The girl child often faces challenges that impede her progress and leaves her stuck in a myriad of poverty, but Angelinah Bonniface-Kegakilwe encourages young people to work hard to reach their dreams.

Child marriages and teenage pregnancy are a recurring challenge in Botswana communities and she says it is unfortunate to see many girls being denied the right and freedom to reach their fullest potential.

"Young people should not assume that the circumstances that they find themselves define where they will end up in life. I also want them to know that the experience and journey of being who you are truly meant to be has ups and downs but we have to learn the lesson and accept the situation."

There are many pressures and systematic socio-economic challenges in society but instead of despairing and turning to crime, it is important to have a positive mindset, work hard and surround oneself with the type of people who will encourage one in life.

Bonniface-Kegakilwe, who works as a metadata analyst at the United Nations (UN) office in New York, USA, is currently on a visit to Botswana for several weeks and the highlight so far was doing a talk this past weekend at Moroka Primary School in Moroka village, where she hails from and

was raised. She spoke to Standards 5, 6 and 7, and encouraged them to be motivated in life.

"You have to push boundaries and adjust your mindset. It is not enough to have brains or education - you also need a positive disposition and resilience.

“And sometimes this means getting a good job so that you can at least be approved for a loan to buy yourself nice things, and you need some form of skills, talent or education for that!"

She cited herself as an example, having been raised in a poverty stricken home in a rural setting, going to school barefooted in tattered uniform, at times under harsh weather conditions, with bare minimum to survive.

Seeing young girls drop out of schools to have babies or get married was a norm in her community. However, her parents wouldn’t allow her to be indoctrinated by such culture and religion.

"Sometimes girls aged around 11, 12 or 13 got pregnant, you would hear that they have been transferred to a different school, while the truth is that they dropped out and they have been married or impregnated by older men. This was the norm in my area but my parents made it clear I would not be that girl!"

Bonniface-Kegakilwe went to Ramoja Junior Secondary School and Masunga and Francistown senior secondary schools before going to UB and later bagging a scholarship to complete her Masters in the United Kingdom. It appears that she inherited her self-driven feisty nature from her father, who was a Zezuru pastor before he was unceremoniously ex-communicated from the church.

"He taught me that sometimes it is not that some people do not have potential, but rather that they don't have better options in their life. It is a powerful thing to be able to make a choice over the kind of life you will lead," she said.

Bonniface-Kegakilwe was seemingly called to break generational curses in her family and is a woman of firsts in her family lineage, where the women have previously been stifled by the rigid rules of culture and religion.

In three generations, she is the first person to get formal education and have a stable high-income job. She is also the first woman to complete secondary school and get a university degree, the first to ride a plane and travel overseas, the first to get a license and drive, the first to choose her own husband and the first to publish a book! She documents her life story in her book, titled ‘Branded.’

At age 16, she was forced to drop out from secondary after she fell pregnant. Her parents took care of the baby and forced her to repeat Form 4 until she went to UB in 2002.

"If it were not for their support I would not have managed. I would have probably accepted struggle and joined other women who depend on men to survive. My parents told me that I should not get married; they said that I should instead focus on getting a career and 'marry myself if possible.'

The 39-year-old said that growing up in the secular confines of Zezuru culture and religion, she was restricted and was taught to accept poverty but as she came into her own, she figured that God wants better for us.

"I don't believe in a God that wants us to be poor. I believe in a God who has blessed us with the ability to use our intelligence and skills to get out of poverty."

She said her colleagues at the UN headquarters encouraged her to write a book.

"One would think that colleagues are jealous and toxic but I was blessed with wonderful colleagues who encouraged me to share my life story in a book because they found my 'grass-to-grace' story fascinating," she said.

She has also made interesting observations during her time with the UN; for example, she was engaged on a mission to assist undocumented Bazezuru in Kenya.

"They got there through spiritual voyage as the Bazezuru went about spreading the religion on the backdrop of missionary outreaches. But not all Bazezuru are cultural or religious fanatics. Some choose to go to school and carve careers and are assimilated into modern society.

Bonniface-Kegakilwe is happily married and has two more children.

"I'm happy that I chose my husband for myself," she chuckles. Her husband is from Thamaga. She will have a talk at BIUST in Palapye this weekend.