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From boys’ mentorship clubs to publishing a book | Behind masculinity—The reality: A teenager becomes a published author

Posted by Letswalo L Marobane on 14 February 2024, 13:05 SAST
Letswalo L Marobane photo

These days, young people are so often urged to “dream big”, yet for whatever reason—lack of opportunity, lack of the necessary skills, inadequate resources—for many the dreams sour and are left unfulfilled. But here is a story of a boy, a young man, whose talents were nurtured through the FutureLife-Now! Programme and, by grabbing the opportunity presented to him, is making his dreams come to fruition. At the age of 18, Graham Tinotenda Mushavi has become a published author. His book, Behind masculinity—The reality, was inspired by his experience in the Boys’ Mentorship Club that FutureLife-Now! started at his school.

Graham is a teenager who has just completed his A levels at Nashville High School in Gweru, in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe. His early years certainly were not easy: he and his younger sister were raised by his mother and grandmother, yet he worked hard at school and was appointed head boy at the start of 2023, using the opportunity to develop his public speaking skills, motivating his peers through talks at the school assembly. He also became involved in the school’s Boys Mentorship Club, a FutureLife-Now! initiative that seeks to address the vulnerabilities faced by boys and young men. This is achieved through a “buddy system”, whereby older learners mentor younger boys, while the elder boys in turn are mentored by some of the teachers. This inspired Graham to start his own initiative, Young Generation Ambassadors (YGA), a club aimed at eliminating drug and substance abuse among youth. The club also extended beyond the school, targeting out-of-school young people.

As the founder of YGA, Graham often found himself making speeches that addressed girl child problems. “Over the years,” he explains, “the girl child has been denied all forms of access … and nations across the globe are trying as hard as possible to eliminate problems faced by the girl child today, and it has been quite progressive.”

But what about the boy child? In the quest for gender equality, Graham came to realise that the boy child has now been neglected. Boy child issues have become hidden “behind masculinity” as society keeps setting expectations and spreading statements such as “men don’t cry”. This, according to Graham, is a reason why there are higher suicide and substance abuse rates among boys than girls. A feature on boys’ vulnerability in FutureLife-Now!’s newsletter motivated Graham to start on his book. “I wanted to give the audience the other side of the narrative, a different piece of the pie thereby promoting gender equality.”

Graham set about gathering stories from his community that his peers would relate to and compiled them into the book. The main thrust of Behind masculinity is to share the various challenges that young boys face, such as toxic masculinity, suicide, drug and substance abuse, family disintegration, death, HIV&AIDS, disability, child abuse and child labour.

When asked what challenges he faced, Graham joked, “Coming up with characters’ names was difficult.” He explained that at first he had used real names, but then realized he had to protect the identities of those who had shared their stories with him. Of course, publishing is expensive, “… but with the right support system provided by my parents, family, friends and my publisher, Audrey Chirenje, I was able to finish what we had commenced.”

Behind masculinity—the reality was edited and published through Chances Inc. Publishing Company, and was launched on 25 November 2023 at the Milan Restaurant in Gweru. The launch was well attended by learners from various schools, teachers, parents and local stakeholders. Led by their teacher, Samkelisumusa Makombe, learners from Graham’s school, Nashville, had an interesting panel discussion on topics arising from the book such as:

  • What is the author advocating for?
  • What are the issues faced by boys in the name of masculinity?

Aussie Ndlovu, MIET AFRICA’s regional youth development specialist was the guest of honour. In his address, he spoke about how “children must be the teachers in their own learning,” and linked that to the reason for the occasion, that is:

To launch a book by a school-going boy, talking about boy issues, and making moves to address those social ills.

Here are some of Graham’s favourite quotes from his book:

  • We now need to work towards educating, emancipating and protecting the rights of children paying no particular attention to a specific gender.
  • They say that children are the torch bearers of the continent but now that the boy child is being neglected and, in the process, destroyed, all hope for a brighter future has been lost.
  • All children matter regardless of gender, each one of them has a unique purpose in life. They should be protected at whatever cost if the future of the world is to be safeguarded.

Graham’s bold act has motivated other young people in his community to start writing; they are dreaming of publishing and launching their own books. Dreams can become reality.

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