Maka Chikowero: Scoring On and Off The Pitch
16-year-old Makanaka Chikowero continues to make waves in the United States after she recently won the Chicago Red Stars #SHEINSPIRESME Award, an annual award that is presented to women who exemplify leadership, practice social responsibility, and inspire and uplift their community.
Together with two other winners, Maka was recognised for the philanthropic work she continues to do in Zimbabwe, though empowering young, rural girls, particularly in Chimanimani.
Through a non-profit based organisation she founded called MTC Educate A Girl Inc, the teen football sensation says she is on a mission to change lives on and off the field and is using her football exploits to fight for the rights of the girl child.
“Being on a soccer team gives you a platform to speak to people your age and share experiences that you have had with others and soccer gives you a fighting spirit, even if you’re losing in a game, it gives you the drive to potentially want to get a draw or hopefully win and this can apply to off the pitch as well,” she told 263Chat from her US base.
Maka, like many Zimbabweans, moved to the United States with her family aged two and at age six, when she found passion in sports, she took it upon herself to embark on a journey to help other girls back in Zimbabwe.
She has been relentless since, a feat which continues to propel her to stardom.
Recently, she was amongst 147 individuals from 42 countries nominated for the 2020 International Children’s Peace Prize.
Although she fell agonizingly short, she was eventually rewarded with a recent accolade which she dedicated to the girls she is helping.
“This is not only a win for me but a win for the girls that I’m supporting and it keeps me going every day that I’m able to make a change in their lives even if it’s a very small thing, it keeps me going. I hope it keeps the girls going as well,” she said.
She credits her mentors for nurturing her towards the path she has taken. At just 10, Maka was rubbing shoulders with the cream de la cream in the activism world after being invited to the United Nations youth conference, which was no mean feat for someone her age.
“My journey on being a philanthropist has been an exciting one, I have had many great mentors who have been able to help me and guide me throughout this path and I would not be able to be where I’m today without their assistance. I’m very grateful that I have them in my life,” she adds.
“I’m also very thankful to well-wishers in my community and beyond who have supported me by making donations as well as providing materials to pass on to the girls that I’m supporting,” the attacking midfielder said.
But just like most advocacy work in Zimbabwe, there are hiccups to reaching the intended receptors of the good work.
Issues to do with Gender-Based Violence, which has remained a contentious subject around the world, are not adequately accepted, especially with the traditional communities.
Until recently, GBV had been ignored by traditional leaders but with extensive engagements, more and more leaders are beginning to wake up to the harsh reality that this is a scourge worth talking about.
In this regard, the MTC has been engaging traditional leaders with the aim to tackle the vice.
“We have problems based around bringing awareness to gender-based violence and our field officer who is a gender champion is meeting with traditional leaders to spread the message around GBV and in the near future we hope to have a soccer tournament that can bring the girls together to potentially amplify the awareness around GBV,” Makanaka says.
The world is currently commemorating 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. 2020 has seen an alarming increase in the number of GBV cases as people and families spent more time indoors due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
To amplify the message, Maka’s organisation has engaged law enforcement agencies to teach the girls about safe spaces.
“Before the training sessions, we have the girls meet with local law enforcement as well as health officers who talk to them about abuse as well as their bodies to ensure a safe environment for the girls,” adds Maka.
But what drives her to do the work she does?
“I want to see a world where there is an equal playing field despite where you live your, income or your status. Whether you are an orphan or not, I want to see you rise and be successful. I hope the girls will not be left behind because these are athletes working to level the playing field.
“I do understand that not all problems are going to be magically solved overnight due to the issues that were brought to the forefront by the pandemic. issues such as the digital divide where even if we were to put the girls back in school, they cannot participate after being left behind in online learning,” she says.
She adds that although she has had more exposure in the land of the free, it was not a determinant factor in her taking the path she has chosen.
“I don’t think moving to the United States would have changed anything, in my opinion, I think it only takes a curious mind and an empathic heart for you to realize and notice the inequalities in your communities,” she says.
In inspiring other girls, Maka says, like in sports, giving up is not an option. She urges young girls to follow their passions.
“My message to girls who want to be like me is to be yourself, stand up for what you believe in, work hard and as I always say, the future is young, the future is female and the future is bright,” she says.