I believe in you.
Did you know that? Did you know that I believe in you 100%?
I believe in you no matter what you’ve gone through in your past.
And I believe in you no matter what challenges you face in your present.
There are lots of reasons why I believe in you.
One of them is because of Tererai Trent.
I want to share her story with you because it’s one of the most inspiring stories that I’ve ever read.
Tererai was born in rural Zimbabwee in the mid to late 1960s. (she doesn’t know her actual birthyear or birthdate).
As a girl born into a poor family, she didn’t receive formal education.
Instead, she was expected to help around the house, to take care of her younger siblings, and to herd the cattle.
But Tererai was determined to educate herself. And so she taught herself to read and write using her brother’s school books.
Eventually she did receive one year of formal education but only because the local school teacher saw potential in her and begged her father to send her to school.
But soon after that, her father married her off to an older man in the village.
Tererai was 11 years old at the time.
The next fifteen years of her life was a nightmare.
Her husband resented her literacy and repeatedly beat her whenever she tried to practice by reading a scrap of newspaper.
And he beat her for lots of other things as well.
Meanwhile, she bore five children during this time period.
So there she was. Mid-20s. One year of formal education. Abusive husband. Five children.
100% trapped with no way of escape.
And then, one day, something strange happened.
A woman named Jo Luck from the NGO Heifer International came by Tererai’s village.
Jo arranged a meeting of the women where she talked to them about the importance of their hopes and dreams and pursuing their goals.
Think about that for a second. Think about how stupid that sounds.
Telling a bunch of poor women in Africa that their hopes and dreams matter and that they should pursue them.
To these women, life was a daily struggle for survival. What place was there for hopes and dreams and goals?
Most of the women stared at Jo Luck as if she had three heads.
But something stirred inside of Tererai that day.
She went home, pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote down her hopes and dreams: To go to the USA, to earn a college degree, and then a master’s degree, and eventually a Ph.D.
Completely absurd dreams for a marred cattleherder in Zimbabwee with one year of formal education.
But Tererai took her piece of paper, put it inside of plastic, and then placed it in a can. And buried the can near where she herded cattle.
Then she got to work.
She left her abusive husband and returned to her mother’s village. She started taking correspondence courses and became a community organizer for Heifer International.
She recieved excellent grades in her courses, and her self-confidence steadily grow.
The aid workers for Heifer International encouraged her to think that she could study in the US.
And then it happened.
At this point, Tererai was already in her 30s and the other women in her village thought she should focus on her children, not on her own educaton.
But Tererai knew deep inside that the best education she could give her children was to educate herself first.
And so off she went to Oklahoma State, where she finished her bachelors in three years, taking as many credits as she could and working evenings to make money.Afterwards, Tererai returned to her village, dug up the can, and pulled out the paper with her goals. She checked off those that she had completed and re-buried the can.
But she wasn’t done. Not by a long shot.
Heifer International offered her a job in Arkansas. So Tererai returned to the US to work, and simultaneously earned her master’s degree by taking part-time classes.
And then she returned to her village again. And once agan dug up the can. And crossed another item off her list.
But I’m sure you know by now.
Tererai wasn’t done. Not by a long shot.
She still had one more goal on her list. A Ph.D.
And so she enrolled at Western Michigan University. And in 2009, Tererai completed the final item on her list, her Ph.D, writing her dissertation on HIV/AIDS prevention programs for women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa.
This time, when she dug up her list, she brought it with her to Kalamazoo where she crossed off the final item. And then she had the President of Western Michigan University sign her list.
Tererai’s story doesn’t end there though. Because sometimes stories have a life of their own, beyond our control.
Her story was featured in the book Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
A few months later, she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.
And in 2011, Oprah named Dr. Tererai Trent as her all-time favorite guest and presented her with a donation of $1.5 million so she could build her own school in her old village. (the school was completed in 2014)
Tererai ‘s journey from a 25 year old woman with little education, an abusive husband, and 5 children to a woman with a doctorate and a $1.5 million gift from Oprah wasn’t an easy one.
The journey took her over two decades to complete.
But imagine what her life would have been like if she had never started the journey.
And it all happened because one person believed in her AND she was willing to work hard to achieve her hopes and dreams.
So this is why I started by telling you that I believe that you can accomplish great things with your life.
I see everything that Tererai has accomplished with her life, coming from such humble beginnings.
And I have absolutely no doubt that you can accomplish just as much and that you can also reach your goals, your hopes, your dreams.
Of course, you will need to work hard. Just as Tererai did.
So are you ready for some hard work? Let’s do this together!
I have some big plans for 2017 and I hope that you’ll be part of them. Let’s make 2017 the year that you start working towards your hopes and goals and dreams!!!
P.S. Meetings with Oprah and $1.5 million donations not guaranteed. :)