Fungai Mettler is a 29-year-old Zimbabwean-born inspirational philanthropist and corporate social entrepreneur who was featured in a book project called 50 Young African Women Achievers.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and international relations from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe and a master’s degree in African studies from the University of Basel in Switzerland, where she was the first Zimbabwean student in the program.
In 2021 she will graduate with a doctorate degree (PhD) in corporate social responsibility from Geneva Business School in Switzerland.
“I lost my parents to HIV/AIDS at the tender age of 7 and depended on extended family to put me through school,” Fungai told The Weight She Carries. “I know first-hand what it means to struggle for food and resources, and this has been my guiding light, leading me to serve on the boards of SwiZimTrust and Friends of Matibi. Both these non-profit organizations aimed at alleviating poverty as well as empowering and equipping young people to take control of their lives.”
What inspired you to start storytelling?
I moved to Switzerland in 2014 and realized that I was the first black friend most people had. People were curious about where I come from and [I told] my stories to them. I didn’t fit the mould for many stereotypes that people had about Africans.
As I told stories, I realized that they had power to challenge the status quo and that we could create human connections through them. There were so many differences in culture, and I decided to start sharing on my experiences, adding a little humour to it. There is so much to life and telling stories gives me joy.
Tell us more about your childhood and impact it had on you growing up.
My parents met and fell in love, and it wasn’t until my mum was pregnant with my older brother that she realized that my father was married and had his own family.
She broke up the relationship, but eventually when my brother was born, something brought them back together again, and their relationship lasted that way till they had three children. My mum and the other woman knew about each other.
When my father passed on, we did not inherit anything because my mother was not legally married to him. We suffered through the label of being illegitimate, and I am sure that is not what my parents wanted for us. As parents, it is important to make sure that children are always protected at all costs.
My mum passed on when I was 7, and I had just turned 8 when my dad passed on. I lived with my mum in different parts of the country. We were not rich but had a lot of love in our home. She took care of us.
Our dad came maybe once in every two or three months, and we found it normal. We knew whenever he was around, he would spoil us and that was who he was to us.
Fungai’s whole life took a turn after losing both of her parents. Life became tough as they had to move from family to family and were mostly rejected as other family members could not care for an additional three children. The only option left was to split them up. They then reunited after some years and had to get to know each other again.
How did you manage issues to do with colour in Switzerland?
I met my husband in Zimbabwe when I was attached to an NGO and we worked together on a project. The program was for psycho-social support for orphans and vulnerable kids and he had come into the country to monitor and get to learn more about the project. He initially came for two weeks and we got along very well. He returned to Switzerland and we kept in touch. Three months later, he came back and we decided to start dating after signs that we really got along.
Fungai said that six months later, she visited her love in Switzerland and then came back to Zimbabwe to finish her degree. Afterwards, she returned to Switzerland to start her master’s studies in a foreign land where she had no family.
Growing up, I was dark-skinned and had lighter family members and friends who at times made fun of me resulting in low self-esteem and insecurities. Fortunately, in Switzerland, as much as I was dark-skinned, the people there were much more curious about how I got to Switzerland and how it is like living in Zimbabwe.
Only a few people were mean and had sentiments that African people are of a lower social status. It still happens now. I have learnt to speak about it and stand up for myself whenever I can. Sometimes it is really difficult.
How did you manage to fit in?
I managed to fit in well by joining a lot of projects and clubs as I love sports. What also made it easy was the fact that my husband had lots of friends, so in no time, I had fitted in and adapted. I had to learn the importance of accepting that I was different and owning it.
Inasmuch as Fungai had an impressive CV, for some time she struggled to find employment outside of the service industry. A university counsellor told her this was normal for people of colour and she would have to put in a lot of effort. She did and this resulted in her pursuing the career of her dreams.
What lessons have you drawn from your love story and life in general?
- When one gets to a place where they know and feel “this is it,” they have to hold on to it. To get there, there should be a high level of honesty and transparency. It is about building trust enough that we share the deepest parts of our lives.
- Communication is key, especially because we are from different cultures. It’s good to always share your thoughts and feelings with your partner.
- A partnership is key in a relationship. We both work full-time and whoever gets home first makes dinner. We both clean and do laundry which is great as we really have a partnership approach to it.
- Push each other with our goals. There are days when we are laughing and joking around, and there are days when we are goal-oriented, sharing advice.
- Ability to travel and have adventures together brings the relationship to a different level. It does not mean traveling abroad – it can mean even taking a walk, anything different from your routine.
What is your advice to women who have dreams and want to stand out?
- Mentorship – Find people you admire and follow them or ask them to offer you support and guidance. Let them show you where you can go. Always specify what you need from your mentor.
- Write down your goals – If it is not written down, it is not real. Write it and visualize it.
- Change your mindset – Think about how you can improve your life. Think positively. Make positive affirmations about your life. Don’t allow people to delay and derail you.
- Learn to take breaks – These give you energy to go to the next level.
- Find a tribe of women who support you all the way – There is power in this, and I noticed it two years ago, and there is no going back.
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