SHE had the worst possible start to her life when she lost both her parents by the time she was four years old.
Her father passed away when she was two and lost her mother at four.
Although she was still too young to understand the devastating impact of losing her parents, the painful memories of their deaths still haunt her.
She struggled, but her extended family helped her realise part of her dream of having an education to transform her life.
No one knows what could have befallen her as a girl child had the extended family structure not been there for her.
On Friday last week, Caution Rambofheni (27) was among students that graduated at Esigodini Agricultural College.
Born in 1994 in Beitbridge, Rambofheni was supported by her extended family, which exchanged the baton of looking after her at different stages of her life.
“My uncle supported me from Grade 1-7, while an aunt took care of me from Form 1-4. I am so happy and proud of them for helping me achieve my dream. There was a time I didn’t know what to do and everything just looked bleak,” said Rambofheni, trying to hold back tears.
Rambofheni’s cousin Mrs Doreen Muleya-Nkomo and her husband Mr Mpilo Nkomo paid her college tuition and have promised to continue assisting her to fulfil her dreams.
Emotions simply get the better of her when she goes down memory lane, narrating the story of her life.
She advised other young girls in situations similar to her childhood to not lose hope, saying: “Hold on to your dreams, someone will come to your rescue so that you achieve your dreams like in my case.”
Mrs Nkomo, a former teacher, said when Rambofheni did not do well at O-Level, they took her in and helped her supplement the subjects she had failed.
Mrs Nkomo said after Rambofheni passed the subjects, she spoke to her husband about assisting her cousin with college tuition and he agreed.
She and her husband drove from Malawi where they are now based to witness Rambofheni’s graduation last Friday.
“Who was going to come anyway? Her parents are no more and we are now her parents. As human beings, we should be able to take care of other human beings because God created us for a reason. If you help someone it creates a trend of helping generations because those who have been helped will also help those in need,” said Mrs Nkomo.
Mr Nkomo, who is the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Chief of Mission in Malawi, said he never hesitated when his wife requested that they assist Rambofheni.
He said it was his own difficult childhood which motivated him to accept the request to take Rambofheni through college.
“I was born in a polygamous family in Matabo, Mberengwa. My father had five wives and over 20 children. As one of the eldest sons, I was given the responsibility of supporting my six siblings by my father because life was very difficult in the setup,” he said.
Mr Nkomo said going to school and supporting his siblings at the same time almost derailed his future, as he only managed to get one point in biology at Mzilikazi High School at A-Level.
“There was a lot of pressure from home to support my siblings through piece jobs and also do school. Failing A-Level was heart rending for me because I was also a junior councillor in the Bulawayo Junior City Council. But I pushed through and educated all my siblings, including two more who my mother had when she remarried after separating from my father. All of them got degrees or diplomas, while I was not degreed,” Mr Nkomo said.
He only managed to get his degree in 2015 from the University of South Africa after enrolling via mature entry.
It is this upbringing that has always motivated him to assist those in similar situations.
“When my wife brought to my attention that she had a cousin whose parents had passed away, I suggested we stay with her so we could use our resources to support her. I know from experience how it is not to have support. My wife spoke to her and she agreed to move from the rural area to stay with us in Beitbridge town. She had been staying with her aunt, who had her own children, and it was difficult for her,” he said.
Mr Nkomo said they treated her in the same way as their two biological children, a boy, who finished his degree at Solusi University, and a girl who is doing her third-year law studies at Midlands State University.
“This graduation is very momentous for us because we know that supporting her this way will give her that motivation. By coming here, we wanted to demonstrate to her that she is valuable because if you do not have self-esteem, it can ruin your life,” said Mr Nkomo.
He said society must continue to value the extended family setup, as it provides good support when properly preserved.
He said an orphaned girl child is vulnerable to many ills, hence the need for society to come together and support her.
“I believe in the value of the extended family as taught by our culture. No one should be left behind or say I have no one to take care of me. The girl child is oftentimes marginalised and because I witnessed my father abusing his wives,
I learnt a lesson that the girl child needs equal care just as the boy child. Children must be treated the same, and those left to look after orphans should take full responsibility as parents. It bleeds my heart that some family members abuse orphans.”
Mr Nkomo and his wife will continue supporting Rambofheni if she wants to read for a degree because they want to see her succeeding in whatever she pursues. – @themkhust