General Secretary Shan Cretin is visiting AFSC's programs in Africa, and sent this report from the Hatcliffee Extension in Zimbabwe. See her first update from Zimbabwe.
The trip to Hatcliffe Extension passes through one of Harare’s “Leafy Suburbs” — a smooth, wide tree-lined street with gracious homes and glimpses of swimming pools and tennis courts behind the high walls. The roads got narrower and rougher, until we reached a rutted, unpaved road that took us across a dry field, beyond which the community of Hatcliffe Extension stretched as far as we could see in all directions. Along the dirt streets were rows of makeshift shelters with tin roofs. My guide was Dereje Wordofa, AFSC's regional director in Africa. He pointed out many shanties with the white and blue plastic sheeting that AFSC had provided in 2005-2006, still serving as walls. Sprinkled among these shelters are brick and cinderblock houses, some completed, most in various stages of construction—a sure sign that this community is working toward a brighter tomorrow.
We approached a large open space where participants in the Livelihoods Restoration Project were already gathering for a training session, bringing their sewing machines, tools and samples of their products along. We were warmly greeted with a welcoming song. An enthusiastic carpenter and her sons trotted over carrying a large recently finished wardrobe to place beside the welded metal window frames and jars of peanut butter. The trainer from the Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau arrived with her flip chart and markers and gathered everyone around on the grass. After a prayer, the trainer introduced the topic for the day: a refresher course on record keeping. She invited the participants to help establish a list of ground rules. Hands went up and people called out suggestions. As the class got underway, it had a similar feeling to the community workshops AFSC offers to immigrant communities in San Diego or to young people in Gaza.
As the training proceeded, we took walking tour of the homes and work spaces for the participants in the various trade clusters. Despite the inescapable dust, the houses we visited were clearly well cared for. The outdoor space was well used with a workbench, space for washing, a small garden, a place to sit. Hatcliffe Extension residents clearly took care of their surroundings. Wooden toilet stalls were placed throughout and sanitation crews were keeping the litter and trash under control.
Mrs. Chabrunyira Shupi of the Carpentary Group welcomed us to her home with a broad smile. There was a canopy providing shade over the front door. The cramped space inside the shanty was divided into neatly organized rooms—a storage area, a kitchen, and a bedroom with a fine bed and the very first wardrobe she had made in the carpentry class. Her real excitement was to share the cement brick house she and her sons were building—it will have four rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Her sons had already dug a ten-meter deep well so that she would not have to spend time every day carrying water.
As we toured the homes of other carpenters, leatherworkers, welders, and seamstresses, every family showed us the foundations poured for their new houses, the partially constructed rooms, and the metal door and window frames from the welding cluster. The carpenters were making wooden doors and furniture. The genius of the Livelihood Restorations Project became clear: the participants were not simply learning trades that might or might not find customers. They were learning trades that were in high demand, that were contributing to the transformation of this community, as all the residents of Hatcliffe Extension were working to build permanent homes and create a real town for their families. As one of the young carpenters said, “This is not just about earning a little extra cash. We are starting a real business!”
The women welders have given themselves a catchy name: the Pisa-Pisas—the Shona words for the Hot Hots. Women doing welding and carpentry is new in this community and has attracted positive attention that brings in men and women customers. The Interior Deco cluster proudly showed off the sewing machines they had bought with their earnings so that they could increase their output. The sense of the community in all the clusters was apparent. Interior Deco recently lost a member in a car accident. Her loss is still felt and the group spoke about coming together to contribute to her funeral.
At the end of our tour, we met with the association that is taking charge of the future of the Livelihoods Restoration Project. The officers introduced themselves and underscored their commitment to getting the final approvals to begin construction of the new work space as soon as possible. Seeing the dusty open air work tables and the unlit cramped spaces in the shanties, makes clear the importance of an adequate work space. The association will oversee construction of the new building, which will use resident labor, and then operating the work space for the benefit of the whole community.
One of the young association members ended the meeting with a long and thoughtful “thank you,” saying that most NGOs gave handouts, and that was needed sometimes. But AFSC’s Livelihoods Restoration Project was different. It allows the community to develop skills and partnerships with the Ministry of Small and Medium Businesses, the Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau, and Silviera House, so Hatfield Extension could rebuild itself. The new work space will be the physical proof of what the community can do for itself. This contribution of skills and self-reliance, unlike a handout, will continue to support the Hatfield Extension community well into the future.
I want to add my thanks to our committed and creative Zimbabwe staff, our Africa regional staff, and to all our generous supporters who have made the Livelihoods Restoration Project such a heartwarming success!