CHOICE Kanyongo-Gilbert might be thousands of kilometres away from her childhood home after relocating to the United States —but her rural area, Mutoko, means everything and remains close to her heart.
Just like many before her, Choice left the country exactly 24 years ago in search of better opportunities soon after completing her high school studies at All Souls Mission in Murewa.
Despite being raised in a middle class family where her parents were educationists — father a school head and mother a teacher — and would afford to provide basics for a family of eight, Choice always aimed for more.
And having grown up in Mutoko, the only home her parents had and with no other place to call home, it gave Choice a reason to expand her horizons far beyond those remote areas in Kanyongo Village as she went on to establish herself in the United States (US).
Choice — a mother of two, Mutsa and Kundai, is a volunteer at a homeless shelter in the US, and a proud owner of a successful company that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.
Ordinarily, for someone with strong rural upbringing, it would have been easy for her to cut all ties with her humble background and launch a new life in the bright lights of Columbus, Ohio, where she now resides, but, that was not her choice.
Instead, the 44-year-old has maintained the golden rule — never forget where you came from and as a tribute to a place which gave her a head start in life, she has ventured into philanthropy work and chief among them is the celebrated Choice Children’s Christmas party which she holds every year in rural Mutoko.
2020 marked the fifth year since she started hosting Christmas parties for children from her rural home. And sadly, because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Choice and her family failed to travel for this year’s edition owing to travel restrictions globally.
But that did not stop the Christmas party from being held, albeit under World Health Organisation guidelines as over 400 children were treated to some fun under the watchful eyes of Choice’s sisters, Faith and Joyce, who were instrumental in co-ordinating and making sure the Covid-19 protocols were observed.
According to Choice, there is nothing more heartfelt than a smile that creeps across a child’s face.
“I came to the US in 1996 and have been here ever since. Just like every other person, I came here looking for better opportunities. And contrary to what people think, it’s not all roses out here, there are obviously ups and downs, but I believe with discipline and good work ethic, one can prevail.
“I started Choice Children’s Christmas party some five years ago. The main reason then, being to teach my teenage children the spirit of giving and serving others. It came out as a huge success and the smiles and happiness that came off the children’s faces were priceless.
“I then decided to make it an annual event, treating kids to a special Christmas every year. I’m happy to say we are now in our fifth year and the programme keeps improving each time. The numbers are growing and it gives me a lot of pleasure and pushes me to work even harder knowing I have a community to serve,” said Choice to the Daily News on Sunday.
Apart from hosting the annual Christmas party for children from her community, the 44-year-old, with the help of her brothers also based in the US, source foodstuffs, clothing and pay school fees for the underprivileged from their rural home.
“I have helped several kids and families. It’s an ongoing practice of mine. It’s not like I have lots of money, but it’s just that I always try to share with people the little that I have. I grew up in this community and to me it’s very close to my heart.
“This is my small way of giving back to the community that gave me a start in life. I know what it is like growing up in the rural areas and sharing with these kids means a lot to me. I take pride in walking with some of these kids on their journey to the top.
“I actually want to urge others out there to give back to their communities. A small amount can change a life, feed a family, cloth a kid, and remember there is no act of kindness that is wasted no matter how small,” she explained.
Choice’s efforts were hailed by her herdman Nyamutsahuni under Chief Charehwa, who challenged many to follow in her footsteps in putting their community on the map.
Herdman Nyamutsahuni last week took time off his busy schedule to attend the Choice Children’s Christmas party.
“I would like to laud the Kanyongo family for the tremendous work that they are doing for our children here. Most children are used to seeing this on television, but it has since been brought to them, which is amazing,” said Nyamutsahuni.
Choice’s elder sister Joyce is equally excited by her younger sister’s great work.
“She (Choice) realised that most children in rural areas are deprived of proper Christmas by being made to do different chores like herding cattle and gardening, among other things. As you know Christmas is all about giving so she chose to put a smile on children’s faces by hosting them every year.
“It’s now in its fifth year and apart from dancing and eating, children also get gifts like toys and dolls, among other things. People from this area are excited about this development and each year they look forward to it,” said Joyce.
Her other sister Faith is anticipating a huge turnout in the coming editions.
“It feels good to see young kids from across this area partying, it’s awesome. These kids are coming from different areas like Katsukunya, Mutambwe, Nyakabau, Manhemba, Gumbure and other surrounding areas which are under Nyamutsahuni ward here in Mutoko.
“We expect it to continue growing every year,” said Faith.