Nyasha Zhakata – Global Director, The Dream Academy

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Alturi Project Stategist

My name is Nyasha Zhakata (Masi). I’m an out and proud 38-year-old lesbian mom of an incredible daughter. I’m an activist, human rights defender, and the Global Director of The Dream Academy, Safe Place International’s flagship program.

Context
Safe Place International is a holistic leadership development organization for displaced LGBTQIA+ individuals. Societies often trivialize and overlook the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. Safe Place International creates pathways for sustainable and fulfilled lives that celebrate their inherent potential.

LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers are at a unique intersection of identity/ They have to face both xenophobia for their migrant status and prejudice for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In approximately 70 countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals experience violence and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, oppressive government policies and legislation often criminalize same-sex relationships. Negative religious and societal beliefs also cause it. As a result, LGBTQIA+ individuals flee their countries, searching for a safe place to call home.

Below is the story of one of Safe Place International’s first program graduates, Nyasha Zhakata. Nyasha’s rise from isolation to the Global Directorship of Safe Place International’s Dream Academy program is a testament to her resilience and commitment as an LGBTQIA+ leader.

Zimbabwe
Life was not easy. I was never safe. Being LGBTQIA+ in Zimbabwe is considered a bad omen, where the community casts you out, and the state will imprison you. I grew up around people who thought being LGBTQIA+ was contagious, as if my identity could infect those around me. This mindset left me excluded and humiliated, not just publicly but within my own family.  Society forced me to grow up quickly when I came out at a young age. At eight years old, I was raped by my uncles and cousins to “make me straight.” The community commended them because they saw this violence as necessary to excise the demon making me a lesbian.

Safety
I moved to South Africa to find refuge. At 18 years old, I ran away from home and found some safety with a friend. However, once she married, I had to leave but was told I could return home with the promise that things had changed and that I would be safe.

Unfortunately, it became clear that nothing had changed. My uncle attacked and tried to rape me, so I fought back (I beat his ass!) and escaped! That’s when my eyes turned to South Africa, where I could build a life for myself.

I heard from the news and social media that South Africa would be a safe place for me to be myself. I thought this would be where I could live authentically while raising my daughter.

I have found some acceptance, but it’s not all rosy for migrants. I am fighting for my migrant status, but I have faced unique obstacles as an LGBTQIA+ person. For example, after I told immigration officers about my daughter, hoping she could join me, they said that I could not claim asylum because, as a lesbian, I would not be a proper mother. I was devastated.

Despite having a college degree, I also struggled to get a reliable job. So instead, I had to take a position in the restaurant business, where they happily exploited the fact that I was undocumented.

The Dream Academy
I joined TDA during the pandemic. A week before joining, I was in a very dark place. The lockdowns, prolonged isolation, and exploitation from my old job left me contemplating suicide. Then, a friend recommended that I join The Dream Academy and work through my grief, anger, and depression. During my first week at TDA, I was shy and unsure about my decision. I wondered, “What do these Americans have to teach me?” But after the first and second weeks, I understood that these Americans weren’t there to provide all the answers. Instead, they were there simply to support and encourage me–holding my hand as I confronted some of the most challenging parts of my past.

By the third week, we started learning forgiveness and healing. I knew I wasn’t authentic or honest about my life. I ignored how my anger and resentment affected my relationships and worldview. I realized I needed to be more accountable for how I treated others and how I broke off other relationships. I came to know I was missing in my life.

Hope
After graduating, I became the Global Director of the Dream Academy. Now, I lead classes with other LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers in over 15 countries. Safe Place International saw the leader within me, and they have invested in my success in a way that no other nonprofit organization is doing for its program beneficiaries. They trust me to lead the Dream Academy and usher in the next generation of leaders and activists, who will find that same sense of authenticity and community as I have. They also helped me reunite with my daughter, who turned 18 this year.

My ultimate goal with the Dream Academy is to spread my story and inspire others in the LGBTQIA+ community to connect, speak out, transform, and rise. Furthermore, I want this movement to become generational, where every child never has to face the evils I endured.
Through The Dream Academy, I hope to tell more refugees and migrants in Africa about how they deserve to be themselves, find love, build their future, spread their wings, and discover their full potential.

Message
Let us show more love and compassion. We are a community denied love and compassion. We have endured hate crimes and internalized prejudice. I want us to be on the loudspeakers, shouting: we are human, we do exist, and we demand equality and dignity!
For more information on Safe Place International and how you can get involved, email Matt Maxwell at maxwell@safeplaceinternational.org. Please make your secure donation HERE if you’d like to support us today.

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