Despite her tough upbringing, 13-year-old Ngaakudzwe Katsvairo is shining on the athletic field, making national headlines and ranking among the best in the country and the southern Africa region in track and field.
A sixth-grade pupil at The United Methodist Church’s Mashambanhaka Central Primary School, Katsvairo has collected nine medals in the past two years.
Sadly, the medal haul has not meant a change of lifestyle for the teenager who lives with her grandmother about 6 kilometers (nearly 4 miles) from the school.
“Katsvairo comes from a broken family and her father is not known. The grandmother is old and unable to fend for the family,” said Liberty Sithole, head of the Mashambanhaka school.
Her mother lives with her new family in Shamva, a rural area about 70 kilometers away.
“She is a vulnerable child, but despite her family background, she has made a name for our school nationally and regionally,” Sithole said. “We are proud of Katsvairo, who is a great athlete and also performs well academically.”
Katsvairo’s background resulted in the teenager falling behind others her age in school. Her peers are now in secondary school.
“She will not be able to compete in primary school competitions next year because she will be older than our age groups,” Sithole said. “We are worried about her future. … Our school is unable to help her pursue her athletics career. She needs to attend a school with a talent identification program.”
Sithole said the school is helping the teenager and her family by providing accommodations so that Katsvairo no longer has to travel long distances to and from school, and they’ve also employed her older sister as a clerk at the school to help the family with money.
The teenager beat athletes in 100-meter, 200-meter, 80-meter hurdles and relay races. She won the gold medal in 200-meter hurdles during the Confederation of School Sports Associations of Southern Africa Games held in neighboring Botswana in May.
Mashambanhaka is one of the smaller United Methodist schools. It does not have equipment for hurdles. The school is about 130 kilometers northeast of Harare.
“Katsvairo learned how to compete in hurdles at the provincial athletics competition,” said Zachariah Wurahwa, her trainer and class teacher. “This was her first encounter with the discipline and we encouraged her to attempt the race. She beat all the other athletes,”
The medals, however, are not accompanied by cash prizes, so Katsvairo’s situation has not improved.
“In the future, I want to join a profession which will make use of my athletic talent. I want to be a soldier,” Katsvairo said.
Wurahwa said Katsvairo has shown she is a star at provincial and national competitions.
“She is one of the best pupils in my class. She also plays handball and was selected to go and play in Germany but she didn’t. We live in a remote rural area and did not receive any communication regarding that trip. We do not know if the Zimbabwean team went,” said Wurahwa.
“Our greatest fear is that she may become a child bride after leaving this school next year. Her other sister, Chantel, was also a good athlete, but she got married when she completed seventh grade. Our worry is that Katsvairo may follow the same path,” he said.
The Rev. Samson Muzengeza, Mashambanhaka mission station chairman, said there is a need to create a relationship between academies and United Methodist schools.
“The government’s new education curriculum is committed to identifying other talents in pupils and, if nurtured, Ngaakudzwe Katsvairo’s athletics prowess will inspire other pupils,” Muzengeza said.
Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa discovered Katsvairo on his yearly visit to the mission, where he inspects infrastructure and celebrates successes at church institutions. The bishop’s initiative gives him the opportunity to interact with staff and students as they go about their daily duties.
The Rev Vienna Mutezo, Zimbabwe West Conference deputy administrative assistant to the bishop and connectional ministries director, said the bishop tasked her office with assisting Katsvairo.
“We are trying to source funds to support Katsvairo’s education and develop her talent as she loves and is gifted in athletics,” Mutezo said.
“If the church manages to get her financial support, in return she will be the ambassador for the girl-child in the community. Therefore, as connectional ministries, we are calling for supporters or sponsors for this noble cause,” she said.
Mutezo said Mashambanhaka is one of the new United Methodist Church mission schools established to equip disadvantaged and vulnerable children with basic education.
“Child marriages are still a challenge even though the courts ruled that it was unconstitutional for the girl-child to be married at 16 years. The rural girls face many pull-and-push factors which force them into child marriages,” she said.
“This is the fear of the teachers at Mashambanhaka, that the gold medalist would bow to patriarchal pressure that suggests early marriage is the solution to her problems.”
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference.