Julieth Gudo is today a PhD holder. But the circumstances of her growing up never gave her a chance at life. She lost her parents when she was in grade 7. She ran away from home and a child marriage when she lost her grandmother thereafter. She shared how she braved all the odds to get education up to PhD level from a refugee camp in South Africa. Read her inspiring story in this interview with AC.
AC: Congratulations on your recent achievement of PhD. Could you please tell us about yourself?
My name is Julieth Gudo and I am 31 years old. I was born in Zaka District, Masvingo Province, one of the major cities in Zimbabwe.
AC: You shared your story on LinkedIn recently narrating how you crossed personal and societal barriers to get educated up to PhD level. Could you please tell us more about this?
JG: I come from a very disadvantaged background in Zimbabwe which led to my failure to proceed with education after completing grade seven when my parents died. As a child sitting at home and not doing anything other than facing the harsh socio-economic hardships and a child marriage that was about to happen, I decided to leave home when I lost my paternal grandmother who had become my guardian. I travelled to South Africa with others in search for greener pastures. We travelled through the bushes and the crocodile infested Limpopo River as we had no proper documents. I will never forget that painful journey.
In South Africa, I was welcomed at a refugee centre for women in Musina, and I stayed there for 8 years. The centre was funded and supported by the United Nations, UNICEF, Save the Children UK, IOM, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross and many other organisations.
Life in the refugee centre was hard. I cried on most days but I was also very thankful to have a home and meals on a daily basis. Within those 8 years, the refugee centre in collaboration with some of these different humanitarian organisations and the local government decided that all the children in the centre enrol back to school. It was unbelievable as I had never thought I would ever go back to school again after so many years and in a foreign country. I had not been in school for 8 years and had lost hope.
I was too old to be in lower grades, so I was placed in Grade 11 after a pre-test of my ability to learn, read and write. I took the opportunity and diligently worked hard to pass high school. I was not going to waste the opportunity to change my life. I passed grade 12 with distinctions. I applied to University of Limpopo for a bachelor’s degree in law (LLB). I went to University without funding and so I worked part-time to pay my fees. In the process of doing my LLB, I was awarded one of the American based scholarships called The General Board of Global Ministries Scholarship (GBGM) and that was the beginning of a new life for me as the scholarship paid for all my University expenses.
When I completed my LLB, I applied to the University of Cape Town for a masters degree in commercial law (LLM) and I was accepted. In 2016, I graduated with an LLM, and I decided to pursue a PhD degree immediately. Fortunately, I became the recipient of several external scholarships throughout all my PhD studies such as the Margaret McNamara Education Grants, Canon Collins Scholarship and the GBGM which funded me from bachelors up to my PhD studies.
The thing about suffering in life is that once you get a chance to transform yourself, there is no stopping. I always knew that education would liberate me from the consequences of my disadvantaged background and when I got the opportunity, I just couldn’t let go, hence the PhD degree.
AC: We will like to know the focus of your PhD work and the insights that could be derived from the study?
JG: My thesis researched on the use of legal provisions by civil society organisations (CSOs) to advance corporate governance in state-owned enterprises in South Africa.
The topic came as a result of the increasing corruption and poor governance in state-owned companies in South Africa and the lack of enforcement of the law against the wrongdoers. To fight corruption and maladministration of state resources in state owned companies, civil society organisations employ different legal measures such as litigation but the problem is that their role in doing so is not clearly defined in both law and literature. This loophole is now being used to undermine the role of CSOs by those involved in the wrong conducts in SOEs.
The thesis found that there is need for amendment of existing legal provisions to strengthen the role of CSOs in demanding for accountability in state-owned companies. Most of the existing legal provisions although well written, have many gaps that wrongdoers exploit to escape accountability. The closure of such gaps would contribute significantly to the enabling environment for CSOs and a reduction of poor governance in SOEs which are a crucial tool for service delivery in South Africa.
AC: During those years of your struggling to get a path for yourself, what could you say is your greatest motivation?
JG: My life struggles when growing up motivated me. I lived in poverty and faced many challenges that affected me in many different ways. I was hungry for change. I had no other option but to go to school. I suffered a lot as a child and I wanted to change that and education was the closest option.
AC: How do you intend to document your experience so as to serve as inspiration for others in the same circumstances?
JG: I intend to write a book. Hopefully, this will happen soon.
AC: Moving forward, what is next for you especially in preventing similar circumstances from inhibiting others from reaching their potentials?
JG: To teach as many people as possible that a child should be allowed to be child. Looking back, I am still shocked at the things that I was made to do and the abuse that I went through in the hands of those that were expected to help me. I often ask myself why they did those things to me. If one cannot help a needy child, free him or her so that the next person can assist them. Secondly, homeless children or orphans should not be hesitant to stay in refugee centres, orphanages and homes where they can pick themselves up and improve their lives. It’s still not going to be easy but it helps a lot. Sometimes a home of this nature is better than being in the streets or in an abusive home. Thirdly, there is nothing attractive about child marriage. Child marriage entirely destroys every child’s future. Children need education. I often wonder what my life would be today had I stayed with that man (four times my age around that time) who was about to marry me.
AC: Thank you for your time
JG: It is my pleasure