Perhaps the most remarkable part of my experience so far has been getting to know the women in communities like Wedza. Their strength, courage and resilience is astounding.
I met a woman famer called Rebecca. She is 57 and has lived in Chigondo for 38 years with her husband, Maraini. Rebecca really is the backbone of the family. Not only does she work on the farm and look after her six grandchildren, but she is part of the women's committees which manage the water in the community. Rebecca said, “The women meet and talk about using the water sparingly and are responsible for enforcing the rules. Women are responsible for telling people off for using buckets, often the children. The rules are agreed by the whole village with the leadership of the men.”
Progressio development worker, Philemon Handinanhano (a gender advocacy specialist), explained how women are a central part of survival in Wedza yet, like in many rural areas, “Decision-making is done by men. They decide how resources are spent. Women have no rights. Male children have more power than their mothers”.
This is changing in parts of Zimbabwe and Progressio is working with women’s networks to ensure women know their rights, stand up for themselves and have access to the right support. However, for the time being the challenges remain for rural women like Rebecca who carries many heavy burdens.
Walking for water
Rebecca walks 2.5km for water which she collects from a borehole at the bottom of a steep hill, shared by three communities. I walked with her down a stony path, darted with shrubs and larger rocks which scudded beneath my feet when I shuffled down sideways. The path was open to the sun and the heat made the journey that much more difficult, yet Rebecca rushed on ahead, bare-footed, carrying a red tarnished bucket labelled “medical waste”.
The borehole was embedded in trees, protected by a wooden, make-shift fence to keep away the baboons. As she climbed in she grabbed her calabash, a dried squash shaped to form a scoop to collect the water. She scooped the water and passed buckets to neighbouring families waiting by the bore.
It is amazing to see the sense of community the women of Wedza have. After ensuring other women had the water they needed she filled the red bucket, twisting her shawl in spirals to make a flat coaster which she put on her head. She lifted the 40 litres of water above her head and with her hands by her side began to climb the hill
Half way up she gave me the bucket to carry. With a beaming smile she watched as I struggled to balance the heavy load on my head and shuffle just a few short steps. I could not understand how she made this job look so easy, how she reckoned with the steep path every day or how she managed to walk for 2 hours per day to ensure her family were provided for.
Rebecca represents so many women in Zimbabwe. Her faith in God keeps her going and she lives to provide and care for her family and community. It made me happy to know that the work of Progressio is helping Rebecca and the women and families in Wedza.
Rebecca told us how the work of Progressio has transformed their lives. She said, "We are in love with the programme and hope to continue the work.” When I asked her what she would say to Progressio supporters she said, "You should continue to support the conservation farming. People ask: how did you do it? More people are getting to know it. If the work continues they can adopt it. Their lives will also be uplifted.”
Before we left Rebecca showed me around her house. Her plates were strategically placed on a ledge carved out of the solid mud walls. She had cooking materials spread out and a make-shift broom in the corner by a tiny window which cast light on her stove. She was incredibly proud of her house, which was well-kept, clean and, although extremely bare and basic, felt cosy; I instantly feel the presence of a family. She then handed out maize for us to take on our journey and picked fresh mangoes from her farm.
I have never met a woman with such pride and strength. Despite her struggle to survive, feed and bring water to her family, and the burden which comes with being a woman, she goes on smiling then gives blessings to us, waving us off after asking us to “please visit again”.
Pamela Jackson is Progressio's Fundraising Executive. Pamela took the picture of Rebecca (top). The other picture is of Pamela having a go at carrying the bucket of water!
Read Dan's blog about why 'Water is life' for Rebecca and the other women of Wedza.
Read Pamela's blog about the farm schools of Wedza.