that I am now a graduate. We are so happy."
A former lady of the night promised not to go back to the booster.
"I will no longer go kubooster seeking men because I have been empowered by our mother the First Lady," she said.
The courses are offered in Faculties of Agriculture, Applied social sciences, Commerce and Law, Education, Science, Technology and Arts, Culture and heritage studies.