In honor of Grassroot Soccer’s 20th anniversary, we are spotlighting former participants from over the past two decades, where they are now, and how participating in GRS programs helped them get to where they are in life today.

As part of its holistic approach to equipping youth with critical health knowledge and life skills, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) helps adolescent girls to develop their leadership skills and self-efficacy, which can empower them to stand up for their rights and achieve their goals in life. 

Gertrude Zororo is a former GRS participant in Zimbabwe who typifies these traits. After joining GRS, Gertrude has gone on to take up a leadership position at her school and as a junior councillor for the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. GRS’s Praise Dumi Dlakama recently caught up with Gertrude to find out how GRS played a role in empowering her to develop the life skills and self-belief to become a community leader as a young woman in a mostly patriarchal society.

Praise: Tell us a little about yourself and how you’ve been involved with Grassroot Soccer (GRS).

Gertrude: I am 17 years old and live in Barbourfields, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I took part in Grassroot Soccer’s SKILLZ Core program in 2018 and SKILLZ Girl in 2020. [SKILLZ Core is a mixed-gender intervention for very young adolescents aged 9-14 that focuses on social asset building and introduces core sexual and reproductive health topics during puberty, a time of profound change for young people. SKILLZ Girl is an evidence-based intervention for girls aged 13-19 that empowers them with basic information to make healthy choices about their sexual and reproductive health while developing their leadership and life skills.]

I am currently studying my Advanced Level in [a combination of Accounts, Economics, and Business Studies]. I’m also a junior councillor for the city of Bulawayo representing my school and ward as an aspiring Junior Mayoress. [Junior Mayoress is a position in which a female student leads the city’s junior council and serves as the voice of young people on policies that affect them in areas like education and health.]

What was the most important thing you learned at GRS?

The program helped me a lot, to know that I must follow my dreams and do what I aspire to do. I always asked myself the question, “Let’s say I am a leader. Are the people going to listen to me?” Just because I am a girl, it does not mean that I should be afraid of people. I learned how to be confident and bold, because if people see that you are confident, they will listen to you and respect you. Even if I am a girl, I can do what boys can do. At the end of the day, we should all be treated equally. 

What do you remember about GRS and what was your favourite part?

What I remember about the program is that it was a safe space to express ourselves. We played games that helped us to overcome many situations that we face in life. It was so amazing to realize that these games had specific lessons that really helped us, like making the right decisions about our future, avoiding peer pressure, and living healthy lives.

There was also a part where we learned about our rights. It was of great help. I now know that I cannot be forced to do something that I do not want to do. Even my parents cannot force me to get married or drop out of school for whatever reason. 

How did GRS influence your behavior?

As teenagers we face many problems, especially peer pressure. Some friends are a bad influence. I learned how to overcome peer pressure and find ways to choose friends who will support me. It was difficult to leave some of my friends who were pressuring me with negative peer pressure, but knowing that I have goals to achieve I decided to drop them and focus on my future. 

I know that I can do anything. Nothing can stop me from going for my goals and I must not be someone who is helpless. I can be an independent woman, never misuse my body, and be successful in life. I know that my body is mine.  

How did you feel being part of GRS?

Being a part of GRS made me feel good. GRS gave me the power to express myself, the power to see where I belong. To be confident and achieve my goals. To know what I want in life and know who I am; to show people who I am. To be fearless. To go out in my community and shine and rise above all the barriers that hinder girls from achieving their goals. 

Did GRS help you to use any health services?

I went for a breast cancer screening. I had been seeing stories on TV about women suffering from breast cancer, and I learned it can start at any time and it does not choose who to attack. Thanks to GRS, they offered to connect girls to screening, and I was part of those who accessed the service. 

Who was your GRS Coach, and what do you remember about them?

My Coach was Cecilia. She was someone who was open to everyone. When I had problems, she was someone that I went to for help. I was sure she would always help me and she wouldn’t go around telling people my problems. 

She made me feel welcome and alive. I respected her, but she was also a friend. I realized that I could be open and free when I was with her. I did not have to hide my true personality, and I was never afraid to approach her.  

Gertrude (right) with her GRS Coach Cecilia.

Do you still interact with her after your graduation from the GRS programs?

We come from the same community, so now just because the program has ended, it does not mean that she has stopped being my friend. If I have a problem, I cannot stay indoors and cry about it alone. Just because Cecilia is no longer my Coach, it does not mean I have to look for someone else to help me. I will still go to her for support.

What did you tell your family about GRS and how did they respond?

I told my whole family about how excited I was to be doing GRS programs. I would share with my mother in greater detail because she is like a sister to me. She knows everything about me and I do not have to hide anything from her. She was so happy about the program, and she told me that our generation is lucky because during her time growing up, they never knew about their sexual and reproductive health and rights and the services that they could access. 

What are your future plans?

I am very passionate about accounting and want to be an accountant. I love numbers and I want to be my own boss!

What would you like to say to GRS as they celebrate their 20th anniversary?

I would like to say they are doing a great job because they are improving the lives of many teenagers, especially girls. They are teaching girls to be empowered, protect themselves, and overcome peer pressure.