The Inside Scoop

Katy Koontz

Tererai Trent’s full first name is Tereraishokoramwari, which translated from her native Shona language means, “We listen to the word of the Spirit.” The moniker couldn’t be more prophetic.

Trent (the subject of this issue’s “Listening in With …”) was born in an impoverished rural village in southern Africa where boys got an education and girls just got married—fairly young. While this fate befell Trent, too, she still dreamed of a different future.

Miraculously, Trent achieved all she dreamed of and more. Now a Ph.D., she’s worked for major humanitarian organizations on five continents. She also runs a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting education and empowering communities in rural Zimbabwe. And she advocates for girls’ rights to a quality education by speaking all over the world. Trent has succeeded in ways she could never have imagined when she was tending cattle, gathering firewood, and living in a mud hut with a thatched-grass roof.

Her achievements took decades of hard work, often under extremely difficult circumstances, and the support of those who believed in her. Her success also depended on two additional critical factors: She believed her dreams were achievable (even when they seemed preposterous to most everyone else) and she didn’t dream of helping only herself—she wanted to succeed so she could help others empower themselves, as well.

In 2009, the year she received her Ph.D., her story appeared in the New York Times best-seller Half the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Oprah Winfrey then invited Trent on her show (later dubbing Trent her “all-time favorite guest”) and gave her $1.5 million to rebuild her village’s school in Zimbabwe. Trent founded her nonprofit organization (now Tererai Trent International) and began giving back to her community—and to the world.

She has addressed the United Nations several times and has spoken to audiences worldwide about the importance of educating girls—emphasizing that despite the many strides already made, 62 million girls continue to be denied an education.

What of Trent’s own children? One daughter earned an engineering degree, another is studying biomedical sciences, and her youngest attends a community college and hopes to go into medicine. One son is majoring in biology while another is studying information technology. Her only child not to attend college has a successful career in cosmetology.

To inspire even more children, Trent wrote a picture book titled The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can (Viking, 2015), telling how Trent’s mother suggested she write down her dreams and then bury them in a tin can for safekeeping. Trent also markets “dream cans”—square tins for kids to store their own recorded dreams (visit mydreamcan.com), with the proceeds going to her foundation. The cost of the cans is minimal, but the potential benefit to the next generation is priceless.

Katy Koontz, Editor
umageditor@unityonline.org