She lived on the streets for nearly 14 years and experienced all the harsh realities of life.
But when you meet her, she is all smiles, well-dressed with lovely hairstyles and manicured nails.
“I live like a bird. I have no field to harvest, nor do I have a bank account. I live for the day and God does the rest.”
This is the story of Patricia Rodrigues, 55, a single parent with two children, who now works with over 100 women in Epworth, Domboshawa, Kuwadzana and Dzivarasekwa where she ministers the word of God.
It took the death of her grandchild and turned herself to a pastor’s home in Cranborne, for her to leave street life and focus on community work and also spreading the gospel.
“It is a miracle that I did not contract HIV because street life can be rough and tough. You get beaten and arrested by police and all the money you would have worked for gets taken by the police.
“This is what the women on the streets experience daily.”
Apart from preaching, Rodrigues is a multi-talented woman who does a lot of craft work, a skill that she has imparted in these women so that they may become self-reliant.
“I have seen it all. I had a wonderful marriage and lived in luxury, and also lived on the extreme side of poverty when my marriage failed.
“I became a street woman and went to nightclubs where I sang jazz music. But it took the death of my grandchild and that marked my turnaround. I have since then, not looked back,” she said.
Rodrigues spends most of her time visiting these women and also going to a mountain in Domboshawa where she spends days fasting and praying with them.
She has assisted so many women particularly in Domboshawa and Epworth get employment as domestic workers after imparting some skills.
After they have worked and saved enough money, these women start income-generating projects like poultry, crocheting, patchwork and basketry. They sell their products at various shopping centres or private fairs.
“I teach women in all these areas how to make handbags, hats, patchwork and also catering. I love women and children that have been rejected by society because I have lived that kind of life,” she said.
Rodrigues said women ply the streets at night as sex workers because they are desperate, adding that no normal woman would want to sell her body to all sorts of men.
“Poverty is a demon that needs to be rooted out. That demon drives women onto the streets. It is so disheartening to find young girls as young as 11 engaged in commercial sex work.”
Rodrigues always has a busy schedule, but has time to listen to women’s concerns.
“I face a lot of challenges in Domboshawa where I live. There are so many young girls who are not going to school. Some have been abused and contracted HIV and hence there is a lot of child labour.
“Widows there too are faced with insurmountable challenges like lack of food to feed families, and wood to light up fires to cook.
“I source food, clothes for these women from well-wishers and engage them in prayer as well. For nothing is impossible with God.
“The major problem I have is that I do not have any money to extend goodwill to women in those areas, but I am not worried because I know that God will make a way,” she said.
Rodrigues has been working very closely with some Zanu PF officials like Oppah Muchinguri and Herbert Murerwa. Plans are afoot to establish a skills training centre at a farm yet to be identified, where women and other vulnerable people will be trained in various skills.
When this writer visited her lodgings in Domboshawa recently, there was a family of five people living with her.
“I have since managed to find a job for the husband and wife as gardener and domestic worker respectively. They are now living happily with their children. But there is never a time that I am alone. My three-roomed lodgings are home to many strangers.”
Some of the skills that she imparts include making door mats using used plastic shopping bags or material offcuts.
She had started building a skills centre in Domboshawa, but she ran out of cement and roofing material.
“I will need hand sewing machines, equipment for basketry, and also to teach women how to make simple buns and bread.
“There is a lot of market gardening in Domboshawa and I source little grants from well-wishers which I give these women to buy these vegetables and sell in Harare.
“When I gave my life to Christ, the first thing that was put before me was a 20-litre tin filled with sugar beans and a big 90kg sack full of material offcuts.”
Rodrigues said she started selling the beans and made mats from the material offcuts. That marked the beginning of a new and clean lifestyle.
“Many women are downtrodden, but I encourage them by providing them skills and teaching them to pray. Prayer changes situations for the better. Many people say I look like a rich man’s wife, but I have lots of people who take care of my personal life like Solo Murindazvo and his wife Pellargia of Solos Hair Planet that do my hair and nails for free.
“I have lawyers who work at the courts like Tinashe, who buys me clothes regularly. There is also a Tendai, a journalist that sends me airtime every week, and two other girls overseas who support me with transport money to ferry women to the prayer mountain. I just want to thank all these people, and top of them all is Pastor Florence Shangwa who took me off the streets.”