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All We Can has started working in Zimbabwe, a country in southern Africa. Zimbabwe is a low-income country with high levels of food insecurity. The country has had, and continues to face, economic and political challenges, which mean public services are very limited and local people find it difficult to find long-term sources of income. Everyone is impacted. By deciding to work in Zimbabwe All We Can has committed to working with local organisations to support people, especially in rural areas, to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges they face.
Stephanie Dalton works as All We Can’s Capacity Development Manager and Partnership Manager for Zimbabwe. She is passionate about the country of Zimbabwe and its people and is excited about the work All We Can has committed to. In this week’s blog we find out more about why the people of Zimbabwe matter to Stephanie as well as more about why All We Can have decided to get involved in the country and have begun working through a local partner the Methodist Development and Relief Agency (MeDRA):
Stephanie, why is Zimbabwe special to you?
I first visited Zimbabwe in 2011 as a wide-eyed student in my last year of university. The organisation I worked for at the time asked me to visit their local partner, MeDRA, so I could share news of their work with our supporters back home in Australia. I was only there for a few days, visiting the rural communities where MeDRA was working to provide access to clean water and a form of income for vulnerable families. Soon after my return I wrote the following reflection:
“Driving through the parched landscape of northern Zimbabwe takes your breath away. Rugged hills give way to sweeping valleys and the thatched roofs of traditional huts emerge from the long grass. Despite this beauty, one cannot help but feel a real sense of isolation. One road, one petrol station, and increasingly less mobile reception.”
In spite of feeling out of my depth and catching a horrible stomach bug that knocked me sideways, something about the country and its people got under my skin. I remember sensing in both MeDRA staff and the rural community members a strength of character that I had never encountered before. In the face of unemployment, conflict and lack of basic resources, people are resilient and dare to have hope for the future – if not for them, then for their children and their children’s children. In the midst of it all, perhaps most importantly, there is always time for tea and laughter!
All We Can have decided to work together in partnership with local organisation MeDRA, tell us more about them.
MeDRA (officially the Methodist Development and Relief Agency) is the social action arm of the Methodist Church Zimbabwe. It was set up in August 2004 and registered as a charity in 2009. The organisation is part of the church and their work is very much compelled by an understanding and experience of God’s love and justice. The organisation has a long-term presence in the communities where they work, partnering with the local community to identify the most vulnerable people (of all faiths or none) who they support to develop sustainable livelihoods, access clean water and improved sanitation facilities and strengthen community-based support structures.
MeDRA is in a unique position as a church-based agency, this status allows them to work closely with the broader church leadership and structures to promote issues like gender equality, child protection and reconciliation at the grassroots level. One of the things I’ve learnt from the staff at MeDRA over the last five years is what it looks like to really empower local communities to take hold of their own lives and futures. Participation is a widely used buzz word in the world of community development, but MeDRA staff really practice what they preach.
Have you met anyone who has particularly inspired you in Zimbabwe?
I’ve met so many people in Zimbabwe who inspire me. There’s Charles, who is part of a community group running a successful chicken business in Muzarabani, a remote area where life is really tough. Last year he enthusiastically told me about how his life has changed since the group formed the business with the support of MeDRA. He said that being part of the community group has helped him understand more about himself, which has helped him become a better husband, father and member of the community. He has been a driving force behind the group’s success and their efforts to bring positive change to their community through sponsoring a local football team and providing financial support to children who lost their parents to AIDS and now live with their grandparents or other family members.
This situation is common in many communities in Zimbabwe, and was the experience of another inspirational person I met on that very first visit. She was affectionately called ‘Gogo’ by the MeDRA staff, which means Grandmother in the local language, Shona. Her son and daughter in law had passed away and her daughter was very unwell, she had been unable to leave the homestead. While looking after her daughter Gogo also looked after her six grandchildren. As I left her homestead that day she clapped her hands in farewell as I leant out the window to take her photo. For the last five years I have had that photo on my desk. I don’t know what has happened in her life since then, but I remember her hospitality, the sadness she has experienced and the sacrifices she has made for the people she loves.
The staff at MeDRA are a group of the most hardworking, committed and compassionate people I have ever met and who I have been very privileged to work alongside for the last five years.
What can All We Can supporters pray for as we start work in Zimbabwe?
Please pray for transformation of people’s lives all over Zimbabwe – from the Gogos in the villages to the politicians who make decisions for the whole country in capital city Harare. Pray for the local staff – Clever, Junior, Archibald, Mike, Tariro, Forgive and Susan that they will be energised for the demanding work they do. Pray for the Methodist Church leaders, especially the Presiding Bishop Revd Solomon Zwana and General Secretary Revd Dr Jimmy Dube, who are passionate and committed to leading the Methodist Church with wisdom and compassion. Pray for those who have been affected by drought this year, and have had to sell animals and reduce the number of meals they have each day to get by after a bad harvest. And pray for us, as we grow our existing partnership with MeDRA and seek to develop new partnerships with other organisations in Zimbabwe.
Stephanie is All We Can's Partnership Manager for Zimbabwe and also leads All We Can's work to find ways to support the capacity development of the local organisations and churches we work with across the world.