WOMEN must never feel embarrassed to attend school even at an old age, but work hard in their studies to achieve greater things, including taking leadership positions, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.
So passionate about the empowerment of women is the mother of the nation that she is not leaving any stone unturned to realise the dream.
Yesterday, she visited Epworth Local Board where beneficiaries of short courses which her Angel of Hope Foundation organised with the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) are learning under a deliberate initiative to enhance people's access to education.
The sprawling settlement of Epworth is infamous for vices like prostitution and drug and alcohol abuse, and the First Lady decided to start the programme there and help the residents overcome the social ills.
This also comes amid findings that most people fail to attend school due to financial challenges and many other social challenges, but with the Angel of Hope Foundation and ZOU partnership, the vulnerable women are getting the education for free at their door step.
Amai Mnangagwa sat through an enthralling Arts and Culture lesson, counselling and sign language classes where she encouraged the learners to take their studies seriously and never look back because this was a life-changing opportunity they had received.
She took part in a mock counselling session where she made learners seek the best way possible to assist someone who was depressed.
Among the students was Mrs Queen Mundokwenya (71) who proved that age was just a number as she outclassed the younger generation in grasping the concept of counselling.
"I have come to encourage you that once you have started, there is no going back," said the First Lady. "I was encouraged by your zeal to learn because there is no one who is not participating through raising hands in class.
"The arts and culture class, I am happy that as part of your topics, you have started doing acting classes, poems and essays. There is a student I heard saying on acting, you will be enacting on current issues and I urge you to emphasise on that.
"Current issues include violence in the homes and we want you to put this in dramas and poems and make people see and learn that such and such is bad and such is good. When we go to the people, these things are supposed to be educative and build the person we want in our country.
It was the First Lady's attendance during a counselling class which was highly interactive.
"I heard you discussing about how you handle someone who is depressed or stressed," she said. "What I have seen is that you now appreciate the kind of person you ought to be in order to receive someone who is coming to you in need of counselling.
"Let us pretend we are in a counselling session, please counsel me because I am not happy today. I want to be in a happy mood," she said in jest.
In response, Mrs Mundokwenya who could not contain her joy, before she "counselled" the First Lady, thanked her for opening the doors to education for members of her community and women in general.
"I thank you heartily Amai because at our age, being able to learn we are grateful you did wonders to us," she said. "We thank you for bringing education to Epworth. In our class we learnt about counselling, what it involves and characteristics of a good counsellor.
"These include patience, respectful, good communication skills, confident, non-jugdmental and trustworthy among other skills. If one has lost a loved one, he or she will come to us and we console him or her. This makes the person not be depressed. We speak to the person well so that they relax and forget about the loss of a loved one."
The First Lady interjected and said: "She spoke about the loss of a loved one because this depresses us a lot. Today we want to lighten the burden. So in my case, I am not happy today, how do you go about it. How do you handle my case?"
Another learner Mrs Loureen Mangena said: "First we would want to know the cause of your unhappiness and we start from there. To be a happy person, we would encourage you to think about something that makes you happy, be it something that happened in the past."
Mr Nefas Mlambo, the regional programme coordinator in the department of counselling ZOU Harare-Chitungwiza region, described the counselling skills they imparted in the learners as beneficial.
"We taught them basic counselling skills," he said. "We started working with them after being identified by the First Lady and we tailor-made a short course for them so that they can help themselves within the community and also around the communities.
"We gave them skills to identify most common problems and justify the rational for counselling. We taught them listening skills, questioning skills and the techniques of probing someone."
Mr Mlambo said the beneficiaries were now able to offer services to schoolchildren, communities, churches among other groups.
"If they are employed, they are able to offer support services to most organisations that offer social services as a qualification," he said. "They can identify issues in their families and communities before going out there. I believe this will help them to be productive, especially in this Covid-19 era where there are mental health issues which are covered through counselling."
In the sign language class, the First Lady observed the students going through basic sign language and the class left the gathering in stitches when they used the President Mnangagwa's signature dance to describe him in sign language.
In her address to all the beneficiaries, the First Lady said she was encouraged by the student's zeal to realign and improve their lives.
"This shows the zeal we have to improve our lives. Education nowadays is an important part of life which no one must never lack in life. The aim of Angel of Hope Foundation is to assist in whatever way we can while leaving no one behind. Officials from ZOU who are working with you daily are working together with Angel of Hope Foundation to ensure everyone here present or who may come later from other provinces is given the opportunity to learn free of charge," she said to thunderous applause.
After completion of the studies, the mother of the nation said beneficiaries of the programme would be certified fit to work in their areas of study.
She said she was happy to see some parents coming along with their children to learn.
"I want to congratulate you in the end for striving since the start of the programme. This shows there is no more going backwards. I have come here to strengthen you and congratulate you. Yes, you are learning, but I wanted to see for myself how you are doing this," she said.
Amai Mnangagwa encouraged the beneficiaries to take their studies seriously and not look down upon themselves.
"Do not look down upon yourselves that we are from Epworth and should confine your knowledge to Epworth only. You are now leaders, who teaches not only communities you live in but the whole country. What you are learning here, people in Masvingo want to know this and so do people in Binga therefore stretch your wings," she said emphatically.
She said the beneficiaries of the project must be torch-bearers and attest to the importance of the knowledge they would have acquired.
The mother of the nation also underscored the need for unity and harmony in communities.
"If we work hard as women as a unified force, we can end the pain, end the violence in homes and communities. We can promote harmony in the country. Women arise, do not sit on your brains. You have something to do and we are encouraging you to work. You cannot continue asking for relish money from your husbands, be empowered and work hard," she said.
She said they should not lock their education certificates and knowledge in the home, but use it for their benefit, their families, community and the country at large.
The First group is set to graduate soon.