As we enter Hatcliffe Extension outside of Harare, Zimbabwe via a dirt road marred by deep ruts and washed out areas with more than a 12-inch drop-off, I wonder if our Toyota four wheel drive will survive with shock absorbers intact. We park and walk toward a grassy area where several men and a woman are repairing a metal wheelbarrow using the only welding machine available. Several others watch the process. Homes surround the workspace. Some are built of brick and wood while others are a patchwork quilt of tents, tarps, and other remnants from the emergency shelters erected when this community was evicted from Harare. Most homes include a garden where six foot stalks of corn shelter beans and squash.

Nthabiseng Nkomo, AFSC program development officer for the project, explains that this is a part of two welding groups that share one welder and generator. Several completed products, including a window casing, stand in the grass and weeds. A small, roughly hewn three-sided building nearby is the only protection for equipment and supplies. The welders take a short break to speak with us and share their need for equipment and material to fulfill an order for 15 window casings. As they express their needs, I think about the unexpressed concerns such as the impending rain forecasted for later in the week; the need to store equipment, material, and product securely; and the general working and safety conditions faced each day. In spite of these challenges, wheelbarrows are repaired and window casings produced.

Woman Carpenter in ZimbabweJust before we move to another work site, Nthabiseng shares the news that funds have been raised for an industrial shell building—an enclosed shelter for storage and workspace. There is joy mixed with some disbelief as the shell building had been under discussion and planning for some time with little expectation that funds could be raised. In this moment, there is celebration for a promise kept; and in the next moment, the group is back at work repairing the wheelbarrow.

From welding we walk several hundred yards to the sewing, leatherwork, and home décor groups. As we enter this workspace, mostly women and a few men sit outdoors on several tarps covered with products they have made—a woman’s skirt, children’s clothing, pillow covers, a bed spread, and some bags and backpacks. Several Singer sewing machines, reminiscent of the one my mother used in the 1960’s, sit threaded and ready for use. There is much chatter and excitement as the group shows us the many products they have created. This workspace under the sky is alive with the sounds of busy women and men.

One man speaks with thankfulness for the opportunities offered through the livelihoods project. A woman lifts up a prayer. Others talk enthusiastically of the items they are producing. In the midst of this cacophony of life, faith, and work, Nthabiseng brings greetings and shares the news about the industrial shell. As she speaks I think about the difference the shell will make for these workers—a sheltered place to work and store equipment and no worries about rain or dust ruining material. As Nthabiseng finishes her announcement, sounds of joy and celebration ring out, and one woman leads us in song. Praises of thanksgiving, love for God, and hope are expressed in Shona. Some of the words are interpreted for us, but the full meaning is in the faces of each one present.

We wrap up our viMarsha Base in Zimbabwesit to Hatcliffe Extension and walk back to our vehicle. We leave with a better understanding of the livelihoods work AFSC is supporting, a purchase of one woman’s wrap skirt, working shock absorbers, and our hearts filled with the joy and thanksgiving a simple industrial shell building can bring to a community seeking peace with justice through sustainable livelihoods.

About the author: Marsha Base serves AFSC as Director for Planning and Evaluation.