Zimbabwean woman is Oprah's all time best guest

On Friday, on her last TV show, the legend Oprah Winfrey revealed who her favorite guest of all time and she is Dr. Tererai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman who, in Oprah's words, was "not allowed to have an education," was married at 11, had three children by 18, and whose husband beat her every day.

Trent wrote down her dreams: to move to America and earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, as well as a PhD. She did every one of those things, and first appeared on Oprah’s show in 2009. As Oprah welcomed her back on Friday, she exclaimed, “my favorite! Of all time!”

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Trent told Oprah that she wanted to build a school in Zimbabwe, so Oprah surprised her with $1.5 million to help her out.

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“We are going to build a school!” Oprah exclaimed.

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Hard work and a belief that she could achieve her girlhood dreams helped Zimbabwean Tererai Trent complete college, then graduate school, and become an international advocate for better education for girls.

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Trent discussed her story of perseverance and the importance of education during a November 9 America.gov webchat. (See “Zimbabwean Tererai Trent Discusses Educating and Empowering Girls.”)

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She encouraged young women around the world to tell responsible people in their communities — teachers and nurses — that they want to delay marriage in order to go to school. She told girls to look to aid organizations, such as UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development, for direct help. Increasingly, governments and international donors view education as a fundamental human right, she said.

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“Education is the only weapon women have to fight poverty, indignity and hunger,” Trent said.

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When Trent was growing up in the rural Zimbabwean village of Zvipani, her father said education was a privilege only for boys and kept her out of school. Then, when she was 11, her father forced her to marry. Her husband, who she said beat her daily, also banned her from attending school.

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In 1992, when Trent was a parent herself and about 29 years old, a woman named Jo Luck, president of the international aid group Heifer International, visited Zvipani. Luck asked Trent what her dreams were. At first, Trent held back, but when pressed she admitted that she dreamed of earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Luck told her those dreams were achievable.

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Woman kneeling by rock in outdoor setting (Courtesy Heifer International)\r\n

While visiting her home village, Trent unearthed the paper on which as a girl she wrote her dreams of getting an education.

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After Luck left the village, Trent’s mother encouraged her daughter to make a list of those dreams on a piece of paper, place the paper inside a tin can covered in cellophane and bury the can under a rock. The ritual would inspire her when she thought of the dreams.

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Trent did think of them. “As a woman, if I become educated, then I will be able to educate my own children” was one thought she had.

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In Zvipani, Heifer awarded Trent’s parents a goat, whose milk provided income so that Trent finally could pay school fees. The organization also hired Trent to be a community organizer, which provided additional income.

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To the webchat participants, Trent said there are no “miracles” in her story. After she earned enough money to come to the United States to study, she juggled night time jobs and daytime classes at Oklahoma State University. She said the transition to a new country and culture was difficult, but she took inspiration from her “buried dreams.”

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An official at Oklahoma State University put Trent in touch with a U.S. women’s organization, which covered some of her college costs. Eventually, Trent earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oklahoma State and then moved to Arkansas to continue to work with Heifer International.

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After a few years, one of her Heifer colleagues who was associated with Western Michigan University encouraged her to enroll at that school. She followed his advice and in 2007 began to pursue her doctoral degree.

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She graduates in December, at age 46. “I still dream to have all women and girls gaining education,” Trent said when asked if she had achieved all of her dreams. She called for a shift in government social and economic policies in developing countries to ensure that girls are afforded an education and women are treated fairly. (In sub-Saharan Africa, only 17 percent of girls enroll in secondary school.)

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After her graduation, in December, Dr. Trent plans to visit to her home. She will encourage girls there, but she also will be encouraged herself. In the village, “they love me,” she said.