We arrived at the Diocesan Offices in Bulawayo which is quite near to the Cathedral in the mid- afternoon and we were swiftly led to the Umoja project at St Joseph’s Mrehwa. The project is lead locally by Selina who is a single mother with a grown child. We were greeted by a group who were from the local church and from the Umoja/HIV project. The group was mostly women and as is often the case it was soon clear that the women are motivated and eager to change their circumstances and the circumstances of those around them.
The Umoja/ HIV project works on two related issues simultaneously. People in each village are trained to help people to live with HIV/AIDS and to deal with the illness and try to prevent its spread, and there is a great deal of encouragement and help in order to ensure that crops are produced and dried and stored for the dry seasons as well as, where possible, sold in markets or by the women themselves as small vendors or to the local churches.
The crops produced and dried were really impressive. We saw some fresh vegetables and some dried ones but we also saw that some of the produce had been used to make nutritious snacks for people. Selina explained to us that the grounds nuts and produce such as mbwirembwire which is Shona for a food made from roasted dry maize grains, ground into a flour with a little salt given in small quantities will help a child to go to school without feeling hungry and to last until they can come home. This ensures that they can continue to their education even when things are very difficult around the country which is excellent for their future and the future of the country.
The Umoja project is brilliant in that it offers help to people in villages and outlying areas to ensure that the farm in an ecologically sustainable way and raise crops which can cope with the difficulties of the weather: when there is too much or too little water. It provides food for the family and for the villagers but it also provides a way of generating some income for those who grow and make things.
And it is not just crops and handiwork – those involved in the projects raise chickens, as do so many around Zimbabwe. I was amazed just how quickly the chickens grow and are ready to eat. Here are some which are just a day old:
They are given food and water and supplements and soon they grow to be big enough to eat.
And, as well as chickens there are sometimes cattle who can provide milk and meat for the villagers.
Life is not easy and cooking is often outside and facilities are few.
But the work that the Umoja project does ensures that people have a chance to eat and to make something of a loving and to feel that they are empowered to help themselves. I was really struck by the fact that the women said that they did not ever sit and do nothing – they were always cooking or planting or doing handicrafts because in this way they could provide for their families.
However, once the crops are grown and the nutritious snacks made or the fruit dried, one of the issues is how they get to sell it. It is complicated because there needs to be sufficient production for markets to be found and sustained but as you will see from this video clip Ron Lumbiwa, who is the Projects Officer for the Diocese of Matabeleland and who we have been privileged to have as a driver and guide on our journeys around Zimbabwe, who is usually mild mannered and quiet, is passionate about the need for markets in order for subsistence farming to become more than that – and the people listening responded enthusiastically when Ron’s words were translated into Shona.
In order for life to change for people in Zimbabwe they really need to learn again to farm on a bigger scale and to be able to feed themselves and then others in the continent. But it is so hard to see how this can happen when very often it is a huge effort to feed just your own family. Life is so restricted and hand to mouth in Zimbabwe that I find it hard to see how people can be as positive and resilient as they are. But they are – they work tirelessly to make sure that people have enough and that the next generation is prepared through education and in their faith to take on the daily challenges of living in such a rich and yet fragmented and suffering land.
More than anything else it never ceases to amaze me that the people of Zimbabwe will sing at every possible opportunity and their songs come across as joyful and full of life.
I pray that we will learn from their enthusiasm for life and faith and become more willing to celebrate and share all that we have.