As life continues to slip by and the moments I thought would last forever become just mere photographs on the wall, it’s important for me to look in the mirror and ask myself how I became the person I am. Earlier this year I embarked on a journey – one which will always be more than a moment and a photograph on the wall, a journey which changed my life.
In January 2015 I took to the skies and flew across the ocean to the landlocked country of Zimbabwe located in Southern Africa. Whilst over there I visited many communities and met some awe inspiring women and men, but above all there is one community that stood out for me. It is a community that I look back on whenever I find myself in situations when I want to quit, to give up, to wave my little white flag and surrender to that voice inside your head telling you to do so.
The community I am referring to is Mashambanzou Care Trust – a CAFOD partner located just outside the capital Harare. At Mashambanzou Care Trust, they provide care and support for people living with HIV, they empower communities to deal with HIV and AIDs, and they seek to eliminate the stigma and discrimination which surrounds HIV. For me personally this was a challenge. We have seen the adverts and watched TV shows such as Comic Relief that tell us all about the global issue of HIV and AIDS. Having spent some time with them, I can’t even think of a word that covers the insanely incredible work they do, day in day out, to try to improve the quality of life for their brothers and sisters of this world who are affected and living with HIV and AIDS. They support them and their families and extend an arm to the orphaned and vulnerable.
The word ‘Mashambanzou’ in fact comes from one of the languages spoken in Zimbabwe, which is Shona. It is a word symbolising the early hours of dawn when elephants take their morning bath. The Care Trust has chosen this name as it speaks poignantly of new beginnings which is exactly what they offer, no matter what the background of those they support. There is no stigma here. It’s a breath of fresh air.
I saw their ‘Putting Children First’ programme, which has been active since April 2011. From this Mashambanzou has set up numerous Child Protection Clubs across highly densely populated areas around Harare. These clubs are supported by local volunteers and are child-led, with the aim of empowering children. The clubs meet weekly to discuss children’s rights. They learn about their rights through songs and poems and they make up dramas about issues related to HIV and AIDS, highlighting the difficulties children and adults face. When producing the dramas, they are able to open up, explore and act out issues. It was truly inspiring to witness the next generation in Zimbabwe wanting to make a difference. Their drive and focus was inspiring.
One particular woman who had that passion to make a difference was Glenda Mudzikitiri. Responsible for the ‘Putting Children First’ programme at Mashambanzou, Glenda was a true inspiration for me. When asked about the programme Glenda said: “This project empowers the children. It empowers them not just to get hand outs but to know what they can give out. Whether it’s through the clubs, the camps, the schools, we try to bring out what they have so they can empower themselves and others.”
Those at Mashambanzou have set a standard of dedication to try and make Zimbabwe the country it once was. It may only seem like a stone being thrown into a lake, but the ripples it is producing will, I believe, in time, change the way the world perceives Zimbabwe. My hope is that theirs will be a story that inspires many. The next generation are the key and with CAFOD’s support they have the means and resources to make a real difference. But it doesn’t end here.
I saw that your donations are making the world a better place – one which we can all enjoy and share. I long for a time when those moments of hope and happiness are an everyday reality for all. I know CAFOD will always strive to make the world a better place, and I invite you to join me and CAFOD in creating this reality of hope for all.
By Kieron Ainsworth