Home grown experts in agroecology, HIV and AIDS, advocacy, marketing and other fields are very much part of the new Africa, one that contradicts many of the negative stereotypes depicted in British media.
Sure, the challenges presented by poverty are still there, but routes to tackle the problems are changing. Progressio’s highly capable team of Zimbabwean Development Workers illustrate some of these changes in the approach to tackling poverty, committed as they are to supporting grassroots Zimbabwean communities to empower themselves.
Anyone can go to prison in Zimbabwe
Teclah Ponde is an expert in HIV and AIDS who is devoting four years of her life to working in prisons with ZACRO, a local Zimbabwean NGO (the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender). Teclah shares her skills in establishing support groups among prisoners and helping prison officers to be better informed about HIV and AIDS. She is also helping ZACRO advocate for national policies to address the stigma that penalises prisoners still further.
“Remember,” Teclah said at the Progressio Zimbabwe team meeting during my visit, “in Zimbabwe anyone can be in prison, it could be you or me.”
Making progress with prisoners
Teclah is a courageous woman. “The prison officers did not want me to meet the high security prisoners but I persuaded them I would be OK,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone, adding, “even though I found running workshops with prisoners in leg irons and surrounded by guards with machine guns pretty intimidating.”
“It was also quite hard for the prisoners to focus,” Teclah continues, “but after a couple of sessions I even managed to persuade the guards to remove the prisoners’ leg irons. Then we made better progress.”
As well as sharing valuable knowledge about HIV and AIDS, Teclah helped prisoners establish HIV support groups who then informed and supported other prisoners too. ZACRO and Teclah’s work also helped the prisoners prepare for returning to society by attending nutrition, cookery and vegetable gardening classes so they gained skills to help earn some income for their families.
Left in the corner
When a Progressio Development Worker’s placement comes to an end, they leave their partner NGOs with the experience and expertise to take the work forward independently.
The remarkable Edwin, at the Zimbabwean disability NGO THAMASO, illustrates this perfectly. Edwin is a bright young Zimbabwean who works alongside Progressio’s equally remarkable Bothwell. Bothwell is an expert in communications, advocacy and disability.
Edwin is clearly learning fast (in fact he does everything pretty fast) to judge from his comprehensive and rapid exposition advocating for greater rights and opportunities for visually and hearing impaired people.
“There are about 4,000 Zimbabweans who are blind and hearing impaired. They are the forgotten tribe, ignored when it comes to jobs, overlooked by their own families even. I am one example: I was literally left in the corner while younger brothers and sisters were sent to school because I am blind and hearing impaired. I only started school age 11,” Edwin told me.
Edwin has certainly caught up fast and is now learning strategies from Bothwell to help disabled people empower themselves by knowing their rights, demanding access to services and requesting information in accessible formats such as braille or talking books. This includes information for people living with HIV on ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs so people know how many to take and when - so crucial for the effectiveness of this treatment.
Bothwell also speaks from first-hand experience and has achieved high-level qualifications, but now has chosen to dedicate four years to sharing his skills and experience with disability NGOs, THAMASO and the Disability HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT), who are working with and for disabled people at local and national levels.
A long lasting difference
“Talented Zimbabwean experts committed to helping some of their poorest and most marginalised fellow citizens to empower themselves,” says Fiona Mwashita, Progressio’s Southern Africa regional manager. “We feel this approach has built-in sustainability to make a lasting difference.”
“But we do need more financial support to employ more local development workers and help more poor communities to help themselves,” Fiona concludes.
Photo shows members of THAMASO and DHAT with Bothwell standing in the centre wearing a dark suit and glasses © Mark Lister