I grew up in Zimbabwe and consider myself a Zimbabwean. In 1983, as a young mother pregnant with twins, I saw the desperation of those less privileged mothers struggling to look after their own children. I decided to start a Women's Group with the wives of the domestic workers living around our home. I went to a local political rally, and as the only white woman in the crowd, I rather gingerly stood up in the huge crowd, and announced I would start a Women's Group. The response was overwhelming: next day 70 women presented themselves to form the group, and so we started a play school, a literacy group and made rag carpets for sale. It was an extraordinary experience.
I found the energy of women working together in a group was powerful and that together women can overcome many of the obstacles of poverty. To cut a long story short, Kumboyedza Club (meaning Lets Help Ourselves) was the first of 2,137 Community Health Club that due to our efforts have made a difference to over one million people's lives, in Zimbabwe alone in the past 35 years. Our simple training in home hygiene and income generating skills through regular weekly meetings provide a social safety network which enables mothers to improve home hygiene which can theoretically prevent 80% of the diseases that undermine the health, growth and development of children.
In 1999, together with my husband Anthony a local NGO, called Zimbabwe AHEAD, was founded, to scale up this approach through Community Health Clubs, in order to provide water, sanitation and safe hygiene in the homes of thousands of families.
However, when Zimbabwe crashed in 2002, so did all the funding which supported this success. We were unable to sustain these projects and so left Zimbabwe to become itinerant development workers travelling in different developing countries to replicate this programme. We then started an International Charity registered in USA and UK called Africa AHEAD in 2010.
Somehow our local NGO, Zim AHEAD kept ticking over, thanks to a dedicated team of totally committed Zimbabweans who in the past 20 years have expanded on our initial vision to make projects home grown and sustainable. They have managed numerous income generating projects, and trained thousands of ordinary people, so improving water and sanitation, preventing cholera at a time when our country was falling apart and all services broke down.
For the past eight years I have headed up Africa AHEAD as a volunteer CEO, trying with limited fnancial backing to spread our method of development of empowering women through group action in Community Health Clubs. After years of travel, training and advocacy in 10 other countries in Africa, I decided to retire last year (2017).
However, age doesn't diminish my vision for a safe home environment for the poor, and I am still driven to help Zimbabwe in some way. Our Country Director in Zimbabwe, Regis Matimati, has given his own land to start a Community Resource Centre to enable all the CHCs we have started to have a platform to market their produce, and where we can continue to train trainers and employ our loyal staff on a full time basis. Zimbabwe AHEAD is raising funds to build this centre and get the various income generating projects going.
In my retirement, I have discovered the joy of the open road, and aged 65, with a wonky knee, I am planning to walk the Via Francigena from Rome up through Italy, and if all goes well continue through France to Canteberry in the UK, an ancient route taken by pilgrims in the middle ages.
I am planning to start the first stage from Rome to San Gimignano in May 2019, walking an average of 17 kms per day for 20 days, with a total distance of 340 kms.
In the first stage I hope to raise at least US$ 5,000 to contribute to the building this centre in Zimbabwe. 2018 is a year of change for Zimbabwe after the elections in July and we expect it will bring a new chapter of expansion. As the country tries to come back from its own dark age that disrupted the lives of over 8 million people, I hope I can contribute to the rebirth of hope in my country, kick starting anew outlet for many of our 2000 Community Health Clubs whose 170,000 members, despite all odds have survived in Zimbabwe.
I am inviting you to join me in this new hope for Zimbabwe. Please support me to support other women, either financially or through personal effort.
On the other hand it would be a pleasure if you want to join the team and walk to raise your own funds for Africa AHEAD. Simply start your own Campaign on crowdrise and join me on the long walk for the women of Zimbabwe. Not only will your donation help so many lovely women in need, but you will have the most incredible experience of your life walking through one of the most beautiful places on earth. If I can do it, I am sure you will be able to as well. With an average of four hours walk per day on a fairly easy trail, with lots of time each day to take in the local culture and enjoy the food and wine of Italy, what is there to loose? It is going to be amazing fun. Sign up now.