“I have always wanted to further my education ever since I was just a little girl; unfortunately life conspired against me and I couldn’t. I had a family to take care of,” says a bubbly 76-year-old Mrs Hatifare Mutongi.
Despite her advanced age, Mrs Munongi has gone back to class to fulfil her dream of attaining a university degree.
Her story is an inspiring one.
Having achieved a lot as a family person with three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Mrs Munongi is an epitome of hard work and self-determination.
And now as a retiree, she has been reading for a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Sociology and Gender Development at Women’s University in Africa since 2013.
Married at 21 and with just a primary education, she abandoned her dreams of becoming a nurse and found herself teaching.
She had her first child at the age of 22 and would spend 50 years as a teacher. She retired from teaching in 2006.
But her children awakened her long-forgotten aspirations for further education when they all became nurses.
“A mother’s role is a bit tough and comes with too many responsibilities. I had my family, extended family, in-laws, parents and siblings to look after.
“Because my husband was also a teacher, he helped me and during that time we thought we were getting a lot of money, hence nursing was (shelved).
“Now that I look back, I wish I had done better, but then it was during the colonial era and opportunities were restricted.
“Don’t get me wrong, while teaching was something that kept me busy, it helped pay the bills and look after the big family,” she recounts.
During her teaching years, Mrs Munongi admired her colleagues who were advancing their education and she challenged herself to change her situation.
“Over the years, I watched my husband advance his education up to university level and I asked myself “what about me?”
“I felt bad about it because I couldn’t engage myself in serious studying because I had this burden on my shoulders, while some people were discouraging me saying what I had done was enough.
“I remember I sat for my ZJC through correspondence and wrote my five O and two A levels one subject each year and I thought that was enough; and then later on I realised that without really getting into a university, people still look down upon you and then the idea of enrolling came.”
All her children attained nursing degrees in British and Canadian universities where they are working.
“I was inspired by reading articles on the first person landing on the moon and many others and so I then challenged myself to become the first person to graduate in my 70s.
“I didn’t tell my children about my enrolling because I wanted to surprise them and due to my small job, I didn’t want to ask anyone for money. I wanted to foot my own expenses.
“When they finally found out, they were surprised and knowing how determined I was they encouraged me to remain focused by buying me textbooks.”
Despite hectic church, societal and family responsibilities, Mrs Munongi finds time to study.
“I normally do my studies early in the morning; I go to bed early and wake up around 3am to read. I am really thankful for the computers because they have made studying really easy.
“When I first enrolled I was adamant saying I don’t need computers because it was just hard but I was told it is a requirement and I later warmed up to it,” she says.
She is not the first great-grandmother to graduate. American Nola Ochs graduated at 98-years-old from Fort Hays State University with a Master of Liberal Studies in History in 2012.
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