As the fourth week of our placement draws to a close and the mid-term review fast approaches, I can't quite believe that the halfway mark is nearly upon us. Time has been consumed by our work at Simukai, experiencing the local culture and adjusting to life in Zimbabwe.
Living without electricity and running water, sometimes for days at a time, is something we have had to quickly adapt to. This continues to be a challenge, but when we're plunged into darkness or the taps run dry, we function. This usually involves cooking supper on an open fire, eating by candle light, and washing ourselves, our dirty dishes and our laundry with buckets of cold water. Our expectations have shifted and I think we all have a renewed appreciation for the things that are so often taken for granted in the UK.
Personal challenges aside, the last few weeks at Simukai have been both exhausting and incredibly rewarding. Myself and Anesu, one of the national volunteers, have been assigned to the Advocacy department for the duration of the placement. The role of the department is vital; they advocate for the rights of children through various platforms including awareness raising campaigns and child rights clubs. They also oversee The Place of Safety - a temporary shelter for abused, abandoned and orphaned children. This is where Anesu and I spend most of our time, providing psycho-social support to the children in the form of HIV and AIDS workshops, child rights workshops, educational sessions and sports. We aim to give the kids a sense of self worth, whilst encouraging them to be creative, by implementing an arts and crafts project whereby we teach them life skills such as knitting and sewing. At present, the children are designing and making their own toy animals. I thought that it would be difficult to engage the boys in a sewing project, but to my surprise it was the boys who sat patiently hand sewing their animals long after the session had finished.
The kids are usually very communicative but one morning, during a lesson, we noticed that something was seriously amiss. Their arms were folded, they were unresponsive and they were shooting angry glances at one another. They'd had an argument. What ensued was an impromptu moral education lesson, whereby the children aired their grievances and asked one another for forgiveness. We even enlisted the help of another volunteer who studies conflict resolution. We have not had any trouble since.
Whilst most of my time is dedicated to the advocacy department, we are all expected to assist the other departments. So on Thursday morning myself and four other ICS volunteers embarked on a street visit. Street visits are carried out by the Contact department on a regular basis to enable them to build a rapport with children living on the street in Mutare, whilst encouraging them to come to Simukai for lunch, educational activities and football. I set out with relatively low expectations; the children lead transient lifestyles and it can be difficult to keep track of their favourite haunts and hideouts. It wasn't long before we spotted one of the children who had been recently flagged due to an acute skin condition, hanging around outside the local supermarket. He hadn’t attended Simukai for the last few weeks, and we later learned that he is too weak to walk the distance from town, where he spends most of his days begging. Three of the volunteers approached him and after some gentle persuasion he accepted their offer of help and accompanied them to a clinic to seek medical treatment for his skin condition. We all recognised the enormity of this achievement; it represented a step in the right direction for this boy, who is now in regular contact with the volunteers at Simukai.
Simukai cannot force the children living on the street to do anything, but they can offer them an alternative to a life on the street by helping them to realise their full potential, and make informed choices.
Written by ICS volunteer Henry Ashcroft