Irene, from Malawi, worked as a development worker with the partner organisation Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association (ZPHCA) - Bulawayo Branch, from August 2002 to May 2006.

What have you done since leaving Progressio and what do you do currently?

After leaving Zimbabwe in 2006 I returned to Malawi where my career journey continued as I joined Concern Universal as a Gender Mainstreaming Officer from 2007 to May 2010. Currently I am working at Save the Children in Malawi as a Community Mobilisation and Capacity Building Manager for an HIV and AIDS Prevention project.

Please describe your role and the partner organisation that you worked with as a Progressio development worker

My main role working as a development worker in Zimbabwe was to build capacity of the leadership of the partner organisation to effectively and assist them to efficiently run it for the good of children with disabilities. This capacity building was around all areas of project management: planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation through mentoring and coaching to the Branch Coordinator and her management team.  I was attached to the ZPHCA - Bulawayo branch; a branch of an organisation of parents who have children with disabilities. 

What inspired you to become a development worker?

At the time the position was advertised; I had just left an organisation offering skills training for people with disabilities to join an education organisation. The development worker advert re-kindled my passion to do something for the vulnerable population of our communities. It just felt so right to apply as it was also going to help me personally through the multi-cultural aspects of the skill-share programme.

What struck you most about Progressio’s development worker model?

It was a unique model I had not heard of or met before. The opportunity to share and learn with other development workers from different backgrounds and the local people made it so exciting and enriching.

What did you enjoy most about your role, and of your experience as a development worker?

I enjoyed every aspect of my placement but mostly the joy came from the achievements of the parents, seeing them establishing themselves and of course the warmth from the children’s smiles. The Progressio country office staff gave me the support I needed throughout. I felt so much a part of the ZPHCA members; they were a part of me all the way.

What were some of your main achievements while working as a development worker? 

My key achievements included the following:

  • Building capacity of the partner organisation’s leaders and members in the areas of project management, resource mobilisation, financial management, group dynamics, advocacy and networking. Up to now the office, systems and operations are still running.
  • Facilitating the development of self and collective efficacy among the members to fight for their children’s rights eg parents fought for inclusive as well as special education and an allocation of housing for their children. 
  • Linking the organisation to a number of potential donors and securing extra funding.
  • Building partnership with the civil society and NGO fraternity in the region and the country. Ensuring that parents are recognised and participate in relevant forums.
  • Being part of the first ever study on HIV and AIDS among the parents and people with disabilities in Zimbabwe.

And what were some of the key challenges and lessons learnt?

I went to Zimbabwe at the time things were crumbling economically and politically, I saw things declining.  I had to queue for fuel, bread, sugar and maize flour. I remember going all the way to Botswana in search of fuel and basic groceries and going to the bank and finding you could not withdraw any money. This experience made me realise the challenges that others have in life and taught me not to take life for granted. I developed some life skills – adjusting life styles and making quick decisions for survival.

Did this experience change you as a person in any way? 

It certainly has changed me; my perspective and horizon of life has improved, it has deepened my passion to do something to help out those in need. I am tougher and more tolerant, it has developed my career and re-kindled my passion for development work.

Did your experience as a development worker influence your career/ future direction, and help you to get to where you are today? 

It surely has led me to where am now, the overall role enabled me to practice and develop new skills  and approaches to development work. The international exposure meant better understanding of developmental issues. I am able to do what I am doing now because of the vast experience I got while working as a development worker; my career journey has been enriched.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

Go for it!! Joining hands with Progressio is very rewarding, enriching and I have never regretted. You will get all the support and if you are open minded, you will learn a lot.