“I Started High School at 20; Now I have a PhD in Commercial Law”

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. (Psalm 126:5) That’s the scripture I thought of when I listened to Dr Julieth’s story. My eyes filled with tears as she narrated to The Weight She Carries how her journey towards her doctorate has been.

My name is Julieth Gudo, born in 1990. I come from Zaka district in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. In 1997, sadly, my parents passed away a month apart. My mother died after my father because she could not cope with the loss. She was sick for a few hours before passing away.

My paternal grandparents took me in. The living conditions completely transformed since my father had been the sole breadwinner for the family. His estate was seized by my grandfather who sold everything and left us nothing. That’s how it is in this patriarchal society that we live in.

Life changed completely. I had no shoes and no stationery for school. That’s when I realized how huge a gap my father had left behind. I cried a lot during that time, but because I loved school, it became a safe place for me where no one bothered me.

In the Apostolic faith, as soon as a girl completes her Grade 7, she’s expected to get married soon after. That for me was never going to happen because all I wanted was to go back to school and make something of myself. What disgusted and annoyed me the most was that there was an old man who had already shown interest and was bringing me gifts. Little did I know that preparations were at an advanced stage for me to be married off. To this day, just the thought of it disturbs me deeply.

My grandmother, who sadly passed away in 2003, is the only one who had shielded me from everything that was about to take place. But now that she was gone, it was going to happen.

As destiny would have it, my aunt, sister to my father, gave me money to escape and go to my maternal grandmother in Bulawayo.

Just when I thought that things were looking up for me, my spirit was dashed when I realized that I was not welcome in my grandmother’s home. I continued living with her until one day she sent me to Beitbridge to buy some things, and I never returned.

I’d left Bulawayo when I was 16 and stayed in Beitbridge until I was 17. Joining a group of people who were crossing the border into South Africa, I found myself in Messina.

As I loitered in the streets with nowhere to go, a man told me it wasn’t safe and took me to a church that took in girls and women from Zimbabwe who had no place to stay. We were about 40-50 of us. I had a place to stay and food to eat. All I had to do was look for a job during the day.

Eventually, something came along which got me 50 rands every Saturday. I was very happy because I could buy myself things that I needed. Organizations such as United Nations, UNICEF and IOM [International Organisation for Migration] always donated clothing, blankets and the like.

After a while, I began cleaning the offices on a voluntary basis until a post arose for a receptionist.
The pastor decided to train me for the job as they waited for someone more qualified. After some time, it was decided that I was to take the job.

One thing is for sure: the desire to go back to school never died down. As I continued to work for the church, word came that we were to go back to school. I was 20 then. My age meant that I was too old to be in high school. Grade 8 is where I was supposed to be, but they made me skip three classes to Grade 11. I did not do well that year but went on to be among the top 3 students in Grade 12.

I worked very hard to excel because it was always a fire that burned in me—a hot desire to excel in my studies.

Getting accepted into university was easy, considering my results. Law was my first choice. Two years into my bachelor’s and paying out of pocket, I eventually found a good scholarship that not only paid for my masters and doctorate but also refunded me for the two years I had paid out of pocket. It literally changed my life.

For my master’s and doctorate, I studied with the University of Cape Town. By this time, I had a lot of internal scholarships on offer. I just used my life story to apply, and doors opened.

After I graduated in December, I was accepted for a postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Cape Town.

Encouragement and Advice

It took me close to nine years to achieve my dream, and believe me when I say that even if the opportunity had come when I was 50, I would have jumped right on it!

From experience, I have learnt that it is imperative that one emancipates themselves by seeking knowledge. That way, no one will take advantage of you, especially as women, for it is human nature to take advantage of the vulnerable. But with knowledge, one is able to stand up for themselves, speak and be heard.

Challenges will inevitably be there, but one should never give up on their dreams no matter what.
I yearned for knowledge and ultimately found it.

Julieth got married in 2018 and is a mother to a 2-year-old girl.

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