On March 2, 2009, Defence for Children International-Canada (DCI-Canada) held a dinner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Girl Child Network (GCN), a grassroots organization established to promote the human rights of girls in Zimbabwe.
The dinner, hosted by DCI-Canada president Agnes Samler, was attended by DCI-Canada board members and two special guests: Betty Makoni, founder of GCN, and Florence Mudzongo, an alumna of GCN who now studies and lives in Canada. Also present were Nneka McGregor, a lawyer and renowned advocate for women’s rights and one of the cofounders of the strong women list in Canada, and prominent women rights activist Vivian Green.
Agnes, who has played host to Betty many times over the past decade, commended the work of GCN, saying, “This is well deserved because of the lives of girls you saved.”
Betty and Florence laughed, joked and talked about the good old days during formation of GCN.
“You know Betty, you always insisted on journals but initially no one took you seriously,” said Florence. “For me, having you as a teacher and role model is something that made me what I am.”
Florence’s mother was the first parent to donate to GCN activities, and died tragically on her way home after attending a Christmas party for girls at Betty’s home. Florence and here sister were left in a child-headed family. Since then, Florence has been a role model to many orphaned girls including her sister, who was admitted to medical school. While working as an accountant in Canada Florence pursued studies in human rights, and now plans to take a three month leave this summer to share her knowledge with GCN.
GCN has partnered with DCI-Canada since 2007 when Betty visited Canada at the suggestion of Denise Parmentier, a program officer for Oxfam Novib. The networks she has established in Canada have resulted in GCN becoming a household name here.
Bill Sparks, a DCI-Canada board member and the volunteer coordinator for GCN in Canada, introduced GCN to a range of Canada-based funding partners including the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Rotary Club of Canada and Canadian Crossroads International. The financial assistance provided by these organizations has helped GCN to assist girls at risk, and ensured hundreds are supported with education and rescue from abusive homes, schools and communities.
“Going to Canada is like going to a second home,” said Betty. “The country is very cold but the people are the warmest … My activism has always started and ended in Canada. All the people who opened their doors when the storm hit the worst in Zimbabwe were ordinary Canadians and those to inform the world about Zimbabwe are Canadian.”
This is Betty’s sixth visit to Canada since 2006.
Many other countries have joined Canada to honour GCN for its ten years of hard work. In April 2009, Betty will be named an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” by California-based Wisdom in Action. Recently, the World Children’s Prize in Sweden announced that Betty-along Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and eleven other child rights activists-is nominated for the Decade Child Rights Hero, in which 22 million children around the world will vote to choose their hero for the decade.