Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Arnold Tsunga Honored Again

U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice on Monday honored a Zimbabwe lawyers' group for fighting government repression in the southern African country.

"In Zimbabwe, civil society remains under siege amid a political and economic crisis caused by the irresponsible policies of the regime," Rice said at an award ceremony to mark International Human Rights Day.

Rice gave the State Department's annual "Freedom Defender Award" to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. She said the lawyers' group, represented at the ceremony by its president Arnold Tsunga, had taken on the dangerous task of defending those persecuted by Mugabe's government.

"We thank you and your colleagues for your courage," Rice told Tsunga as she handed him the award.

ASAP's Country Director in Zimbabwe, Regai, is Arnold's brother, who is a regular recipient of awards these days! We congratulate Arnold on his work and his much deserved international recognition.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How Bad is it ???

Have you heard that inflation is really bad in Zimbabwe?

How bad is it?

It’s so bad - that the government statistical office can no longer calculate it! Wow, that’s bad. But how can that be?

Inflation is calculated by comparing the average cost of a set basket of goods - the cost of margarine, flour, sugar, milk, maize meal, salt, tomatoes, transportation etc. In Oct 07 inflation was officially recorded at 14,800% in Zimbabwe - so prices go up daily and even hourly.

The government decided to take action and mandated all prices be cut by 50% and held there. Of course there is a relationship between cost of goods and selling price in order to make a reasonable profit. So when this cost cutting was declared, shops could no longer afford to buy goods since they are now required to sell at a loss.

The goods in the shops quickly sold out with the new lower prices but there were no replacement goods being purchased. You can guess how this ends up; yes the shops are all empty now!

Now let’s get back to the cost of that basket of goods... what goods? ... That’s right; there are no goods to put in the basket! There is no way to calculate inflation on an empty basket.

On the positive side - at least everything is reasonably priced!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Books Ready for Distribution

The books have arrived and the fanfare starts on November 21st! ASAP now has two containers of very useful text and supplementary books in our warehouse in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Some have already been handed out to schools but the official handover to the Ministry of Education will be on the 21st of November. Then the real work of distribution to the 110 schools we work with begins.

ASAP has also purchased over Z$3.5 billion worth of Mathematics textbooks (published in Zimbabwe) ranging from Grade 1 to 7 for use by schools in the Bridge The Gap (BTG) in Mathematics program.

Most schools where ASAP works are quite poor and may only have 3 to 4 books of a subject for a class of fifty students. It makes it pretty tough to teach not to mention learn! Here you see the joy of getting books on the faces of some teachers at Selbourne Primary School.

These books are the result of a joint Rotary project between the three Fayette County, Georgia Rotary Clubs and the Borrowdale Brooke Club in Harare, Zimbabwe. On the right ASAP Country Director Regai Tsunga hands books to Deputy Head Edward Masaiti.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Good Luck to Raymond Mereta

We were please to hear from Raymond Mereta on the ASAP blog today and wish him every success in his decision to focus his expertise in agriculture and food preservation to continue to benefit the African people.
Raymond Mereta, now a Development Studies student in Namibia, was an employee of ASAP in 2003. Raymond helped ASAP develop our ongoing Health and Nutrition Development Initiative Project. The HANDEI project includes growing and using medicinal herbs to help alleviate the symptoms and suffering of those suffering form HIV/AIDS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

ASAP is prepared for Rain and Growth

As ASAP expands our work to assist more communities during these challenging times, existing staff are proud to share their knowledge and skills with new staff members.

Here Mary Dzvifu, ASAP Finance and Administration Manager, provides training to ASAP’s newest office staff member, Assistant Accountant Joe Mbendana.

The newest ASAP project partnerships with Catholic Relief Services and Concern World Wide requires more vehicles and drivers. Preparing for the upcoming rainy season with a new canopy on the ASAP truck, Michael Nemaunga and ASAP’s newest driver, Charles Tumbare, will be able to keep both staff and goods dry during the upcoming season - full of bumper harvests!

Friday, October 12, 2007


ASAP recently participated in a Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau Workshop and Expo at Queens Hall in downtown Mutare. ASAP staff were dispersing information on our Savings and Lending Program which has recently been piloted in the urban Mutare area. In the photo, Collins Mutsvairo, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, is shown at the ASAP booth promoting ASAP's programs. ASAP’s urban Savings and Lending Program is conducted in partnership with CARE with funding from UNICEF and has proven to be very successful so far.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


We have heard that teachers are already getting excited as word is quickly spreading to the rural areas about the two containers of school books that arrived in Mutare this week! Many of ASAP's Mutare staff were out there helping to offload thousands of books into ASAP's warehouse for distribution to the schools we work with.
The shipment left the US in early July so it has been a long journey to Mutare. These books are the result of a Literacy Project that ASAP conducted with Rotary Clubs in Fayette County Georgia and this project even won Best Cooperative Projects Award from Rotary International! Many thanks to all the Rotarians in Zimbabwe and Georgia that made this project possible. More updates will follow as books are distributed.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Jeanette Batiste in Malawi for ASAP

We are real excited here at ASAP because Jeanette Batiste will be in Southern Malawi during the month of October to do the groundwork for ASAP’s new Malawi program. Jeanette was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi and speaks Chichewa, the local language. She has recently acquired her MSc Environment and Development at the London School of Economics and is now employed at EDGEWOOD HOLDINGS LLC based in Vermont.

Jeanette will be gathering the statistics and local information we will use prepare and conduct a more successful Poverty Alleviation pilot project in Malawi. The Shire Valley, south of Blantyre in Southern Malawi will be the initial target area. This is one of the poorest areas in Malawi. ASAP has been invited by the government to establish a program in Malawi and we expect the it to be underway by early to mid 2008.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day is celebrated with a New Project Launch

ASAP Africa and CARE Zimbabwe launched a new Kufusa Mari (KM) program partnership in the rural district of Mutasa today. The new five year project will help over 17,800 people improve and diversify their income as well as to mobilize savings and manage internal lending activities.

According to Regai Tsunga, ASAP’s Zimbabwe Country Director “ We had a wonderful KM launch at Sadziwa in Mutasa today.

The Deputy Minister for Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Mrs. Damasani, gave a perfect address with full of praises for ASAP. She is a great motivator. She led women into song and dance and encouraged everyone to work hard. She said she wished KM could spread to her native Matebeleland. I90 clients graduated and were awarded with certificates and T shirts. The function was also very well attended by locals and government officials led by the DA for Mutasa Mr. Maronge. There was also entertainment galore with music, dance, drama and poetry.

Mr. Goran Engstrand, the Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe, and Steve Vaughan, Country Director CARE were present and also expressed profound satisfaction with our work. They encouraged locals to form KM groups and benefit from the project. The Mutasa Council Chairman, Mr. Gowa welcomed ASAP to his District and hoped that the project would spread quickly to all wards in Mutasa. Both SIDA and CARE remarked that this function was bigger and better than last year's and thanked ASAP for a job well done. All said and done, we are officially in Mutasa with Government and Local Authority blessings. Thanks to Joseph Miti, (ASAP’s KM Project Manager) and all KM staff, ably supported by Admin, for a job well done.”

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Catholic Releif Services Partners with ASAP Africa to help Children affected by HIV/AIDS

42,000 children will benefit from the new Out of School Adolescents Support Project. ASAP Africa has partnered with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and four other consortium partners on a new project to identify and address the needs of out of school adolescents in Zimbabwe affected by HIV/AIDS. The OSA-SP project will work to improve the economic, food security, health and psychosocial well being of 42,000 out-of-school children in Zimbabwe. Currently, more than 60% of the targeted adolescents have lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS. Many youth are dropping out of school due to the economic hardships. Without parental guidance, these children lack understanding of HIV and AIDS, sexuality and need relevant vocational skills that will enable each one to earn a basic living.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The Fayette County Special Olympics held their fund raising kickoff at The On Safari Coffee Roastery in Peachtree City, Georgia Monday night 27 August. The Sailing Team, The Star Hitters and The All Stars were represented and the excitement grew as everyone realized how easy it is to sell Gourmet Coffee for fund raising.

This venue gave them the opportunity to better understand what they will be selling and you could sense the growing competition building between the three groups. Keep in mind that other groups are welcome to hold their fund raising campaign kick off at The Roastery at no cost as long as the date is open.

On Safari Coffee Initiative is an income generating project of ASAP so Coffee for YOUR Cause is a win-win for everyone. The fund raising group earns $5 on every bag of coffee sold and the best part is that each organization gets its own custom label for the coffee they sell. We look forward to even more groups who want to partner with ASAP to reach their fund raising goals.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Words of Wisdom

A recent email from ASAP’s new Country Director, Regai Tsunga, contained some words of wisdom that are worth passing on. “When looking at a large and complicated task, one should approach it as you would go about eating an elephant – one bite at a time.”

Yes, some good advice for those of us working together towards our goal of 'A World Without Poverty'.

Thursday, August 23, 2007



With no up-front costs, organizations can easily raise needed funds to meet their goals. A Self-help Assistance Program (ASAP), now offers church groups, schools and civic organizations an exciting new and valuable fundraising service through coffee.

ASAP President Tom Arsenault, describes the new program - “Coffee as fuel for Development.” On Safari Coffee Initiative, (previously On Safari Trading Co.) is now an income generating project of ASAP. “Our primary focus is helping other non-profits conduct successful fundraising campaigns, as we work to fund our own operating costs.”

There will be a fundraising open house, featuring coffee roasting demonstrations and sample tasting at the On Safari Roastery this Saturday August 25th, from 9:00 until 12:00 noon. Everyone is welcome especially church or school groups interested in easy and profitable fundraising.”

On Safari Fresh roasted coffee is very easy to sell as most people use coffee. The organization selling the coffee earns $5.00 profit on each bag of coffee sold. Once the group sells 200 bags of coffee, their customers can reorder on the On Safari web site and $1 for every bag sold on-line will go to the organization for an entire year. This keeps the funds coming in for your organization for a full year with no extra effort beyond the original campaign. To date, CIVS, Civitan, YMCA Cape Anne, have already reached Hall of Fame status.

The address is 189 Fulton Ct., (off Huddleston Rd. near Best Buy) Peachtree City. For more information contact On Safari at 770-632-7357 or 770-632-7451

Or email: mary@onsafaritrading.com

Monday, August 13, 2007


ASAP has won the “Best Cooperative Projects Award” from Rotary International in partnership with the Peachtree City Rotary Club for ASAP’s Zimbabwe Book Drive Literacy project. Two containers of books left Georgia in early July and arrived in Durban, South Africa on August 3rd. They had to be reloaded into a rail car for the continuing journey to ASAP’s warehouse in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

The books are mainly mathematics and science books, with about 10% novels and miscellaneous reading books. These will be distributed amongst the 111 schools that ASAP currently works with in the Bridge The Gap Mathematics Project.

Members of the Peachtree City Rotary Club helped to load one container at ASAP’s US office. With their help, the container was loaded and locked in less than 2 hours!

Our BTG field officers are eagerly awaiting these books because they are so badly needed at the schools where ASAP is working. ASAP is proud to work with Rotary in this project. In fact, the Borrowdale Brooke Rotary Club in Harare, Zimbabwe, is helping on the Zimbabwe side of the project.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I don’t have any deep thoughts today. I just saw this sign as I was driving home and had to laugh. After bumping along over pot-hole-ridden dirt roads for a few hours and seeing another car approximately… never, the concept of a lane, let alone a lane closing, struck me as pretty funny.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Meet ASAP's New Country Director, Regai Tsunga

“The past is our inheritance, the present is our reality, and the future is our challenge.” A sign bearing this quote and the names of several Kufusa Mari Savings Clubs hangs in the corner of Regai Tsunga’s office. He keeps the sign as a reminder of the community’s hopes for positive change in the future. As ASAP’s Country Director, Regai frequently has the opportunity to meet and talk with those who are directly benefiting from ASAP’s projects. He is eager to share stories of the joy and success he has witnessed.

“One woman shared that she had not eaten meat for several years, but once she participated in the KM project she was able to buy beef. Imagine! Everyone in the family celebrated the consumption of beef! Having decent meals should be something so ordinary, but it was something they had only imagined in the past,” Regai relates empathetically. Other women involved in the project used the money to meet basic needs, earning enough to pay for school fees, farming implements, or even shelter. For Regai, these stories are sustaining; “In this organization results matter a lot, so you are really focused in everything that you do. It’s a big inspiration to see the results of your efforts. No wonder we put in so many extra hours!”

Regai is himself a native Zimbabwean and is no stranger to the problems currently facing his country. As both someone working to alleviate suffering and someone who is experiencing the same problems as the rest of his neighbors, Regai has evident motivation to make ASAP’s programs successful. Regai and his wife Jane have three children. Their commitment to their children’s future happiness is clear, “We must ensure that we leave something for our children for which they can thank us. I feel that the children deserve much better. I can’t remember the last time I bought a pair of shoes for my own children. I would love to save for my children’s futures, but I can’t save money because inflation is eroding its value too quickly. I had saved something like 80,000 in the early eighties and used it to buy a house, but if I had continued to save that amount until today, I would be able to buy only a kilogram of beef. In effect, we are working only for today- nothing for our kids, nothing for our future. This is a very great concern.”

In the midst of such difficult issues, Regai celebrates the progress ASAP Africa is making and the sustainability of the projects. Regai explains, “The goal is for the community to perpetuate the project after ASAP’s exit. In the case of Kufusa Mari, we train cluster facilitators who are resident in the community with the internal savings and loan methodology. Long after we leave, the cluster facilitator is there to train her community. Eighty-five percent of the groups formed in 2003 were still functioning in 2005— two years after we had left! In fact, those groups had trained second and even third generation groups. That’s the beauty of our projects; the community is involved through and through and becomes empowered.”

When asked how ordinary Americans could help Zimbabwe, Regai responded, “Ordinary Americans should know that we are also only ordinary Zimbabweans. Here at ASAP, we are trying to alleviate suffering of ordinary people and need any help anyone can provide, whether prayer, words of encouragement, or donations. All our interventions uplift the standard of life for ordinary people. They are already making an effort to help themselves, we just provide the resources they need to do it.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There are Many Gaps to Bridge

“So what is your favorite part of school?”
“Writing the tests that ASAP brings us.”

When fifth grader Hardlife Dirorimwe answered my question in this way, I thought he was just trying to give the scary American woman the answer she wanted. As I was walking home with Bridge the Gap Project Manager Collins Mutsvairo, I joked that I had never met a child whose favorite part of school was taking tests.

“No,” he corrected me, “his favorite part of school isn’t taking tests, it’s writing the diagnostic tests that ASAP brings.”

Apparently, taking ASAP’s tests is something that excites many of the rural students. Why? Because it’s the only time each student gets a piece of paper and a pencil all to him or herself. Even more exciting, the paper has the questions printed right on it!

Usually, three or four students share a writing utensil and a notebook of newsprint. Textbooks are even scarcer. As many as ten students can be forced to share the same book in some subjects. Teaching aids like maps, protractors, rulers, and charts are all but non-existent. Further complicating matters, inflation has raised school fees out of reach of many students and teacher pay has become low enough to make teachers wonder if they should come to work at all.

In light of so many difficulties, ASAP’s education programs provide a ray of hope. Bridge the Gap adds much needed energy and enthusiasm to math education through quiz competitions, after school math clubs, and teacher training workshops. Kufusa Mari Junior attacks a different, but equally important issue by helping students form savings clubs and raise money for their school fees. ASAP field officers are deeply engaged in the schools they serve and work hard to supplement the existing educational system. With programs like these, ASAP is giving the most marginalized students a chance to succeed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What does a pair of shoes really cost?

Brian Sabeta, a participant in ASAP’s Bridge the Gap Education project, when asked what one thing he would change about his life if he could, said that he would ask for shoes. He walks six kilometers to school everyday, and he said, quite simply, that his feet hurt.

A year ago I would have seen a simple answer to this problem. I should buy Brian a pair of shoes! I have a closet full of shoes I don’t even wear, so certainly I can afford to buy a pair for a boy who really needs one. But during my time with ASAP, I have begun to look at the problem differently. What happens next year when Brian grows out of those shoes or wears them out? Do I buy him another pair? What about the year after that? What about when he grows up and has children- do I buy them shoes as well?

I’m learning that buying shoes for every barefoot child is not feasible, nor is it sustainable. Further, it may not even be desirable. By giving Brian a pair of shoes I would be telling him that he needs me to provide for him and that he, his family, and his community all are incapable of taking care of themselves. I would be perpetuating the dehumanizing cycle of donor dependence.

Of course, this theory doesn’t make Brian’s sore feet feel any better. Then what can we, as cultural outsiders, do? We can support programs that train, equip, and empower local communities and individuals to meet their own needs. In Brian’s case, the answer is Kufusa Mari Junior, a program that teaches kids a simple form of savings and lending methodology. The children of adult Kufusa Mari participants form all-kid clubs and learn to save money to pay for their school fees, school supplies, and uniform. Participants can even use the money to buy, you guessed it, shoes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yield to Oncoming Zebras

Every day on my way to work I pass this sign, which reads Zebra Crossing. And every day when I see that sign I smile to myself at how bizarre and exotic living in Africa is. Where I’m from in Atlanta, all we have are duck crossings!

Last week I asked my coworker Michael to stop the car in front of the sign so that I could take a picture of it. He looked a little confused, but pulled over to the side of the road. When I got back in the car he asked me, “Don’t you have crossings in the United States?” I replied, “Yeah, for people, but not for ZEBRAS!”

He looked confused for a moment and then burst out laughing. In between laughing fits he explained to me that a zebra crossing is not for zebras. It’s just a normal crosswalk named “zebra” for the black and white diagonal lines that mark where people should cross. Every since then whenever we pass a zebra crossing, Michael smirks and says, "Stephie, look out for the zebras!"

Sigh. This picture is yet another symbol of how much I still have to learn about life in Zimbabwe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Snakes on a Plane, Zimbabwe Style

At field day celebrations, ASAP staff members and leaders in the community give short speeches or tell stories to encourage the project participants. Since I don’t speak Shona, I have to rely on whoever is sitting next to me to translate what the speaker is saying. Usually my translator gets tired of repeating everything in English and starts to give me somewhat garbled snippets of the stories. I try to link them together, but often I just end up laughing to myself about what in the world the speaker could be saying. Here are some of the best explanations translators have given me:

-“When the mermaid returned Robert to his home, he had to go back to grade 4 even though he was old enough to be in grade 6.”
-“Stay in the middle of the river so that an animal won’t drink you and keep you from getting back to the ocean.”
-“You wouldn’t let a rabbit join your savings club would you? No, of course not! Rabbits are sneaky and will steal all your money!”

Usually I don’t bother the translator to explain the stories that don’t make sense to me. I just laugh and clap when everyone else does and it all works out fine. But at my last field day, I had to get the story behind Project Manager Joseph Miti’s speech. The field officer who was translating for me leaned over and whispered, “Okay, so there are these snakes… on a plane.”

I thought surely Miti hadn’t seen the cheesy Samuel L. Jackson movie, Snakes on a Plane! Of course, he hadn’t and was happy to retell the story to me later.

Two American scientists were visiting Zimbabwe to conduct research on a rare type of deadly snake. Once they collected fifty of the biggest and meanest snakes they could find, they packed them up in breathable boxes and got on a plane back to the United States.

Unfortunately, the take-off was a rough one and the turbulence caused the boxes to break open just as the plane reached its cruising altitude, releasing the snakes into the cabin of the plane.

People began running around the cabin screaming, jumping on top of their seats, and clinging to one another for safety. Even the scientists were afraid to be enclosed with so many snakes on the loose!

Immediately, the pilot radioed the control tower and asked for permission to land. The control tower replied that another plane was already on the runway and there was no where for the plane to land. The pilot again asked for permission to land, indicating that there were severe problems on board, but again the air traffic controller told him that there was nowhere for him to land. A third time, the pilot begged to land. “This is an emergency!” he yelled into his radio. But the air traffic controller yelled back, “You’re not coming down here! The only direction you can go is UP!”

Faced with no other options, the pilot did as he was told and steered the plane up toward the clouds. The plane flew higher and higher until the cabin temperature began to fall. With each minute the cabin got colder and the snakes began moving more slowly. As you know, snakes are cold-blooded animals and they cannot move if they are not warm. As the snakes began to fall asleep, the American scientists quickly gathered them up and secured them back in their boxes. All the passengers began to cheer and thanked the pilot for flying UP!

The morale of the story is this:

When you begin your Kufusa Mari savings club it is like boarding a plane. Without a doubt you will encounter difficulties on your journey, just like the snakes, but you must not give up because there is no place for you to land once you have begun. Instead, fly so high that the problems lose their energy. If you continue to fly too high for conflict, then you will make it to your destination!

Not even Samuel L. Jackson can beat that.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

What Life is Like in Rural Africa

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to travel through some of the more rural areas of Zimbabwe as I have visited project beneficiaries. The beauty of the mountains and grassy fields is tempered with the desperation of those who inhabit this scenic place. As I walked along the side of the road there were many waiting for scarce transportation, searching for scarce work, or haggling over scarce food. Maybe that is the theme for rural Zimbabwe right now: scarcity. Everything seems to be in short supply from grocery items to electricity.

People cannot afford their own cars or even bikes, so public transportation is important. In the city, many people wait to pay high prices to squeeze into small buses. Those in the rural areas are less lucky and routinely have to walk to their destinations many kilometers away. Walking presents a unique challenge to women who must carry large bundles on their heads, strap babies to their back, and lead their other children along by the hand.

Many in the rural areas do not have running water. Some have always lacked the necessary plumbing, but others just recently have been deprived of water due to power cuts at reservoirs and water pumping stations. In order to cope, families must walk to the nearest river, sometimes very far from their homes, and bring back water in buckets. The water must then be boiled before it is sanitary to drink.

Since money is scarce, families grow their own vegetables to supplement what they are able to buy. The gardens must be carefully tended and protected from roaming animals. If the crops do not grow or are destroyed, the family will suffer.

There are, however, some things that are not at all scarce. There is no shortage of children who have lost parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nor is there a shortage of price increases as the country faces 4000% inflation, and certainly there is no shortage of the unemployed, who currently compose 80% of the country’s population.

Nothing about daily life in rural Africa is easy, but Zimbabweans continue to persevere and work hard to improve their lives. The situation here is often bleak, but it is not hopeless. Many of the challenges rural Africans face today are similar to what farmers in America struggled against less than a hundred years ago. The United States has taken giant leaps forward in national health and prosperity and I believe that Zimbabwe can do the same.

In spite of all the difficulties in providing even the most basic standard of living, there is something beautifully complex about seeing life in rural Africa as an outsider. To me, it is like being at a party where everyone is dancing to a song that I can’t hear. All I can do is copy their moves and hope to be only a beat behind. There is so much I don’t understand that I could embarrass myself with examples. That’s why any foreign imposition of how Africa “should” be will inevitably fail. As cultural outsiders, all we can do is assist Africans in changing their own lives. They are ready. Are we?

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Sadza

"When I don’t eat sadza for a day, it’s like… something is missing in my life!”

This is how Field Officer Lovemore Manjoro described sadza, a thick maize-based paste that is the staple food in Zimbabwe. I can safely say that I don’t feel like anything is missing from my life on days when I don’t eat sadza. It has been a challenge to adapt to eating this food everyday, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it! I’m learning strategies for finishing my sadza and not looking like a wimp or food snob. So, here’s my guide to eating sadza… and maybe even liking it.

(1) Wash your hands. You will be eating with your hands and nothing kills an appetite for sadza like dirt on your finger-utensils. There is always a chance to rinse your hands off in a basin, but believe me, that doesn’t do much.

(2) Try to get sadza served with lots of sauce, meat, vegetables, and, if you are very lucky, rice. Here is an example of a very small portion of sadza with lots of extras:

(3) Dip each bite of sadza in the sauce and get a piece of something else with it. Put the something else on the tongue side.

(4) Take big bites.

(5) Don’t eat the stuff in the blue bowl.

6) Sit next to someone who really likes sadza. Miti is always a good choice.

(7) When you think you can’t possibly take another bite, take another bite.

(8) When the meal is over, sit back and thank those who prepared the sadza for you.

And the key to liking sadza? Keep eating it! It gets better every meal.

Monday, June 25, 2007

At First Thought...

“I thought first of killing myself. I kept asking God, ‘Why me?’ I tried to think of my kids, but all I saw was my death ahead of me,” Netsai Chikohomero explains emotionally as she described the day she found out she was HIV positive. That was seven years ago.

She lights up when I ask about her Kufusa Mari Savings Group, which is composed exclusively of HIV-positive women; “We’re just like a family when we’re here. We are all in the same boat, so we can give each other physical, emotional, and spiritual support. We share ideas and help one another.” For Netsai’s savings group, Kufusa Mari has already begun to turn their lives around after only eight months of internal savings and lending. “Some of us used to beg, but now none of us beg. If you use the money properly, you can raise money to buy things for your own. The project is especially important for those of us who are single mothers. Some of us used to be prostitutes, but now we don’t have to do that anymore.”

Still, the current economic climate continues to create struggles for Netsai and her family; “The hardest part is telling my kids that I don’t have money for them. My youngest daughter is only five, but she is trying to understand. I’m trying to raise money for her education, so when she asks for a sweet, I have to ask her, ‘Do you want a sweet or do you want to go to school?’ She thinks about it and decides that school is better. She is starting to understand the reality of the world.”

Though she has huge financial needs, Kufusa Mari has already helped Netsai to earn her own money to pay for food and her medical costs. She is hopeful that it will continue to help her as her group’s combined income grows each month. So far, she says the most helpful part of Kufusa Mari was the initial training in savings and lending methodology; “I learned how to budget, how to buy first what is most important. I have already taught my friends and relatives about how to save and lend money. Most importantly, we learned that we don’t have to beg. We learned how to work hard, use our heads, and fend for ourselves.”

When I ask how she can have hope in such difficult circumstances, she smiles broadly; “I want to see my kids grow up. I have this vision,” she gestures excitedly, “I want to leave my children in their own homes, able to take care of themselves. I want to see my grandchildren.”

I ask her how she feels about her disease now and she pauses for a moment to think. “Now, I feel that I am just like anyone else. When I die, I will die like any other human.”


Thursday, June 21, 2007

100 Kilometers from Nowhere

Today I went to a wonderful field day in a very rural area called Nyamhingura. About fifteen years ago, several non-governmental organizations and governments banded together to build Zimbabwe’s infrastructure. This area is an example of how the infrastructure has outgrown the rest of the country’s development. In Nyamhingura, there are schools, but no qualified teachers. There are clinics, but no doctors or medicine. There are roads, but there are no buses for people or transport for crops. The people here live on the cusp of change, but lack the resources to improve their lives.

That’s why Kufusa Mari has made such a difference to these women and men. They are able to pool what little they have with the contributions of their neighbors and then make their own development without waiting for a foreign organization to bring them what they need.

Today, 195 participants graduated and were certified capable of continuing their savings activities without the monitoring or guidance of ASAP field officers. What a moment of success and empowerment for many who have felt powerless! The celebration was wonderful as groups of beneficiaries sang, danced, and made speeches. At the end, the cluster presented me with a beautifully woven basket as a gift. I was humbled to be honored by women and men who deserve so much more credit for their work than I do for mine.


Monday, June 18, 2007

We Miss Martin!

On Wednesday, ASAP IT intern Marty Henderson left for the United States. He was a great help and encouragement to all the ASAP staff and indeed optimized the heck out of our computers! Thank you for your service, Marty, and good luck with your future ventures! We trust that you will be back in Africa soon.

Fambai Zvakanaka!

ZESA...Where are you?

Right now I am sitting in the ASAP field office out in a rural area. It’s midnight and I’m working on my computer because it’s the only time we have electricity nowadays. This week, coming to work during the day has become more like a habit than a productive use of time. We all do whatever work we can without computers or printers, but after awhile, we’re all just sitting there waiting for the lights to flash on.

We occupy ourselves in different ways. Marty and I have been practicing our Shona and bike skills in the yard. Diana has been walking laps around the office, neatening up as she goes. One friend listed out his monthly expenses and discovered that he now spends more on candles than electricity.

The power cuts change how we live at home as well. Cooking must be done over a fire and entertainment options are limited. Usually we end up reading or playing cards by candlelight. I’ve been very grateful that I remembered to pack a flashlight and headlamp!

The power outages have become such a part of everyday life here that Zimbabweans have even given electricity a nickname- ZESA. ZESA stands for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, or, as I’ve heard some say, Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available. They speak about ZESA as though she were a person:
“When do you think ZESA will come?”
“Do you have ZESA at your house?”

Everyone here seems to be just taking the outages in stride. Certainly there are moments of frustration, but mostly people just joke about the hardship and continue hoping that it will improve soon.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Power of Working Together

Before I came to Zimbabwe, I believed the Kufusa Mari project was successful because of the financial gain it provided for people living in poverty. As I have learned more during my time here, I realized that the most important part of the project is not the money, but the community and fellowship of experience the groups provide. The closeness that the groups share is obvious at field day celebrations and group meetings, which are full of joy and laughter. The cluster format allows for deep bonds to be formed in the act of pulling one another out of poverty.

As a result of the authentic community within each cluster, participants can share important information with one another in a way that is authentic and effective. Here, cluster facilitators share with their neighbors what ASAP has taught them about agriculture, nutrition, child protection issues, and HIV/AIDS training. Some clubs form within existing communities like Netsai’s all HIV-positive club and or the all deaf club that I had the opportunity to visit today. Within these groups, participants can share their hardships, successes, lessons, and ideas with those who understand their situation. I’m excited to see how this form of education expands organically as the participants help one another through sharing their own experiences.

When I visited the all deaf club today, I got the chance to talk with Memory Zhuwao, a young woman who is part of the savings club. She has only been a member of the club for a few months, but she is already starting to see the benefits of it.

As a deaf person, Memory has struggles even beyond those worries common to Zimbabweans. She told me that often when she tries to sell vegetables as part of her income-generating activity, people try to take advantage of her. “They tell me, ‘I’ll give you the money tomorrow,’ but when I go to them the next day, they act like they don’t have to pay me. It’s as though because I am deaf, they think I don’t know how to think or reason.” Even communicating with her family can be challenging. Though communication is often difficult for Memory, her savings club has become a place where she can find community as well as work to improve her financial situation.

Memory’s group is just starting, but she is happy to tell me of the success she has already experienced. She uses the money she borrows from her group to buy vegetables for resale and to buy fabric to make coats to sell. When I asked her what she has bought with her profits, she smiled and proudly pointed to her tightly braided hair. “She got her hair done,” the translator laughed. She went on to say that she uses her profits to support her mother and her brother, who is employed, but whose salary is not keeping up with the sky-rocketing inflation.

Groups like Netsai’s and Memory’s show me that good breeds more good. Kufusa Mari brings people together to share their ideas in an environment of equality and empowerment. We call it self-help for a reason- these women and men are learning how to pull themselves out of poverty and expanding the project into new and wonderful purposes. ASAP’s projects are strengthened as the staff and beneficiaries collaborate.