Bongai Mhloyi is the CEO and Founder of End Child Marriages. Her mission is to eradicate child marriages by giving girls – in some parts of Zimbabwe, an alternative to child marriages – through education. Educating these girls and providing better options for them is her passion.
Bongai grew up in Zimbabwe and migrated to the US in 1985 in pursuit of a better education and a better life. Working as a social worker in PA she started the American and African Youth Leadership Foundation to help in girls in underserved communities in PA and in her native country Zimbabwe.
These girls are bright girls. They love to go to school. They have dreams, they have ambitions.Bongai
Bongai’s motto is “Touching Tomorrow’s Leaders Today” .
She also believes that an
Empowered Woman can create an Empowered Generation.
[00:00:00] Paula: Welcome to “Chatting With The Experts” a podcast for immigrant women from Africa and the Caribbean. For women who like me have immigrated to the US or the UK, Canada, or Australia. In this podcast, I speak with women like myself and we talk about our triumphs. We also talk about this things we have struggled with. But the main thing that we do is, let women like ourselves know that living abroad can have its ups and downs, but we can be successful while living here. My guest today is a fellow African woman. Her name is Bongai Mhloyi, and she lives in Pennsylvania. She’s originally from Zimbabwe. She came here for her undergraduate. So welcome to “Chatting With The Experts” Bongai, I’m so happy to have you here.
[00:00:56] Bongai: Thank you Paula, for having me here. It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m looking forward to chat more with you today. Thank you so much.
[00:01:04] Paula: Absolutely. So as I told the guests, you moved to the United States primarily for educational reasons. Can you tell us a bit about that? Where you really started your education from?
[00:01:16] Bongai: Right. So I was born and raised in Zimbabwe. So I went to school there from grade one all the way grade seven through high school. And after high school I met my husband, and my husband was also finishing, he had finished his high school already, get ready for college. So he found, he was fortunate enough to get his school visa to come to the United States because his brothers were here. So he came, and I didn’t come straight away with him because our young son was almost a year old. So I stayed several months with him so that he can grow a little bit older. And then after, I left him with my mom, and then I came to join my husband here in the United States. And so we did our bachelor’s degree, our master’s degree here in United States, in Pennsylvania, actually. So through high school, I was in Zimbabwe, and college was here in the United States.
[00:02:14] Paula: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So you both came here to do your undergraduate, and tell us about that. Now, were you on campus? Did you live off campus? How was that? That must’ve been a bit tough.
[00:02:29] Bongai: That was tough, Paula. It was tough because when we came, we didn’t know anyone and we just came and went to school. As you can imagine, you know, coming from your own country where everybody is your family, your friends, and then you come to a foreign country you don’t know anyone. The only person you know is the principal of the college that you are going to. So it was tough, it was difficult. The first semester we were just like trying to figure out how to maneuver through the new country. And lucky enough, God followed us from all the way from Zimbabwe. We found this couple that was able to host us and they kind of adopted us as their own children. They were retired school teachers, and their children were grown and out of the house. So they were kind of lonely. They wanted somebody to be in the house, and here we are looking for somewhere to stay, and they say, come on in. And we stayed with them through college, through the whole four years of college, we stayed with this couple ,and it was a blessing. I mean, I really appreciated what they did for us, because we didn’t have to worry about where to get the food from, where to get the rent money from, you know, everything they provided for us. So up to today, I really appreciate their help, what they did for us.
[00:03:52] Paula: Wow. That is a blessing, that not too many. Yes. Not too many immigrant people can talk about that. Being able to live rent-free without having to think about groceries, that is indeed a blessing, Bongai .
[00:04:09] Bongai: It was, it was. And I can also tell you that, when I was going to college, some of my friends from other countries also, you know, they were going through what we could have been going through because they didn’t have anywhere to stay. Some of them had to sleep from, you know, today they sleep here, tomorrow they sleep there until they find a job or find a place where they can really settle and attend to school without having to worry. Unless you were fortunate enough to have a lot of money to stay on campus, then at least you know, that you are on campus. But if you were like us, we didn’t, the money we had was just for being a commuter student, we couldn’t stay on campus. So yeah, it was difficult.
[00:04:55] Paula: Not to talk about the foreign food, the weather for one.
[00:04:59] Bongai: I know, I know .The way that, the way there was, oh my gosh, it was something. Zimbabwe, you know, most, well African countries, we don’t get snow so that’s another shocker when you get to a foreign country, like, you know, the United States. Because, I can tell you for my own stories. When I came, I came in January and the day I arrived, there was a snow storm. And when I left Zimbabwe it was summertime. And I didn’t know anything, my husband told me, I said, I don’t know what he’s talking about, you know, cold snow. I know it can get cold. But I was wearing my cute sandals and my cute dress because I was coming to meet my husband. And then I got out of the, you know, airport. The snow everywhere, but lucky enough, he had brought me some boots and some, you know, nice warm clothes. So, I mean, it’s a shocking, it was really a shocker.
[00:05:58] Paula: Oh my word. But let’s move forward now. So this is, I want to say like 20 something years later. And now as I look at you, I know that you, not only did you complete your undergraduate, you went on to graduate school. And now you are on a mission to end child marriages in your country.
[00:06:22] Bongai: Yes. Yes. So, yes, we did our undergraduate. My focus with school, educational focus was social work. So I did undergraduate in “Social Relations”, into my master’s was in “Special Education”. So yeah, going to my story, what I’m doing now to save girls from child marriage is like I said. I grew up in Zimbabwe. I was born and raised there. And child marriage, you see, it’s still practiced in some of the communities in Zimbabwe, not the whole country, but some rural rural communities. So I knew someone who came from that community. But before that, my grandfather, my mother’s father, he was 75 at the time. And he married a 12 year old girl. We found out because she came to my grandfather’s house and my mother told us who she was. So to make a long story short, this girl, she hated to be there in my grandfather’s house to be his wife. But she was married off because of her family was poor and they needed something for my grandfather. My grandfather was considered a rich man, not because he was a millionaire, but because he had a lot of cows, a lot of goats, a lot of chickens, he had the farm. So he gave this young girl’s parents, 10 cows in exchange for her to become his wife. So she hated being there. Anyway, she told that’s one day that she wanted to run away, and we said, we promise we won’t tell, you and go ahead and run away. She ran away. This was almost two years later after she got there. So she ran away, but we didn’t know where she ran away to. So when I came to the United States, this girl, she never left my heart, she never left my mind. I kept thinking about her, what happened to her? So I took it upon myself. I wanted to do something about this. Of course I couldn’t help this young girl because I was a child as well, we were about the same age 12 at the time. So since I couldn’t help this one, definitely I can help other girls that are in this situation. So knowing that there’s a community in Zimbabwe that’s still practicing child marriages. Because you know, it’s like a cultural norm for them it’s a cultural belief that this is okay. So those are the girls that I help from here. But what I do is I give them scholarships to keep them in school so that, because, you know, once they are in school, at least they can grow up and become who they want to become. So that’s what I’m doing, saving them from child marriages, by keeping them in school. That’s how I help them.
[00:09:07] Paula: That’s an amazing story. I know you have some success stories. Can you tell us at least one without, you don’t have to go into details. But what I mean is that we don’t need to know her name, or her circumstances per se. But you can tell us, you know, she came like this and now she is.
[00:09:24] Bongai: Right, okay. So I have a lot of stories. But like you said, you know, just one. There’s this young girl, she’s like my model student. We took her, she was, you know, about to be married off. She went through high school, went to college, did her master’s degree, met her husband while she was doing her masters. Graduated, got married. I got invited to go to the wedding. She fell in love with this man. She was not forced to marry him. Now she has two children, two boys, and she is now a business woman. She owns two businesses. And she’s employing other women. But the best part of it is that she’s also sponsoring a child, another girl from this community that she came from. So what can beat that kind of success. This is just like my best success story.
[00:10:19] Paula: Oh my gosh. That’s giving me goose pimples as I hear that. Because it’s success all the way through. She’d not only complete, I mean, not only did she, was she saved from an early marriage or child marriage. I mean, no child should be married off to anybody, any man. But she’s gone on now to be able to sponsor a child, a girl and make sure that that doesn’t happen to her.
[00:10:47] Bongai: Yeah. Absolutely
[00:10:47] Paula: I love that story.
[00:10:49] Bongai: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. Powerful story.
[00:10:55] Paula: That’s a very powerful story. Wow. Now you’ve told me one, I want to hear another one.
[00:11:00] Bongai: Okay. I have another story. I have, this one just happened recently. But we got the girl way back about six years ago. She was about to be married off to a 79 year old man. And she was only 12 at the time. So we took her, we put her in school, and her ambition was to become a doctor. So we put her through high school. She did what we call upper high school. And that’s like pre-med school, because that’s what she wanted to do. So she just wrote here exams. Finished her high school and pre-med, and she is going to start medical school in August of this year at the University of Zimbabwe. So I’m just excited about, I told her that when I come to Zimbabwe, every time I come to Zimbabwe, when she’s a doctor, she’s going to be my doctor.
[00:11:54] Paula: Absolutely. I love both stories. I mean, one, I mean the first one that you said really touched my heart. Especially to know that she’s come full circle in that she’s now sponsoring someone. But this one is even more current because she is a medical doctor. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.
[00:12:18] Bongai: Yes. August, she will be starting her medical school.
[00:12:22] Paula: Oh, my word. I love it Bongai. The work you’re doing is definitely, I mean, an inspiration to many. I know you said it started from.
[00:12:31] Bongai: Thank you.
[00:12:31] Paula: You’re welcome. It started from you helping rescue, or as a child, helping. I mean, seeing a child just like you being made a child bride. And seeing your parents or your mom, at least you mentioned your mom encouraging her to run away and that led you to what you’re doing today. Is there any way that anyone can contact you, if they want to know more about you? I mean, we’re talking about it now. But I know that you do have a website ,and I know you have many ways that they can contact you. Can you tell us about that?
[00:13:09] Bongai: Absolutely. So people can contact me, can get ahold of me. First of all, go to our website and see all of these success stories that I’m talking about and more. So the website is “www.endchildmarriages.org”. You can see all the stories there. You can also catch me on Facebook. We have a Facebook page, “AAYLF”. Empowering young vulnerable girls is there as well. You can also find me on Instagram. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can email me. It’s
[00:13:48] Bongai: ” email@example.com”. You can call me at (484) 356-8935″. So there are so many ways that you can contact me and learn more about, you know, what I’m doing. And if you want to partner, you can partner with that. We can talk about it.
[00:14:10] Paula: Absolutely. So I would like you to elaborate a little bit on that. Because some people are listening as they walk in, or you know, busy doing something else, which is what a podcast is all about. But when you talk about partnership, how can someone partner with you? Is there a process?
[00:14:26] Bongai: Absolutely. There is a process, it’s a very simple process. I’m always looking for people. Because what I’m doing, I don’t do by myself. I invite people, sponsors, companies, individuals mostly to support these girls, because we have a lot of them. So all you have to do is contact me in one of those ways that I mentioned earlier. And if you say you want to sponsor a girl, boom, I contact you with a teacher in Zimbabwe, who knows all these girls, who knows who is on the waiting list. She knows who is at the highest risk. So we take those that are at the most risk. And you can be head sponsor for only $300 a year. You can keep a girl in school, and everything can be done on our website. You can go on our websites and click, “I want to donate today”. “I want to empower a girl today”. “I want to be a sponsor”. You can, step by step. But we welcome sponsors. That’s how we survive. That’s how we help these girls through people, partnering with us.
[00:15:34] Paula: Thank you so much Bongai.
[00:15:37] Bongai: You’re welcome.
[00:15:38] Paula: By partnering with you, you’re saving a child. You’ll be saving a life. And what you’re doing is actually empowering women, not just in Africa. But an empowered woman is an empowered generation. Because women typically are the ones who take care of children, you know?
[00:15:57] Bongai: Yes, yes. I agree a hundred percent. And these girls, they are so, they are bright girls. They love to go to school. They have dreams. They have ambitions. So if somebody sponsors one, what I normally do as well, is that I will get a picture of the girl that you are sponsoring. I send you the picture. I send you her story, what your background is. And you get to build a relationship with her, because I will be updating you with her school progress. And if she’s doing anything at this school, I let you know. I mean, you keep in touch with this girl, you get school updates, you get, you have to get a relationship with her. So, you know, she becomes part of your family as well. So usually, you know, a lot of sponsors that I have now, they said it’s not only that I’m sponsoring a girl, is what is doing for me as a sponsor. It gives me peace, it gives me happiness, joy. Because they see the progress of what they are doing. Because when you really think about it, these girls, if we don’t sponsor them there, their dreams are stopped right there. They can’t go anywhere. They’ll be married off with no skills, no education, and they cannot take care of themselves. So once they finish school, you are giving them a chance to help themselves, to support themselves, and to support their children as well. And you already stated earlier “an empowered the woman is a successful woman”.
[00:17:31] Paula: Yes.
[00:17:33] Bongai: Once we empower these girls, we are empowering a whole generation.
[00:17:39] Paula: You got that right. Thank you Bongai. One last thing before I go, I want you to also educate the world on where Zimbabwe is. Many times as Africans, when we say where we’re from, people are like, yeah, where is that? So tell the world, or my listeners where Zimbabwe is. Is it in East Africa? West Africa? South Africa? Where is it?
[00:18:05] Bongai: So Zimbabwe is on the Southern part of Africa. If you know the shape of Africa, it has that little loop on the bottom. So Zimbabwe, we share the border with South Africa. South Africa is the one on the very bottom. So Zimbabwe, we share the border with Zambia, Botswana, Malawi. So it’s right, it’s on the Southern part of Africa.
[00:18:30] Paula: Okay, alright. Thank you.
[00:18:31] Bongai: But it’s a beautiful country, you have to visit it one day.
[00:18:34] Paula: I do. I’m taking all the invitations with all my guests. Whoever invites me to their country, love to go. Because right now, in terms of continents, I’ve been to every continent in the world, but Antarctica. And that’s one continent I’m like, I’m not going. It’s too cold. I don’t like cold. So coming down, coming back to Africa, only been to Western Africa. I’ve never been to, you know, Eastern or Southern.
[00:19:08] Bongai: I’m inviting you to my country, to Zimbabwe. And you can be my guest at my house. I have a house there, because I go to Zimbabwe every year. I’m about to go there, so you are more than welcome to come and visit us.
[00:19:22] Paula: I’ll take you up on that invitation. And so for my listeners, I hope you enjoyed listening to Bongai, and I hope you also want to be, if possible, a sponsor and change the life of one girl. Because as you heard changing the life of one girl means changing the generation, her generation. An empowered woman is an empowered generation. And if you enjoyed what you heard, we’d love you to head over to Google podcasts, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Amazon music, wherever you listen to podcasts, and please follow us and also click subscribe. And if you are an immigrant woman from Africa or the Caribbean, and you’d like for your story to be showcased as well, please reach out to me on my website, which is “www.chattingwiththeexperts.com” and go to the contact desk page, drop me a line and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Thank you again Bongai. You are helping to change the world and empower women and change the generations. Thank you.
[00:20:42] Bongai: Thank you so much for having me here, and thank you also for what you do to get all of us women from all over together and share our stories. So I thank you also.
[00:20:57] Paula: Thank you.