Photo by Richard Brown (Wellington, NZ)
When Getrude Matshe was a young girl in the village of Wedza, Zimbabwe, she and her sister had an important early-morning job. After gathering as many rocks as they could, they would stand on a wooden platform at the edge of the field and throw the rocks at incoming baboons to keep them from decimating the vital crop.
“When they came, we were ready,” she says in her book Born on the Continent – Ubuntu, a compelling narrative about her life.
Later in the day, she and her sister would go off and catch grasshoppers, locusts, and sometimes field mice, which they would then roast over a fire for lunch.
It was a humble beginning for Matshe, whose life has been one marked by providence, opportunity, and compassion.
“Your starting point doesn’t dictate where you end up,” says Matshe, who is on campus through mid-December as Robert Morris University’s Fall 2012 Rooney International Visiting Scholar. It’s a unique opportunity for RMU’s students to learn from someone who Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup of the Soul series, has called “an amazing woman”, “a light bulb for good in the world”, and “a woman of deep profound spiritual essence.”
Matshe is the founder and CEO of three successful organizations in New Zealand, where she lives with her husband and three children. She also travels the world as an inspirational speaker, storyteller, poet, artist, and published author. She ended up at RMU thanks to Shellie Hipsky, Ed.D., associate professor of education.
“RMU is so fortunate to have this leader, entrepreneur and humanitarian on campus bonding with students, storytelling, and teaching,” says Hipsky, author of Ordinary People Extraordinary Planet. “I have been blessed by her friendship and moved by co-teaching with her, as I see first-hand the gifts she is imparting on our students.”
In the short time she’s been here, Matshe has already made a lasting impact on students across campus. She has given lectures subjects such as HIV and AIDS, her career in information technology, poetry and creative writing, positive deviance, effective listening, differentiated learning, oral history, and sustainable technology, to name a few. Most important, she says she is giving RMU students the “gift of contrast” by showing them what life is like for the rest of the world.
“I hope that, through my stories, I’m opening their eyes.”
Back in 2004 you might say that Matshe’s own eyes were opened when Oprah Winfrey visited South Africa. Standing on a soccer field alongside 50,000 AIDS orphans, Winfrey said on her television program, “This is the lost generation of Africa.” It was a breakthrough moment for Matshe. “I knew right then that it was my life’s purpose to help the children in my country, Zimbabwe.”
Matshe went on to found the Africa Alive Education Foundation, which works to provide safe homes and education for AIDS orphans. Across Africa there are over 17 million AIDS orphans; Matshe’s own brother died of the disease in 2009.
Through a grassroots training program that empowers the community with critical life skills, Africa Alive participants learn things like basic farming techniques and how to sew school uniforms and clothing for the children. They also help them build their own houses. Funded by $50 micro-loans, participants purchase bags of cement to make 1000 bricks, which the foundation then buys back for $250. The villagers then have $200 to invest back into the community. It’s a king’s ransom in a place where the average person lives on $0.20 a month.
Matshe personally supports 360 children in her husband’s home village of Mazivisa in Shurugwi (Zimbabwe), raising money for their education, food, medication, and clothes.
“By giving these children a safe home and providing them with food, water, and education, we are giving them something they didn’t have before—a chance,” she says. “It is my hope that we are raising the future Nelson Mandela or maybe even the future scientist who will find the cure for AIDS.”
Currently Matshe is writing a screenplay about the AIDS story in Zimbabwe, which she is certain will become a blockbuster. “I have made a conscious decision to be the first African person to write, direct, and produce her own Oscar-winning movie.” She’s so confident, in fact, that she’s even written her acceptance speech and committed it to memory.
In September, RMU students along with Hipsky (center), Matshe and her oldest son, Simba, joined Elliven Spa and Treasure House Fashions at Adagio Health Start House in Duquesne, a local shelter for homeless mothers, to perform makeovers and paint a jungle mural for the children. (Photo credit: Gail Lace)
In addition to her writing, she is also painting a series of portraits of the people who have inspired her throughout her life; people like Mandela, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, to name a few. She plans to auction off the paintings and give a large sum of the proceeds to RMU. The remaining funds will go to establish a medical center in Mazivisa to provide HIV medication and education.
She’s also started a Facebook group called the “International Student Army“, through which she hopes to inspire ideas among young people and spread the philosophy of Ubuntu (“I am because you are.”), i.e., the connectedness of all humanity.
“Kids don’t see limitations,”she says. “I want to start a global tribe where we all can depend on one another. We live in an abundant universe. We’ve forgotten that. There’s enough in this universe to go around.”
Written by Valentine J. Brkich
Matshe will give a presentation titled “Zimbabwe: The Crucible that Forged Me”, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 17, in the International Suite of the Sewall Center. She will present “Born on the Continent: Ubuntu”, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 6, in the Rogal Family Chapel. RSVP to Rick Moslen at 412.397.2151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m., Matshe will share her amazing life story on Hipsky’s talk show, “Inspiring Lives with Dr. Shellie”.
For more about Getrude Matshe and the Africa Alive Education Foundation, visit getrudeinspires.com.