This week on Head CHICA In Charge we introduce you to Danai Nhando, a Human Rights Lawyer that is passionate about quality education in Africa. This is what she has to say about her career and involvement in high impact eLearning initiatives.
Theo: Danai, please tell us about your background (where you grew up, studied and graduated)?
Danai: I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and lived in Harare and Bulawayo and later moved to Gaborone Botswana. I completed my ‘A’ Levels in the year 2000 and moved to South Africa in 2001 to pursue a BComm Degree majoring in Law and Economics at Rhodes University, which I completed in 2003. I started my Law Degree also at Rhodes University the following year and completed it in 2005. In 2010, I moved to the UK to study an MBA in Sustainability and International Management at the Royal Holloway, University Of London and came back to South Africa after I completed my degree in 2011.
Theo: Interesting why did you choose a career in law?
Danai: I have known since I was 6 that I wanted to be a lawyer. I can’t explain it but I knew I wanted to stand in the gap for those who could not speak up for themselves. When I started my university studies my intention was to specialize in commercial law and work for a big corporate law firm but a lot changed when I started studying.
As a student, I began to consciously notice that the plight of Africa and that ultimately its freedom rested in the hands of Africans themselves. I noted with great concern that many people remained poor, oppressed and without knowledge of their rights because they had no access to justice. As a result I committed to volunteer work at the Rhodes University Legal Aid Clinic in my penultimate year and final year of university, where I was involved in providing legal services to the poor and raising human rights awareness in the Grahamstown community. Despite my commercial law background and several opportunities that arose for me to work in the corporate sector, I opted to serve my articles at a legal aid clinic because it provided an opportunity for practical training in the area of human rights.
In the 3 years that I was practicing Human Rights law, assisting indigent clients with heart wrenching cases, I saw first hand how illiteracy and poverty share an intimate bond that continues to cap the progress of so many in African communities. My client’s foundational issue was not that their human rights had been violated; it was the fact that 90% of the time they were illiterate and had no understanding of their rights or how to stand up for themselves. They had no voice! This was my moment of obligation and I made a radical move from practicing human rights to working in the education development space with an international NGO crafting educational solutions for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Theo: Please explain to us what your career entails?
Danai: I am an Education/eLearning Consultant and I specialize in the design and delivery of technology-enabled learning solutions. I am inspired by a passion for education and the applied use of technology in enhancing access to quality education for ALL. Education to me is a basic human right and everyone should have access to quality education. My specialty is undertaking the initial needs-analysis, evaluating the content needs relevant to the market and directing the Learning Management System design or selection.
I’ll never stop being a human rights lawyer but I am fighting for justice of a different kind and my goal is to equip and assist academic institutions, corporates and non-profits to maximize the power of technology to improve teaching and learning and increase access to education for all at the lowest cost possible. Every African student and educator has a right to access good quality, affordable educational resources and that access should not be determined by the socio-economic conditions of the individual, but be based on the principles of social solidarity, equity and fairness
Theo: There must have been obstacles along your way, take us through those and how you overcame them?
Danai: Yes definitely and I can’t possibly list them all here but I will mention two obstacles that I overcame that played a key role in making me the woman I am today.
I recall a lot of financial challenges as my parents paid for my education from their own pockets and there were years when we they would manage to put all the money together just on time. My faith in Christ was a pillar through the financial challenges, I always believed that God would make a way for me and indeed He never failed me.
The greatest obstacle I have faced that impacted both my career and personal choices was the death of both my parents in a car accident in Botswana just after I had completed my law degree. It shattered me in so many ways and the realisation that life can end anytime hit me very hard. I resolved that I wanted to live my life to the fullest and to make bold choices that would transform lives. Although it took many months for me to get back on my feet and believe again that life was worth it, once I did I turned my life around for the better. My obstacles broke me but they molded me into a woman of strength, determination and tenacity.
Theo: I had a look at your twitter bio, it says you are a CHAMPION FOR AFRICA, what does that mean?
Danai: I love this continent and I believe in its people. I believe that quality education should not be a luxury for the poor but a right! To me education is a non-negotiable especially for children steeped in poverty. Yet when I look around me, my views are so far removed from the reality on the ground. I firmly believe that there is no other way to develop an African nation than in investing in the education of its citizens. Investing in education should be a moral imperative if one understands that the future of any nation rises or falls on its people. A people without knowledge will perish, worse still they will perish in the same state of poverty that their parents and grandparents before them perished in. I am an education advocate! Africa is my heartbeat! Education is my passion! Injustice is my nemesis!
Theo: What does your current work involve?
Danai: I have a really exciting job. I started a consultancy a year ago to assist academic institutions, corporates and NPO’s to set up low-cost, high-impact eLearning initiatives. My ultimate goal is to be part of the global solution to make quality education accessible to ALL.
Theo: With having to do all of that, what then is a typical day for you?
Danai: Well, I am a mummy and wife before all the career goals and aspirations. Family comes first, so my typical day starts with getting my 2 year old ready for pre-school and making sure my household is in order before the day begins. I have the advantage of running a consultancy from a home office so once my daughter is at school I begin work. I work on multiple projects at a time, which makes my work very dynamic and exciting. Ideally I do a lot of research and develop proposals for the implementation of eLearning initiatives. My most exciting projects involve work with that empowers students in disadvantaged schools and affords them access to quality academic materials.
Theo: Super woman! What are you passionate about?
Danai: I am passionate about Africa, the education of its people and the upholding of justice based on principles of fairness and equity.
I am also a very avid writer and am Top Author on eLearning Industry the largest online community of professionals involved in eLearning globally. I am also a contributing writer on the Mail & Guardian Thought Leader Blog.
Theo: Maybe you could write a piece for Chica too…heheh. What keeps you on your toes?
Danai: My family and my faith are my two major motivators. Knowing that each day I get to fulfil my purpose gets me up each morning motivated to be and to do the best that I can. It also allows me to take on the challenges I face with boldness even when it looks impossible.
Theo: And Danai, what is your take on mentoring?
Danai: The saying “no man is an island” rings true when I think of mentoring. You will never know, understand and be able to be excellent at everything and you need to know that growth comes when you allow yourself to be nurtured, trained and guided by someone else. Strategically developing talent contributes to your personal and professional growth. Mentorship is an investment of time and other resources necessary to help someone succeed in their academic or professional career. As Africans we need to foster a culture of mentorship and empower young people to make informed and productive academic and career decisions.
Theo: Have you had an opportunity to be mentored by anyone, if yes, please explain?
Danai: Yes I have had professional mentors. Mostly I appreciated being challenged beyond what I thought I was capable of and being taught how to push through until I saw successful results.
Theo: Have you had an opportunity to mentor anyone?
Danai: I have had the opportunity to mentor several people and it is such a humbling and empowering experience.
Theo: That's really great. What’s your definition of success?
Danai: Success is living in the fullness of my purpose everyday, knowing that self-sacrifice in the service of others far outweighs money, possessions or fame. It means no regrets about yesterday, fully embracing today and anticipating the victories of tomorrow.
Theo: How can aspiring females be like you?
Danai: Ladies, dare to step out of your comfort zone. Try something new, reinvent yourself, and don’t be fearful, you’ll be surprised what you have on the inside of you that you have allowed to lie dormant. Don’t let your dreams die whilst you are still alive.
I love Maya Angelou’s Poem I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings…. Here’s excerpt that explains it so well;
“But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.”
Don't be a caged bird! Fly!
Theo: WOW! That’s so profound thank you for sharing…What’s next for you?
Danai: New frontiers and new adventures in education on the African continent.
Theo: Thank you Danai, we are inspired!