“During those difficult times, I sometimes thought the best plan for me would be to just get married like all the other young girls around me,” she says. “But something inside me told me to keep going, that something better would come if I just persevered.”
Aged just nine, Fortunate’s mother died. Despite this setback early in life, she proved to be a good student who excelled in her studies, achieving 7 A grades and 3 B grades at Ordinary Level. Fortunate’s life seemed on track and she continued onto Advanced Level (A Level), taking Science subjects in pursuit of her dream to become a medical doctor.
Having gone through Fifth Form and preparing to take her final exams in the Sixth Form, Fortunate’s life turned on its head when her father announced that he could no longer pay her school fees. It was 2008 and the height of Zimbabwe’s economic and political collapse; Fortunate’s mother’s relatives (who had been helping with Fortunate’s education costs) also announced that they could no longer offer any support.
Immediately, Fortunate’s life’s goals had to adjust. Sent to live with her maternal aunt in one of the most rural parts of Beit Bridge, Chamnangana, Fortunate had to adapt to a life without running water and to undertake rigorous household chores.
“I remember the hard work and toil of working in the garden in the mornings,” says Fortunate, her cringeing face registering the pain of the memory. In an instant, Fortunate had gone from a future burgeoning brightly at Gokomere High School in Masvingo to the bleak prospects of a rural life.
But worse was to come. The following year, Fortunate’s father would die.
“After my father passed away, I became restless about the sort of life I was leading,” she shares. “And that’s when I thought of starting a vending business.”
Fortunate had received a share of her father’s property and after devising an entrepreneurial plan to start selling cool drinks in her area, she’d sold off part of the property to raise money for seed capital.
But in order to make her business profitable, Fortunate had to travel to Harare to hoard cheap supplies of drinks for resale back in Beit Bridge. And it was then that she remembered an old friend, Memory, whom she’d attended school with at Gokomere.
“She was like my little sister at school and when I made contact, she suggested that I travel through Kadoma, from Beit Bridge, and stop by to see her mother,” remembers Fortunate.
Memory’s mother, Jessie Machakwa, ran a business of clothes boutiques and the idea to get into selling clothes, as well as cool drinks, ran through Fortunate’s mind.
But none of Fortunate’s entrepreneurial plans would come to pass because of Machakwa’s alternative ideas.
“She said she saw potential in me and volunteered to help me get back into school to complete my studies,” the young woman recounts.
And so it was that after two years of disenchantment, Fortunate returned to the familiarity of books and classroom walls, repeating her A Level studies from scratch between 2010 and 2011 in Kwekwe. Over holidays, Fortunate travelled to the Machakwas’ home where she still lives today.
Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi performing for the USAP event where Fortunate was present.
And she would not disappoint; Fortunate returned a set of impeccable results achieving A grades in Mathematics and Biology, and a B grade in Chemistry.
Further doors would open when Memory would bring home application forms and details for Fortunate to try her luck at a United States Achievers Program (USAP) opportunity to study in the US.
“I had forgotten all about the programme when one day, I got called in to the school office where I was informed that I was wanted at the US Embassy in Harare.”
Fortunate was accepted on the programme, eventually securing a place at Smith College in Massachusetts to study medicine.
“I really wanted to study medicine because when my mum passed away, I don’t think she was diagnosed correctly,” states Fortunate. “They said later that it was some sort of cancer that killed her, and I suspect that it was cervical cancer. Had she had better treatment, she might not have died.”
Fortunate says she would like to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology and any other women-related issues.
“I think I’m a bit of a feminist,” she smiles.
It is an important question to ask; does she ever regret the years of her youth she lost due to her circumstances?
“Dreams are renewable, no matter at what age,” she says. “Right now, at my age, I could be completing my degree and yet I am only beginning it. Sometimes I regret the lost years, but my experiences will help me to think and reflect more, and also hopefully give back in a more meaningful way when I complete my studies. Maybe it just means I will be doing something better when I am done.”
Fortunate’s mandate after her studies is clear; she wants to ensure a better future for her younger sister still living in Beit Bridge, and she also wants to change women’s lives and be an example, just as Machakwa has been an example in her own life.
“Just when I thought I would never find someone to call mum again, she came along,” Fortunate says. “To be where I am is all because of her. Thank you is just not enough.”