Everyday heroes: Betty Makoni in Zimbabwe

Everyday heroes: Betty Makoni in Zimbabwe

In the last two entries, I retold the stories of Jorge Munoz and Jordan Thomas, two of the people profiled as CNN Heroes.

Another of the extraordinary stories on the CNN Heroes program was of a girl who was raped at age 6, and who at age 9 watched as her mother was murdered by her father. Unfortunately, such experiences have been all too common in her native Zimbabwe.

You can see Betty Makoni’s remarkable profile here.

A woman with the childhood experience of Betty would have every reason to shut out the world. For whatever reason, Betty Makoni’s reaction was the opposite. She continued to believe in the inherent good of humanity, and she made the decision to dedicate her life to helping others.

Convinced that an education would provide her the best opportunity and means to speak out, Betty went to university and then became a teacher. While teaching, she noticed that girls were dropping out of school, and she wondered why.

It turned out that many of these young girls were victims of sexual abuse. In particular, they were often raped because of a widely held belief that if a man with HIV or AIDS rapes a virgin he will be cured of his disease.

This so-called virgin myth, perpetuated by Zimbabwe’s traditional healers, has led to the rape of thousands of girls. Some of those victims are too young to walk, much less protect themselves.

As Betty became aware of the scope and seriousness of the problem, she approached her students with an idea. “Let’s have our own space where we talk and find solutions”, she said. And Girl Child Network was born.

Today, the Girl Child Network (GNC) has helped rescue 35,000 girls from abuse; thousands more have found an empowering community and a public forum in which to speak out.

According to Betty, it is important to her that the girls are in charge of their own healing. “It gives them the confidence to transform from victims to leaders,” she explained.

Makoni says nothing will end her fight for the rights of women and girls. “This is the job I have always wanted to do, because it gives me fulfillment. And in girls I see myself every day.”

Today, Betty Makoni has left Zimbabwe because her life was in danger. Her work continues from her new home in the United Kingdom.


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