CAFOD’s Step into the Gap volunteers in Zimbabwe have come to the end of their visit. Here are their thoughts as they head home:
We’ve reached the final day of an amazing trip, where we’ve been immersed in Zimbabwean culture, met so many inspirational people and have so much we can’t wait to share back with communities in England and Wales. As we prepare to catch our flight home, here are just some of our reflections.
Wow. Looking back through my journal of the past three and a bit weeks, we have been so privileged to meet so many amazing people and witness such a wide range of CAFOD supported projects. Although the projects have been varied, a reoccurring theme has been prevalent throughout – the overwhelmingly strong sense of “togetherness” and community here in Zimbabwe.
We’ve met groups of health workers, farmers, gardeners, volunteers and caregivers all working together to share ideas – from community committees taking shared responsibility for their village water pumps, gardens and schools to support groups for people living with HIV, enabling them to work together to start small businesses like tuck shops and market stalls, to generate income.
We have also met some amazing groups of young people, coming together to combine their likeminded passion to strive for change in their community. Meeting the pupil-led groups such as a secondary school health club in Binga and a child protection club in Harare have been highlights of the trip. Through sharing the challenges they face themselves and supporting each other, the groups clearly have a collaborative determination to educate their communities about important issues such as hygiene, sanitation and their rights. By using song, drama and poems, they raise awareness of these issues not only with other young people, but also with adults and leaders of their communities (and the musical talents and beautiful voices of these groups were also incredible!).
It has been so powerful to meet teams, groups and communities who recognise the value of all pulling together, despite the little material wealth they have as individuals, to strive to make a difference to others and create a better future for all. It’s something we can all learn from.
As Catholics, we are all called to be saints; however the idea of sainthood has always felt so far away to me. That was, until I met a group of volunteer caregivers working tirelessly in many communities throughout Zimbabwe. The role of these caregivers is crucial – they act as ‘the eyes and ears of the community’, looking out for children not able to go to school and referring them to CAFOD’s partners, to support them back into education. They also do basic counselling with children who have been abused – physically, emotionally or mentally. And they do all of this without any payment, and in the face of many challenges.
There is much poverty in the communities, with many orphans and child-headed households. Children sometimes go to school in the morning without any food and return to no food in the evenings, meaning at times, they are only receiving one meal a day.
This is a challenge for the caregivers as they also have so little themselves, yet they do their best to support the children. And by working together with CAFOD partners, there have been some really positive changes in the community, including a greater understanding of children’s rights and more children going to school, to name just a couple. When we met a group of caregivers they said: “We hope for every child to be happy, to have an education, protection and shelter, just to be happy, we need to give love before anything else.” Listening to the caregivers speak showed me that it is possible to be a modern day saint and if we all gave love before anything else, the world would be a happier place.
Before I came to Zimbabwe, I’d read that in 2013, Zimbabwe’s Human Development Index (based on standard of living, life expectancy, education and literacy rate) was ranked 156th out of 187 countries and that over 70% of its population live below the poverty line.
However, although Zimbabwe may experience economic poverty, these past three weeks have opened my eyes to a country rich in so many other ways – the positivity, energy and enthusiasm of the individuals, families and communities that we’ve been blessed to meet has been incredible. Their commitment and dedication to act for change, their creativity, innovation and resourcefulness to seek solutions and their real sense of hope in light of challenges, has been truly inspiring.
At a high school we visited, the wisdom, maturity and responsible nature of a student group of ‘Peer Educators’ and ‘Peer Counsellors’ stood out to me. The group act as a source of information and support for fellow students facing a wide range of issues such as abuse, neglect and HIV. When asked what they’d learnt at their training, the group replied: “We learnt that you must have big eyes to see, big ears to listen, a big nose to smell trouble and a small mouth to not gossip.”
Now, with hours left before we fly back to the UK, it is with great fondness that I’ll be leaving this country rich in energy, determination and hope. I’m hugely thankful to all who have helped organise, coordinate and been a part of this trip. I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity. Lastly, I’m indebted to all the partners and communities we’ve met here for opening my eyes, bringing development to life and for inspiring me to inspire others to act for change! Thank you!
It’s difficult to write this blog at the end of this African adventure; I’m not sure the words will do justice to the experience, but I’ll give it a go. At the start of the trip I was curious – Zimbabwe was the last place I expected to end up, the thought had never before crossed my mind. However I can safely say I have truly undergone a remarkable experience.
Many people here face daily challenges. But the level of dedication and the caring nature of people, striving for a better Zimbabwe, is what being human is all about. It has inspired me beyond words.
This trip has truly moved me in a way I only hope I can pass on to others on my return home. I am eagerly awaiting to share the stories of the communities and partners I have met and all I have experienced. The joy on the faces of the people, and the many smiles is enough to get anyone motivated. Inspired by their determination, and the light in the world I have witnessed, I am more determined than ever to support the amazing work of CAFOD partners and all those involved. Although I have only seen a small fraction of the amazing work that CAFOD does, it’s enough for me to know that you should tell your friends, your family, even your best mate’s grandma about it!
A final word before the flight home – I am so grateful to everyone who has supported us, from the CAFOD staff back in London to Gemma, Leila, Lizzie & Mary here in Zimbabwe. Each one of them deserves a medal for their dedication… along with putting up with my bad jokes!