Nyasha Gwatidzo is a Zimbabwean social entrepreneur, working with disadvantaged people in the UK and Africa. She runs a multimillion pound social enterprise called Banya, which finds foster families for children in the care of local authorities. She founded a charity in the UK, Vana Trust which raises funds for children affected by HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, supporting their education. The trust also supports adults and young people in the UK with learning and emotional difficulties, through her organic farm in Buckinghamshire. She is currently setting a social impact investment fund which will benefit African women looking for capital for businesses.
Give us your brief background?
I was born Nyasha Gwatidzo in a family of seven where I am the third born and I am 52 years old. Both my parents were teachers and so life was all about education. I did my primary school in Zimbabwe and later did my A levels at Bradford in England where my parents ended up being political refugees after joining politics in Zimbabwe. I always wanted to be an academic in Chemistry, so, I started Studying for a PhD, but did not get proper financial support. I, therefore, resorted to getting a job as a counsellor at Hoxton Health Collective while doing the PhD as part-time. When I finished first year of literature review, one tutor recommended that I do a masters or PhD in something I was already doing, in this case counselling. So, I quit the chemistry PhD programme and ventured in psychotherapy. I am a qualified philanthropist and psychotherapist.
Tell me about your family.
I am married to Paul Soper who I forget I have sometimes, poor Paul. I am Mrs Soper but I do not refer to myself as such so I was born Nyasha Gwatidzo and I will die as such (laughs) I have three grown up children and one grandchild.
What motivated you to work as a counsellor and psychotherapist?
I always wanted to do something that would help and leave a mark in somebody’s life. Earlier at university, I joined a “welcome” society which was a befriending scheme, especially for foreign students guiding them to England and showing them important places because I knew what it felt like to be new at a place, so, it felt good to help people. I also befriended one counsellor who trained me in listening skills and I got interested in it. Then, I saw an advert for a charity programme called Lambeth Women in Mind which was calling for volunteers to be trained and work for a helpline for distressed women. After successfully completion of the training, I became the treasurer.
Which group of people do you work with?
I am a qualified child and adult psychotherapist, but my interest was working with children. At the Hoxton Health Collective, I worked with adults who suffered abuse while they were young, so, I thought about working with children. I decide to do an MA in therapeutic. I then started seeing a lot of children who were sexually abused by mother’s boyfriends and relatives. After Southwark, a local government authority heard of my work, they asked me to facilitate a grouping of girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen who were sexually abused. From there, the same local authority asked me to work with children living in children’s homes. It was not easy because the children were stigmatized for meeting me, but it was eventually successful.
Tell us about your children’s home?
I started Imba which is Shona word for home on July 6 1992. I thought it was such a good idea to set up a home where therapy and therapeutic care would be part of the norm. I quit my job to give my all to the Imba. It was a home for six children with emotional and behaviour problems and had 25 staff. I was working part-time with Camden and was made redundant and got 800 pounds which I used as capital for setting up the home. I could have been redeployed, but I was not interested because I was now busy with my newly set up home. The same amount was used to produce leaflets which were sent to the authorities. A bank also assisted me with an interest free loan of 1 000 pounds which I used to pay my employees first salary. Then the home was up and running for 10 years and was later taken over by the National Children’s Home due to change in policy which among others discouraged children from living in children homes.
What other charity works are you involved in?
I set up an independent fostering agency called Banya which has grown to a national organisation. It started with four foster carers and has through the years grown to 264 carers and 140 children being looked after. I am a founder of Vana Trust. Vana means children in Shona and the trust has two projects one is Zimbabwe and another in the UK. In Zimbabwe we run a breakfast club of 500 children both in primary and secondary school and pays school fees for