Sister Sandra: Okay! So, I am fully Zimbabwean. I come from a family of seven; three girls and four boys. I am the 6th child and the youngest girl. In 2006, when I completed my A-levels, I decided to join the religious life. I then completed an honors degree in geography which led to my arrival at Nagle House in 2013. I started off as a geography teacher, but recently I have been assigned to local divinity. As you know this is a catholic school and it is owned by the sisters. So they appoint one sister to oversee if the values are respected, and that’s what I am here for.
G: Have you heard of our project when we came here last year?
S: Yes I did! My first reaction to that was “waaaaaaah”. I would have loved to be part of that group, but back then I couldn’t spare a second to do that.
G: But this year you are joining us. How come?
S: I would identify three main reasons that led to this decision. First, during my A-levels, my brother started taking Karate classes. He would come back home and teach us things that he had just learnt. It really got me interested, but unfortunately I forgot about it after some time. Also, during my studies I used to stay until quite late at the university. Usually, the sisters would come and pick me up at the end of the day to go back home, at the convent, but there were two occasions where they could not make it. The first time I had to take the public transport, which did not stop in front of the convent. Scared, I asked the conductor if he could drop me off at home for an extra dollar or two. He refused, and as soon as he drove off I heard people whistling, so I ran. I felt that there were people following me, I then knew that my life was in danger. A few meters before the gate to the convent, a guy stopped with his car and invited me to come in. I did not trust him, so refused and kept on running. He kept on driving slowly and talking to me at the same time until we got the gate. I then told him that it was fine as I was home. He replied “Actually I am glad I followed you otherwise you wouldn’t have made it. Did you see those guys following you?”. After thanking him, I passed the gate and almost fainted. God sent an angel on my path.
The second incident, a similar thing happened but this time it was only one guy following me. I tried to confuse him by changing directions but he still caught up with me. I looked at him with a relaxed posture and told him “I will kill you”. I really don’t know how I got the courage to say that, but he ran off. On that day, my memory was going back to the basics of karate my brother taught me and I told myself that if I ever get the chance, I’d love to attend classes for self-defense. Just to know that I am safe when alone. The last reason that led me to karate is just my love for physical exercise. From time to time I like to go jogging, I just love it! I am really engaged and have too many things to do, but when I exercise I relax my mind, it’s the only spare time that I have. At night I can have trouble to fall asleep, but when I exercised I go to bed, no problem!
G: From what you told me, it seems like women in Zimbabwe have a lot of threats to their security.
S: Yes and there’s actually an increase in rape cases now and it’s scary. It’s very risky for anybody to go out at night now. If there are robbers and you have nothing to offer then your life is in danger, they will just rape you. Also there are cases with children and that’s very sad…
G: Considering this, how come there are so many parents opposed to girls learning karate? We had a few of our students that had to quit because of that.
S: Well, it’s unheard of that a sister will challenge her brother or a wife will challenge her husband. So for the society now to accept that girls do karate, it’s also saying that girls can challenge anybody because they are now stronger than what they are supposed to. That’s what parents in society struggle with. Also, they see karate just as fighting. They don’t take it as a skill or something relaxing that builds physical strength. For me, initially, it also took some time to get interested because I thought that when my brother started doing karate, he just wanted to beat us all up. Then I realized that he is the most peaceful person. He doesn’t start any fight, he’s not that kind of guy.
G: Do you have any advice on how to reach them and make them understand what you just said?
S: I suppose that these kind of activities are what you should start with. You might have started with 50 girls and end up with 10, because the other 40 dropped off, but the ones who stayed, they will help to raise the awareness in their communities. I am impressed that amongst your group one of the best is Tinashe. When you look at Tinashe, she is the most peaceful person that you can think of, always smiling. There is no seriousness that you will associate to fighting but she is the best in her group. Girls like Tinashe will have the power to make society understand. Also we recently started inviting parents to our activities. If they come to see how the girls are doing karate and experience it themselves, they might understand.
G: It really feels like we already brought a nice portion of the community together; the teachers, the girls and everybody wants to take part now.
S: I’ve also told my sisters and they are all interested in it! I remember the first day I told them, they were quite indifferent, but the first time I practiced in front of them, the interest was building up. Yesterday they were telling me “we might not find the time to come and join the class, but would you mind teaching us?”.
G: That’s amazing! My hope is that we will carry on, having more and more people to strengthen the community and maybe even build our own dojo. We need to reach the parents and I think you are a real role model for the girls.
S: I will try.