Obituary: Nation pays tribute to child rights activist

By Sibusisiwe Marunda

ON July 22, the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) joined multitudes in Zimbabwe and across Africa in mourning the passing on of a stalwart in child protection, Noreen Huni.

There was not a dry eye to be seen as speaker after speaker tried to do justice in paying tribute to someone who spent 16 years leading the work of
transforming an idea to a home office and now a 13-country organisation that is internationally recognised, reaching over two million children to date.

In the time I had the privilege of knowing and working with her, she had a tremendous impact on me personally as leader, colleague and friend.

In my heart, I feel like I have known Huni for all my life and from that heart is where I write this tribute.

I first met Huni in 2014 when she interviewed me for the position of REPSSI Zimbabwe country director.

I really needed the job to relaunch myself in the sector where my passion is.

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During one of my interviews, Huni being her incredibly perceptive self quickly realised that I was nervous and chatted me up about social issues.

She wanted to know about my family, how many children I had, how old they were, where they went to school, where I lived and other such facts.

As I became animated and relaxed, she and Dr Ndlovu noticed that I was ready to resume the professional discussion and, as a result, I managed the interview
better than I would have.

When she eventually offered me the position, she said two things which stuck with me: “I recruited you so I have four eyes on you, and I have no room for
mediocrity!”

Huni was a meticulous hard worker whose chief standard was excellence.

As REPSSI CEO, she became an international advocate for child protection and psychosocial support, causing her excellent work to be highly regarded the world
over.

Most notably, she was a recipient of the prestigious Jacob Klaaus Foundation award for social innovation and engagement in 2018.

When it came to managing people, Huni never got tired of teaching and mentoring.

She helped me develop the conversational tools I needed to work past my apprehension around receiving constructive criticism.

Through that, she taught me and many more of us to focus on the positive through how she would praise people even when there was little to praise.

One can only wonder what fuelled her to so passionately build and lead. Indeed, one can never adequately write or talk about Huni.

When she first shared her stage four stomach cancer diagnosis with the REPSSI management team, we were all at a loss for words.

Personally, it broke my heart to watch the woman I had grown to respect, love and look up to have to fight this tough battle.

She made significant lifestyle changes, adopting healthy eating habits, and she always encouraged everyone around her to do the same.

Huni remained selfless, never putting her troubles above the needs of the organisation.
I never saw her cry even when all of us were crying for her. She remained, a leader, motivating us by telling us that she was strong.

Huni built lives, she brought out the best in people, and she always looked for something to appreciate.

She fought a good fight, both professionally and for her life. The void she left will be difficult to fill, but I know she would have wanted REPSSI to continue
flourishing.

As the poster that stood beside her casket said her wings were ready, but our hearts were not! Go well, boss. Go well my mentor, my leader. Go well woman of
substance! Till we meet again.

Mrs Sibusisiwe Marunda is the REPSSI Zimbabwe country director. She writes in her personal capacity.

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