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.


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