Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Michelle Obama set to inspire new generation of women leaders

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
Click to play
First Lady meets African women
  • Michelle Obama meeting 75 young women leaders in Southern Africa this week
  • Brendah Nyakudya has opened nursery schools in poor communities in Johannesburg
  • Nyakudya will take part in forum that Michelle Obama will attend

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- When Zimbabwean-born Brendah Nyakudya started raising funds to open nursery schools in South Africa's impoverished communities six years ago, she didn't expect that one day the project would secure her a spot at the most sought-after gathering of women on the continent.

America's first lady Michelle Obama will be meeting 75 young women leaders during her trip to Southern Africa this week and Nyakudya is one of them.

"I got a phone call and somebody says 'you've been nominated as one of the 75 women,' so first I think it's a prank because, you know, how often does that happen?" said Nyakudya.

Nyakudya and her partner Kalib started building schools in 2005 after reading some disturbing research. "The stats were showing that children who never went to preschool had a higher probability of actually dropping out of school at a later stage," she said.

Today they have three sponsored schools where children are not only educated but clothed and fed as well.

In one of South Africa's largest shanty towns, Diepsloot, Johannesburg, teacher Violet Nzimande tells CNN most of the children's parents rely on the government's $37-per-month child support grant to survive.

"With that money they have to buy food, clothes and still take their children to school, so most would rather have them stay at home," said Nzimande.

We want to see more women CEOs, more black African CEOs, more female leaders at an NGO level ...
--Iman Rappetti, Johannesburg local news anchor

The nursery school is not only benefiting the children but also the five teachers employed there.

"They are paying us a salary, (with) that salary we can put bread on the table, our kids can eat, they can go to school, they can travel in taxis to go to school with the money they are paying us," she added. "Without them, we would be no one."

Nyakudya and the other young African leaders, who are also making significant contributions to their communities, will spend two days with the first lady participating in various activities.

They will engage in discussion groups about leadership and democracy that the first lady will be dropping in on. They will also be present when she delivers her keynote address on Wednesday in Soweto.

Local news anchor Iman Rappetti, who is hosting one of the Obama discussion forums, says while Obama will inspire, the work must continue long after she has left.

"We want to see more women CEOs, more black African CEOs, more female leaders at an NGO level, activists," said Rappetti.

"We've had that in the past -- historically we have great examples to draw from. It's just going to be a great inspiration for the future and these are the building blocks," she added.

Building blocks that will hopefully give birth to more life-changing programs like Nyakudya's Philile nursery schools.

While in South Africa Obama will visit various heritage sites, including Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the majority of his 27-year imprisonment.

She will also meet Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu. Obama leaves for neighboring Botswana Friday, where she will paint with teens and lunch with women leaders.

She will also meet with President Ian Khama, before retreating to a local game reserve for the weekend. Obama will be accompanied by her mother, two daughters and niece and nephew as she embarks on her second solo visit abroad.