Shan Cretin Reports from Zimbabwe
General Secretary Shan Cretin is currently visiting AFSC's programs in Africa, and sent this report.
On August 29, I arrived in Harare for my first visit to AFSC’s programs in Zimbabwe. This morning, our program director, Nthanbiseng Nkomo drove Dereje Wordofa and me to a meeting with the partners and participants in the Hatcliffe Extension Project. The residents of Hatcliffe Extension have been displaced from their homes and resettled three times since the 1980’s, losing access to livelihoods, shelter, and basic services in the process.
For the past three years, AFSC has been part of a partnership between residents of Hatcliffe Extension and the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises, Silviera House, and the Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau. We have facilitated this ambitious project to train and promote clusters of residents supporting themselves through carpentry, leatherwork, welding, sewing, tie dying fabrics, hairdressing, peanut butter production, and interior decoration (not what you might think—making bedspreads, placemats and other household items).
The partners meet each month for progress updates and to solve problems. Silviera House, a Catholic education and advocacy organization established in 1964, has provided much of the training and hosted the meeting today. Today’s discussions touched on improving the quality of the products and taking advantage of marketing opportunities created by the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises, but the group is clearly most energized by the prospect of breaking ground on a building project that has been in the planning stage for a year: a structure that will house shared work space, shops, classrooms, and a clinic. Dereje commented on how much the partnership had matured.
The partners are working with the local city council to bring sewer and electric lines into the area, something that will benefit not just this project but all of its neighbors. The Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises has taken steps to ask all city councils to report on their plans for factory shells and work spaces that will support small enterprises such as those at Hatcliffe Extension.
At the partner meeting, the participants from Hatcliffe Extension reported on their sales for August. Carpentry brought in $250. Sewing brought in $50 and 200 kilograms of maize. Interior decorations brought in $255 and contributed $10 per person back into a fund to purchase new equipment. The list went on. For the participating families, this income means that they will be able to pay school fees for their children, purchase needed medicines, or save to build a house. The interior decorations cluster of nine residents has already come together to build houses for two of its members, with plans for building more homes in the future.
The Hatcliffe residents have clearly found their voices. Project participants are looking forward to expanding the membership of the association and taking on greater responsibility for training and motivating others. They questioned the Ministry to see if they could get help with passports to facilitate sales across borders. They pushed the partners for more advanced trainings and refresher courses. Along with livelihood skills, these residents have learned how to advocate for themselves, and to lobby for their rights!
In the afternoon, the staff told me of the history and future plans for their work. The project started during a period of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe and struggled to establish an office in an uncertain political climate. A recent workshop drew the connection between economic development and the need for community healing and conflict transformation. The community suffers daily from the hardship of repeated displacements, poor living conditions, and an uncertain future. Violence is a part of life. Finding ways to live together in peace is an essential step in community development. Better livelihoods promote healing. Healing enables people to work together to create more opportunities. The Hatcliffe Residents Association is an example of what can happen when we exploit this synergy between peace and economic development. Over the next year the HRA will be supported and prepared to take over the livelihoods project and chart its own future.
Next is a visit to Hatcliffe Extension to see where these remarkable people work and live.