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The dream maker

ASU Rhodes Scholar Shantel Marekera is helping preschoolers achieve their goals in her home country of Zimbabwe


ASU Rhodes Scholar Shantel Marekera works with young children

December 23, 2019

Shantel Marekera is giddy. She has found her own kind of fairy tale as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, Arizona State University’s second in three years, and is eagerly working toward her second master’s degree in international relations.

Her passion for advocacy, policy and international human rights law, particularly as it concerns women’s rights in her homeland, runs deep. The Zimbabwe-born Marekera launched the Little Dreamers Foundation, a subsidized preschool for low-income children, in her suburban community of Harare.  

“I strongly identify and connect with the community that I work with and for, and that’s where my drive always comes from because I know I am helping to make my community better for current and future generations,” says Marekera, a summa cum laude ’18 ASU graduate who completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in justice studies in only four years, including research and achievements in Barrett, The Honors College.

In 2005, Zimbabwe’s government implemented changes to its education system, mandating all children graduate from preschool before enrolling in primary school. This put myriad strains on financially disadvantaged families since preschool costs as much as $200 per month. In the face of economic hardship, most families prioritize sending their sons to school. 

Determined to help girls in her native community attend school, Marekera tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit and created the Little Dreamers Foundation. It provides tuition, meals and scholastic materials to students for less than $30 per month. She received financial assistance from a fellowship co-sponsored by the Igniting Innovation Summit and The Resolution Project, which support socially responsible young leaders. The preschool opened in August 2018 with a ratio of one boy to three girls. 

“Shantel is a brilliant young woman, focused on the best kinds of justice and committed to her country and community. She is the epitome of what the School of Social Transformation hopes for in our students.”

— Bryan Brayboy, Marekera’s former teacher, President’s Professor of indigenous education and justice

Marekera hopes to introduce a new branch of the preschool each year in a different part of Harare and ultimately open a primary school. 

“I feel so honored to play even the smallest role in the future of these amazing children,” she says. “I am so proud of their potential and all they have to offer to the world.” 

By living out her dream, Marekera is creating dreams for others.

Top photo: Shantel Marekera reaches out to children from low-income families in her native Zimbabwe by providing preschool education through her Little Dreamers Foundation. Photo by Darran Rees

Written by Jane Lee. This story appears in the winter 2020 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

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