I just finished reading Elizabeth Nyamayaro’s most amazing story in her memoir I AM A GIRL FROM AFRICA.
When Elizabeth was 8 years old, there had been no rain to sustain her village in Zimbabwe. She was alone and starving, literally moving into death, when a girl in a blue uniform found her, revived her with food and water, and gave her the dream that has defined the purpose of her life.
What this girl in a blue uniform said to her was, “I am here to feed hungry children in the village because as Africans we must uplift each other.”
Of course an eight-year-old didn’t know exactly what that meant, but with the teaching of her grandmother Gogo, with whom she lived, the memory of the girl in the blue uniform, and the actions of other family members and friends who loved her unselfishly, Elizabeth internalized the guiding philosophy of every African country, “ubuntu.”
“Ubuntu” translates in English into, “I am because we are, and because we are, you are.”
Elizabeth’s dream was to become that girl in a blue uniform, and when she found out the uniform was that of the United Nations, she began her quest for that dream to become a reality.
It did, and it is a remarkable story.
To quote the biographical note on the book jacket, “Elizabeth Nyamayaro is an award-winning humanitarian and former United Nations senior advisor on gender equality. Born in Zimbabwe, Elizabeth has worked at the forefront of global development for over two decades, improving the lives of underserved populations, and has held leadership roles at the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and UN Women. Elizabeth is a political scientist by training and holds a master’s degree in politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. I AM A GIRL FROM AFRICA is her first book.”
That summarizes her career.
It says nothing about the most compelling part of her story: her relentlessness in pursuing her dream, her absolute love for her native continent, and her complete understanding of just how connected we all are.
If you want to know the truth, Elizabeth Nyamayaro puts me to shame. Here is a woman who is using her life to uplift others, ALL others, because she gets it. And she gets it because the idea that “I am because you are,” is intrinsic to her culture, to African culture.
Here I sit in my pettiness, with the luxury of anger and self-righteousness and feelings of being better and smarter than a bunch of other Americans.
Would that I could be more like Elizabeth Nyamayaro—not her work self but her inside self.
Would that we all could understand that our job is to uplift others, that we must uplift others.
Read this book. It is inspiring, it is compelling, and it is a message we Americans really need.