Macheke Sustainability Project

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Poem for Macheke...

Village Soccer

Undeniable Zimbabwean sunshine
Undiscovered Macheke spirit
Unsoiled cloud paintings on pristine cobalt sky
Air animated - Glee, Curiosity, Presence
Little dress dusted with red kind earth
Bright eyes abundant so as to defy poverty
Small bare feet with significance in the grasses green
Hoping the future will be as sustainable as this village soccer moment…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Blue Dress...

On Dec 8, 2010, I set off for my long trip home to Zimbabwe. My day had started off on the wrong foot on so many levels, but the privilege to be on an itinerary whose final destination read HRE was inspiring enough to make up for the rest. I was at EWR in no time, all checked in and just grateful for my friend Vimz who had taken the role of ‘big sister’ on a morning where I had also needed courage more than just the ride to the airport. There’s something about gratitude that brings one back to realizing just how much more there is to be thankful for. There’s something sacred about being in that moment where I noticed my breath - the rising and falling of my lungs under my chest. Somehow in that moment, I felt connected to my source. I felt protected. I felt lucky to be alive, to be on this journey. I couldn’t help but to smile….
Delta boarded us on the connection flight to ATL, and I settled in my window seat with my new book, The Blue Sweater. It’s Jacqueline Novogratz’s story about her experiences on the quest to help others, and hopefully change the world in the process. The narrative begins with her account of an old blue sweater that she had owned as a little girl and many years later, the encounter (more like a spiritual occurrence) with a little African boy in Kigali, Rwanda, who happened to be wearing that very same sweater. “The Hidden Connections”, I thought, as I read on; my brain chasing through the memoir and saving in memory everything to better equip me for this trip. The connection flight to JNB was over 16hours and though I sat next to a good neighbor who kept me company from time to time, it was impossible to escape the time. I went over my notes of what I’d want this visit to be about: deliver hope to mama so she can better weather the challenges at home, work out a model to help reduce input costs of running our family farm, carry out the survey to gauge the microfinance needs in the community, meet up with executives at the UN/UNDP, Worldlinks & Acumen-Africa; visit the schools and analyze the ever moving target of challenges in Macheke so as to re-prioritize initiatives if necessary. Well, and don’t forget to eat mazhanje, laugh often and love being home! My brothers William and Rob met me at the airport and as if I was just there yesterday, I switched into my mode of being a little sister and one who’s so excited about the Christmas holidays. It must have been after midnight when we got to our home in Macheke and my sister Chipo had stayed up to meet me. ZESA (electricity supply) was surprisingly available, so we excitedly held hands as we rushed to my mom’s room. She had been ill, you see, so I didn’t know how I’d find her. She heard my voice and sat up in bed, and in near-tears we embraced after what had seemed like the longest year. My mom has always been the rock, and there was no difference throughout most of last year – my year of hurdles. She was prayerful when I had my cancer scare. She was my cheerleader when I signed up to study for my PhD in Sustainability Education at Prescott College, AZ. Through my vulnerability about my work, my relationship and my calling – she was undeniably, the rock. But more recently she has been more frail in voice, more challenged, more delicate. I thought of some jokes to tell in order to start fulfilling one of my tasks. Then I remembered that my smiles often come easy, so I resorted to that, and it seemed to work. She was weak and tired but her spirit arose and she began to chat with us. My brothers joined us and there she was, with four of her seven children, telling us stories, even laughing sometimes!

That first week was about finding ways to bring hope back into our home. My brother Farai and my sister Felly and their families were also in the country, which made for a wholesome family time. We went shopping for groceries in Marondera and though it was good to see that all shelves were laden with goods, I couldn’t help imagine how the majority are getting by. As we weaved through the aisles, loading our trolley with the basic needs, my calculator (in my head) was looking at a running total of over $270 and the math just didn’t seem to add up for me. If commercial farmers were challenged to meet their monthly needs of buying groceries and paying school fees for their children, then how was the teacher, nurse or policeman who makes $150/month getting by? I later found out that the commercial farmers in Macheke were challenged, not because they had not worked hard last crop season, but because they have yet to be paid by the wholesaler who “bought” their produce. Quite a vicious cycle when not grounded sustainability - still, I couldn’t get to accepting this equation. I spent some time in the field with the farm workers and I thoroughly enjoyed the joy around them. This season, they were happy because the rains had finally come abundantly. With the rains had also come lots of wild fruits (case in point – mazhanje), wild mushrooms and wild greens. “It could be worse”, they chimed. I know my people well, so I can’t say I was surprised to hear of their appreciation of the simple things in life such the rain. But for me, this continues to shape my views on this fight against poverty. They are gratified when they can get just enough to meet their needs, and in times of lack, they are perseverant….
In Harare, I went with my longtime friend, Lynn to attend a few meetings to discuss the Macheke Sustainability Project. The meeting with Mukoma Ambrose Made at the UNDP was very encouraging. I gave an overview of the project and he gave his advice on how this could fit into their current mission in Zimbabwe. He suggested that the focus on the Environment and Climate Change would be most suitable and directed us to get in touch with the UNDP Small Grants Programme. This was very welcome to us as we already had a standing appointment with Aunty Khetiwe Moyo-Mhlanga at that office. She is graceful and a very well experienced visionary. It was such a delight to hear her tell me to send her the proposal for the sustainability work to be done in Macheke. Ben Hundermark at Acumen-Africa was also very helpful in describing their role in private entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe. While we are not eligible to apply for their funding because we lack starting cash, he suggested I look into their pilot business research program. The meeting with Mukoma Eliada Gudza, the Director of World-Links Zimbabwe was a great success. Since supporting Monte Cassino Girls High School in 2010 to get some computers, World Links has shown an honest interest in our education and technology initiative. In 2011, we hope to work closely with them to get some teacher training arranged for the schools in Macheke and also to acquire some computers for the technology center that we intend to build. As a software engineer, I have come to believe that when relevant, technology can be used successfully in bridging the gap for training and information in communities that would otherwise be left out. Now more than ever, I am convinced that we need transformational education that can remind us how we can best sustain ourselves. This can begin with programs that focus on how to develop an appreciation of a deep ecological approach to our human presence on the planet and how human well being is related to the well being of our biosphere. It is of essence to develop an appreciation of the aspects of our culture and ethnic language that foster love and the fact that being different adds to our global diversity which is so crucial for planetary sustainability. We have to ask why Macheke is struggling to advance away from poverty. And why have so many failed to define, let alone combat poverty? How can we make do with what’s available so that we are empowered to realize a sustainable future for ourselves and our children?

In the second and third weeks, I focused on speaking with the locals to assess the
microfinance needs of the community.The objective is to write a proposal that deals
with the need of a community financing office in Macheke My conservations with people at home were very special because there is something magnificent about hearing someone who lives with many daily challenges say that they are grateful to be alive and that they intend to keep working hard until things get better. My mom took an afternoon to take me out to the woods so I can learn about all the natural herbs that grow in Macheke. She has such a dense database of indigenous herbal medicine that I am convinced our healing center will be all the more richer because of it. Just from the short time I was there, I heard of deaths that could have been avoided, met with children that were trying to survive an ailing medical system and at first account dealt with the challenges of seeking care for my brother William. His hands got burned in an electricity fire accident and since the clinic in Macheke does not have the capacity to admit patients, we had to take him to Marondera. We brought him in to a private hospital and I must say I was shocked that we had to purchase everything from bandages, betadine, to pain medication. With a bill of over $1,100 when William was discharged a week later, I went back to wondering how someone who makes $1,000 per year in income would ever be able to afford medical care.
Back at the farm, my sister, nieces, nephews and I walked over to play “bhora” with the children whose parents work on the farm. Having a ball in hand was an easy attraction and without much deliberation, we began to play our cute version of village soccer. As we ran around the grass, air filled with laughter and hope, I locked eyes with six-year-old Tindo (nickname for “Tendai”). She had been shy to get active on a soccer field with boys [in Macheke, girls play netball because ‘soccer is for boys’] but with our encouragement, she came into her own, with her little dress that was torn on the back and was taking the game to heart. When she hit a great ball that went off into the bushes, I ran to meet her for a ‘great job – HIGH 5’. She was so proud of her contribution in the game and suddenly I saw who I was as a little girl. It reminded me of my days growing up here on the farm, full of dirt and full of life. I had received a blue dress from the clothes donation batch that the Catholic Mission had obtained from overseas. It was sewn like a school uniform, with pockets on the hip and a lovely royal blue. I loved that dress deeply and in that moment, I wondered 2 things: Who had donated that blue dress that ended up as my jewel? What I can I donate to Tindo so that the brightness in her eyes can translate to a bright future like I have?

On my last night in Zim, I spent it in Harare and I managed to gate crush a very fun party where I ran into old friends and schoolmates from my years in primary school. It was quite interesting to see what worlds apart this event in Harare was from my humble days in Macheke. By 5am, I had to escape the party and find my way to the airport in the greatest care of my newest brother-in-law. The sun was rushing through the skies (sunshine is never a struggle in this part of the world), made it to my gate on time and began to wonder where the three weeks had gone. Home is never far away, but it was clear that distance was about to take its toll. I picked up my carry-on bag at boarding time, making sure I had not forgotten to pack my sense of responsibility as that transformational leader who promotes collaboration, harmony, equality, spirituality and love, in the quest for sustainability in my home village of Macheke…

For pictures and video clips from my visit to Zimbabwe, please see:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Journey so far…

(In my free time, I have been writing a book of a collection of stories from my childhood – I thought I would share this excerpt with you…)

I was four years old when my family’s village homestead in Svosve, was destroyed by the white soldiers fighting against black African Freedom activists such as my parents. It must have been after 6pm on a 1979 day, the sun was quickly setting as if to run away from being a possible witness. My brothers were playing outside in the dimness of the African dusk and the rest of us were in the thatched kitchen putting supper together. All of a sudden, loud gun shots came from the thick woods. Then plenty more bullets rained on the kitchen, starting a fire on the thatched roof. The kitchen was no longer a good option to take refuge, so everyone scrambled to the now dangerous courtyard, crawling and seeking safety. The chickens were frustrated by the noise and began to scurry and half-fly all around. Everyone – almost everyone, managed to creep up behind the anthill on the edge of our residence, enduring the cuts and bruises from the pebbles on the yard. My mother noticed I was missing from the cluster and without a thought, sneaked under the shower of bullets to come and get me from where I hunched by the broken door of the burning kitchen. Shortly after, the roof fell with deafening intensity. I don’t even recall how I truly responded to the events that led to that night; my mother says I was very brave and filled with the courage of an old soul. The smolder held the night captive and it polluted everyone’s state of mind. My most vivid memory of the morning after was the earth covered in bullet shells. Brown and bronze in color…

My father knew that staying in this village was no longer safe, so once dawn broke, he made the tough decision to move the family. It took no time to pile up in Austin, our old van. As we drove down the dust road and over across the little thirsty stream, it was hot and stuffy in the van, but that journey to refuge was one of the most significant trips I have ever been on. I was leaving behind my first childhood memories. Behind me now, was my pool by the river, “kutu” – our faithful dog, the lovely scent of wild flowers, the courtyard that had been home to so many of our fun games. Behind, was the only place I knew as home, the place that had often given asylum to many freedom fighters passing through. Behind the van was old air and it could only be in everyone’s hope that the air ahead was fresh with the pursuit of liberation.

As I sat on that Lufthansa flight headed to the United States for college in May 1995, I thought about my childhood and how far I had come. From a village girl, to a US college student – I smiled a bit. At the turn of the century, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Drexel University. Last year, I graduated with a master’s degree in Software Engineering from Monmouth University. As this new decade turns, I look forward to beginning my PhD studies. I am immensely interested in sustainability education, particularly with the way it relates to my village community of Macheke in Zimbabwe. I’m compelled to further my education because I sense that we will always be chasing freedom, until we embrace the more natural and sustainable way of life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter is here in NJ...

Winter is here in NJ and from one snow storm to another, we are plowing through. Today marks 7years from my dad’s passing, and like the past 6 anniversaries of this day, I struggled to wake up this morning. But with humility, I still said my morning prayer and jumped out of bed; failing to escape that cold air that fell on me fast as I slid my feet to the floor. I got up and to have some level of normalcy, I went through my morning routine. Like each morning, I poured myself a glass of tomato juice, gulped it and raced out the door; lemon-water bottle in hand. And like most mornings, I again forgot to pre-warm my car, so I was greeted by the chill that had inhabited my car overnight. Time was flying, as it often does, and my mind was racing along. I made it to the gym without knowing how I got there. Took my spin class and then decided to sit in for yoga. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I decided that today is just the day to achieve my best mind/body/spirit balance. The day to appreciate that I have access to life opportunities that many people from my village can only dream about. I recalled my first day in first grade, in a newly founded Zimbabwe, and realized that I never imagined that my journey would take me to a project of this magnitude. Back then, I never knew that the hidden effects of colonization would bring my community to the ground. Yet still, little did I know that my father, who had worked so hard in that liberation struggle, would pass away without having experienced the real fruits of that freedom. Maybe his freedom fight was not for him. I suppose he did it for me.

Before I conclude, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to read my blog and being supportive of the Macheke Sustainability Project. I visited Zimbabwe again 2months ago and I noticed a few things (picture and video images to follow):

- The store shelves were filled with products (a great change from my last visit back in May 2008).
- The Zimbabwean Dollar is no longer in use. After losing value to hyperinflation, the US Dollar and SA Rand have taken that place.
- Farmers had produce in their fields but issues with access to market left them struggling to make ends meet.
- Students still have a great need for school supplies and academic support.
- Many products are imported and they are expensive. Fuel is nearly $5/gallon. A small bottle of water is $2 in some towns. In an economy where teachers make less than $200/month; it is easy to see where the challenges lie.

As we carry out more research, the project is taking its shape as a business whose aim is to alleviate poverty. MSP-America is the non-profit organizational entity that will be based in the USA with a main goal of fund/resource raising. The goal is to have an alliance with Monmouth University to engage faculty, students and staff in various assignments including research, planning, administration, publications, field work/study, student/teacher exchange and volunteering, study abroad and community service projects. This entity will have a working agreement with MSP to attain delivery of resources (including field work/study) and research intellectual property to Macheke. MSP is the organization that will be responsible for development and implementation of the various on-the-ground activities in support of the Macheke community. This organization will coordinate all resources that are supplied via MSP America. It will also have hands-on alliance with other NGOs and government agencies in Zimbabwe. Initially, this organization will be run as a private entity and whose revenues will be poured back into the entity so as to reduce the dependence on resources funded by MSP-America. This organization will manage the following business initiatives: Communication Technology, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, Community Service & Fundraising, Education, Sustainable Water, Healthcare, Community Financing, Infrastructure and Research and Analysis.

The following project documents have been authored with assistance from Monmouth University’s Leon Hess Business School (please contact me to get a copy):
Business Plan: Macheke Sustainability Project (2009)
Social Business Project Research: Macheke Sustainability Project (2009)

The following is an article written in Summer 2009 to give some light to the project:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Project Update (June, 2009)

Hi everyone,

Summer is here in NJ with its hot waves and cool rains, yet I often think of Zimbabwe that is in the midst of its winter term. In the village of Macheke, winters are very dry and rather cold at times. At dawn, some children will dare the barefoot walk to school in the wee hours of the frost bitten mornings, not knowing if this education will translate into something profound in their future. At dusk, some farm workers will brave the falling wintry air on their last chore in the fields that are yearning for harvested water. These images enhance my purpose to continue developing the Macheke Sustainability Project, and during this my summer, I have the guidance of two brilliant professors from Monmouth University’s School of Business. Dr Nahid Aslanbeigui is supporting my independent study research for the Social Business Development on the Macheke Sustainability Project. Dr Susan Gupta is support my independent study research for the Marketing of this Sustainability Project. It is very interesting that as I engage in this research, it is clear that Macheke is not very well documented and its people seem invisible online. So this means gathering raw data regarding the farms and the people that work them on both commercial and subsistence levels. Also have to find out more about the schools and how these children are growing their academics in these challenging times. I have to gather information about the local clinic and what services it offers when medication is unavailable. I am set to gather details about any other industries and service sectors that are thriving. With all this information, I will write reports that will hopefully define Macheke in depth such that the need is transparent. The idea is to take that information and make a more precise assessment of what must be done in order to achieve sustainability. Without intervention, the people of Macheke will make the list of those that fail to live within the Millennium Development Goals of 2015. I know that the future can be better than the present, and we have the power to make this happen because the voice of my community chants for renewal. My goal is to add value and meaning to the lives of many hard working men, women and children who are looking at this current situation of poverty with the great expectation that with any help, we can make it better… YES WE CAN!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Project Update (April 16)

Hi everyone,

It’s been months since I wrote, but not a day goes by that I do not think of this project. I have been very overwhelmed about the way forward because the situation in Zimbabwe has not been improving and that makes it very difficult to mobilize resources that can get the project moving.

Since then, I have done the following:
- I have completed my courses at Monmouth University and will be receiving my Masters Degree in Software Engineering & Management on May 20, 2009
- I have identified Macheke Primary School and Monte Casino Secondary School in Macheke that is ready to partake in the project [they engage in community service as well obtain an education to increase the number of educated professionals in the community. Community service will range from AIDS and Cholera advocacy, sustainable subsistence farming advocacy to activities that encourage environmental living and working in the community. The high school students already have local school clubs to focus on some of the issues – now it will just be more organized to breed a generation of civil servants. The education will give opportunities for students to go for higher education and be encouraged to come back or remain in the community to provide professional leadership]
- I visited the secondary school last year in May and gave a series of lectures on varying subjects. The most immediate need is books and internet access [they received computers from the government through the program Computers for Africa, but they cannot use them actively as they do not have access to the internet
- The students at Monmouth University’s Global Understanding convention are interested in supporting the project – we now have to work out details of the areas they can most effectively support
- I have identified 2 large commercial farms, 2 smaller farms and several subsistence farmlands that are ready to partake in this project. They will form a cooperative so that any farm equipment provided will be shared among the farmers and the produce will serve the community first. The idea is develop a program that feeds into itself by diversifying agriculture and employing locals that go through project training. It will be based on a social business model where there will be no 5% of the community owning all the land/wealth while everyone else is living below poverty level.
- I contacted Mr Marcus Hakutangwi who was the head of Swedish Cooperative in Zimbabwe and now he has been asked by the Gates Foundation to lead in developing a Barefoot University in Southern African with a focus on Agriculture to combat hunger in the long term. He is available to support and counsel and will give access to Monte Casino students to a sustainable agriculture education. The first University should open in a year or so in Mozambique
- I have met the UNDP-small grants programme director, Ms Khetiwe Moyo-Mhlanga and she is willing to lend her support in water-harvesting education for the project. She has also agreed to support any equipment procurement for the agriculture program if there is another organization that also lends support
- I am in contact with the World Links Executive Director, Eliada Gudza and he has confirmed that his organization will lend support in Agricultural Skills learning on the project.
- On February 6 this year, I attended the UNA-USA Members day conference where I met Tariq Banuri (director for sustainable development). He asked me to contact him so he can forward me to the correct team working on projects for Africa and am awaiting that information. I also made contact with the UNA-NCA Africa Committee member, Vivian Nguyen and will be meeting with them in DC to further discuss this project.
- I have been checking on the Development Marketplace site to see if there is a competition I can re-submit my project and so far I have not found anything.
- I am doing plenty of reading to attain more knowledge on embarking this challenge in the best way. I have read the “banker to the poor” and “a world without poverty” by Mohammed Yunus of the Grameen Bank as well “making poor nations rich” by Benjamin Powell. My next read will be “the challenge for africa” by Wangari Maathai.

I have not given up because I am determined to achieve success in deleting poverty while bringing sustainability to my community. I honestly feel that we can make a collective difference even in the worst country in the world – one person or one project at a time!

If you have been following the news about Zimbabwe, more/extended sanctions have been placed and the Zimbabwe Dollar became worthless so that the official currency is now the US Dollar. The Cholera outbreak has reduced, but the issues with AIDS and poverty continue to rise. In Macheke, there are people ready to learn and work to better themselves and their community. There are people who respect the journey of our spirit-medium, the honesty of our land’s elements and its nature. What they are seeking is guidance to live in sustainable harmony so as to restore what has been taken out of balance…

The list of things that are in need of funding on this project:
1. training --- renewable resources for the MSP project members
2. internet access --- many free online educational resources that are relevant for students
3. farm equipment & infrastructure
4. processing shed equipment and infrastructure
5. renewable resources equipment and infrastructure
6. education --- entrepreneurial course for local high school students