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Memory Bandera '04 Speaks for Girls in Zimbabwe

For 'Polymer Gang,' Bonding is More Than Chemical

Mapping the Brain's Terrrain: Petya Radoeva '03 Explores Vision

Rachel Brulé '03: Policy Maker in the Making

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SPRING 2003 • VOLUME 7, NUMBER 3

BY DAVID LaCHANCE

When Memory Bandera '04 packed her bags and left her native Zimbabwe to enroll at Mount Holyoke in the fall of 2000, she could not leave behind the plight of girls in her native country. Growing up in Chitungwiza, a suburb of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, Bandera was only too aware of the gender imbalances in all aspects of life in that African nation. Three out of ten girls are sexually abused, many of them by uncles or other family members, according to a government report. In some parts of the country, girls are considered to be marriageable at the age of twelve. The cost of education, while nominal, is still too much for some families; forced to choose, they give priority to male children, who will have greater earning opportunities. Those girls who do get sent to school can face intimidation by boys. And too many of those who do not go to school face rape, early marriages, pregnancy, and pressure to engage in prostitution. The problems are most acute in rural Zimbabwe, Bandera says.

Determined that girls should have better futures, Bandera in 1999 joined with her high school teacher and nine classmates to form a discussion group that became the Girl Child Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the empowerment of girls in Zimbabwe through a broad variety of activities and public events designed to encourage a change in society's attitudes. "Most of these girls don't have any opportunities," Bandera says. "I'm trying to get them to have equal opportunities." The idea quickly took root. Today, the Girl Child Network numbers fifty clubs and more than 3,000 members at schools across Zimbabwe. In July, the group cut the ribbon for Girls Empowerment Village, a "safe village" in Rusape, a town in rural Zimbabwe, where girls ages eight to sixteen can find refuge and help. In August, the organization will open another Safe Village in Hawange.

Though 7,800 miles and seven time zones from Zimbabwe, Bandera, an international relations major specializing in the developmental issues affecting women and children, was determined to do what she could to continue building the organization through speaking, writing, serving as a liaison between the trust and its sponsors in the United States, and acting as an adviser to students back home. In April 2002, through the sponsorship of the College's Protestant Council of Deacons, she brought her message to fellow Mount Holyoke students, giving a talk on the conditions for girls in Zimbabwe and launching a drive that resulted in the shipment of twenty cartons of girls' clothing to the safe village.

It was not long before thank-you notes began arriving from the safe village, addressed to Bandera and other Mount Holyoke students. That led to another idea: an ongoing letter exchange between the College and Girls Empowerment Village. Many of the girls had expressed curiosity about what life at college is like, and Bandera and her fellow Council of Deacons members saw an opportunity to encourage the girls to raise their aspirations. Inviting all Mount Holyoke students to take part, the council in November mailed an envelope stuffed with thirty letters from South Hadley to Rusape and Chitungwiza.

In May of last year in recognition of her commitment and efforts, Bandera was named to the Girl Child Network's board of trustees, becoming the only board member living full-time in the United States. While attending meetings is not possible, Bandera participates by email, reading the agendas and responding to the minutes.

As a newly inducted member of the Women as Role Models Museum of Achievements at Girls Empowerment Village, she joins the ranks of those held out as examples of women who have "made it to the top." Bandera, who was drawn to Mount Holyoke by her desire for both strong leadership skills and a first-rate liberal arts education, "is a great inspiration to many women and girls in Zimbabwe," says the trust's director, Hazviperi Betty Makoni. "As a young girl, she could easily have given up for love of self and many other things, but with vision and passion she helped the organization to grow. Memory is a visionary leader. I say, go, go, go, Memory! The sky is the limit!"

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