Empowered to Empower: How Chef Mhle Uses Her Skills to Inspire Community Development

Photo provided by Mhlelusizo Ncube

Mhlelusizo Ncube, known as “Chef Mhle,” is a chef by profession and has evolved into an entrepreneur and community builder. She told TWSC that she has a strong rural background and was empowered with the basic skills of survival at an early age.

At 19, I got pregnant, and all doors were closed on my face, and I suffered segregation and shaming from all angles as culture shuns [women who] have a child out of wedlock.

Despite being a teen mum, Mhle explained that she knew that there was something special about her; she was not ordinary.

I had to work extremely hard to be accepted as an equal human being in society. I knew there was something special within me and I always had charisma. I refused to be stuck in one position or let the past define me. I always had the desire to be on the frontlines solving problems. I believe that every woman can defeat the odds if empowered, especially psychologically.

Tell us more about the work you do in different capacities. How did you establish it, and what motivated you to do so?

I’m a chef that campaigns for the use of local and traditional African ingredients in basic cooking. I run cooking/baking classes for women and girls who want to earn from the cooking skills for a living. I create workshops and platforms for women and youth to navigate themselves and motivate them to start from where they are.

I have a travel agency that focuses more on domestic tourism. I need people to experience diversity in the country’s villages to embrace each other and stir up possibilities of collaboration in basic opportunities. My aim is to positively impact the lives of many women and girls, empowering them [so they will] not allow be trapped in any environment with GBV (gender-based violence).

How have you managed to balance business, motherhood and other roles you play in your community?

I just keep my life simple and straightforward. I take calculated risks in business. I value and build a lot of networks. Now, I have a lot of colleagues whom I collaborate with, and it makes life a little easier. My son is 16 and at a boarding school but helps a lot when he is at home.

What does personal development mean to you?

Personal development is having the courage to do what one feels they love doing and courage to use the little they have to make a difference. It’s finding purpose, peace and independence in everything that one does. I made a decision to impact lives through my entrepreneurial skills, and I have successfully done that.

How have you developed in the past years, and how have you helped other people to develop?

I have assisted over 50 girls and women [in] starting small businesses to earn a living independently, into employment and some into preserving their lives even after reaching points of giving up due to different forms of abuse. In five years to come, I have a vision of owning a skills/empowerment hub built on my own land with title deeds.

What have been your key achievements?

  • A fully registered and licensed travel agency
  • A Class 1 bus driver
  • A board member of an NGO
  • A founder of community-focused Akwenzeke Foundation hosting the first of its kind: Ubuntu Cultural Festival.
  • Recognition from the US embassy for impact twice
  • Twice a guest presenter on indigenous food [at] Navajo University, New Mexico
  • Founder of a two-year annually held Girls Deliver Conference.

(Girls Deliver Conference is an initiative that has been done and undertaken to empower the girl child in various aspects of life. After noticing that the girl child had been trapped in fear, lack of spaces to express themselves without judgement and spaces that give general but essential motivation and skills of critical thinking in our normal society, the conference was the platform. The conference’s mandate is to elevate growth [and] focus and [improve] the girls’ lives in their various fields of disciplines in order to prepare them for an ever-changing world.)

The first conference was held in 2020 October and attended by 17 girls. Ten of them have testimonies of the skills they learnt during the first conference and have elevated themselves into young entrepreneurs who are now able to independently pay for their school fees and fund their business growths. Chef Mhle partnered with Matabeleland Development Initiative and Skyz Metro FM.

What is your advice to young girls looking up to you?

Get themselves empowered in all aspects of life and [they] must have zero fear if there is a chance to try something new. They also need to speak out and never look down upon themselves.

What is your favourite quote that keeps you going on a bad day?

‘If you need it, go get! Reverse not, retreat not, surrender not! Bulldoze if you have to!’

Links to Chef Mhle’s work:

News Feature: Albuquerque non-profit highlights Indigenous chefs
YouTube Video: When 2 Countries Meet on a Plate ft. Chef Mhle

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