Tererai Trent was 11 years old when she was married off to an abusive husband in her poor village in Zimbabwe, where polygamy is common. By age 18, she had given birth to four children, one of whom died of starvation because she couldn’t produce enough breast milk.
“It was a very abusive relationship,” Trent told Oprah Winfrey on Friday during the second day of the fourth annual Women in the World Summit. But Trent added: “When I was growing up, I was known as a tomboy. I would never refrain from a fight when I felt someone is bullying me.”
So she wrote her dream—traveling to the United States, getting a Ph.D., and returning to help her village—on a piece of paper and buried it under a rock. Now Trent holds a doctorate from Oklahoma State University and is working to build schools and educate girls and boys in her homeland.
Winfrey, who calls Trent her personal “hero,” contributed a library to a school Trent built in Zimbabwe. During the discussion, the OWN founder pointed out that the education of girls is crucial to a positive transformation of society, but Trent said it’s also important to include boys in the classroom.
“When we educate boys, they will so be respectful of girls,” Trent told Winfrey, who earlier confided to the packed crowd that Trent was her favorite interview out of thousands she has conducted over 25 years on television. “If we don’t educate boys today, 100 years from now they will be talking about being marginalized by women.”
As the session ended, Winfrey presented an emotional Trent with a pink box full of thank-you letters from the children at the Zimbabwean school.