Early days in Zimbabwe – and an introduction to CAMFED

It’s now just over a week since I landed in Harare and today was Day 3 in my role at CAMFED (The Campaign for Female Education). I know that this year I seem to be Mr ‘here’s another amazing organisation you need to hear about’, what with EEF, The Book Bus, Kiva… But really – here is yet another! If this year is teaching me anything, it’s that there are some incredibly inspiring people in this world, doing the most wonderful life-changing work.

Maybe before I delve into CAMFED, a quick update on how my first week went, settling into the city. I was fortunate enough to find a great place to stay, with the lovely Nikolina. Apart from being my ‘landlady’ in the peaceful, leafy northern suburbs of the city, she’s been my tour guide, my social secretary, the provider of a bike for me to get to work daily, and the instigator for me doing a bit more exercise than I’d planned: some pretty strenuous hiking, plus threats (sorry ‘offers’) to take me mountain biking. By some bizarre coincidence, it turns out she was married in Banbridge (the town where I was born).

I think I’d naively been expecting a city similar to Addis – sprawling, noisy, chaotic, vibrant. Granted I imagine I’m seeing it from the slightly skewed perspective of the more affluent suburbs, but my initial visions couldn’t have been further from reality. It’s exceptionally lush and green: the streets everywhere are lined with enormous jacaranda trees (I’m already planning a trip back when they’re in bloom). The centre’s focused around the very pretty Harare Gardens and Africa Unity Square. Social life for those with a bit of money seems to mainly revolve around large suburban ‘shopping centres’, which also have restaurants, bars, cinemas. Where the city does compare to Addis is the great live music scene. Oh and the regular power cuts (‘load shedding’ means these can be a daily occurrence). Overall, the whole place has an almost provincial feel. And then just outside, there’s the most spectacular scenery: some of the attached pics are from my hike at the weekend at the nearby Ngomakurira.

So onto a quick introduction to CAMFED. (I’ll want to tell you lots more about them in the weeks to come, I know.) The core of the organisation’s work is to support young girls going to school, and then empowering them as young women to go on to become ‘leaders of change’. They support not just the girl’s schooling, but also build her community and wider support structures. So they engage and support teachers and parents, for instance running mother support groups and working with local community leaders and government authorities.

One of the things I find most inspiring, is that the three most senior positions in the Southern Africa Region are today held by women who themselves were originally beneficiaries of the CAMFED programme. I met yesterday with the Regional Executive Director, Angeline Murimirwa. Without the opportunities presented by CAMFED some years back, this amazing, inspirational leader (who now, for instance, finds herself sharing expert platforms with Michelle Obama) would most probably not even have received a secondary level education. More of Angeline in a separate post, because to me her story truly does embody what the organisation is all about.

As I explained previously, I’m here with Kiva, whose focus is the provision of lending to those unable to access capital in other ways. The Kiva / CAMFED relationship is a great partnership: when a girl leaves school, she can elect to become what’s called a ’Learner Guide’. In this role, she is entitled to a loan from Kiva (of $500), which enables her to set up a small business with a view to becoming financially independent. Instead of paying any financial interest on the loan, she pays ‘social interest’: she commits to undertaking volunteer work within the community, primarily focused on mentoring and coaching the younger girls coming through school.

What was stressed to me by Angeline was that, for these young women, the loan from Kiva doesn’t just give them the obvious financial benefits. What they get is something much more profound: it’s a sense of self-worth, of identity, of dignity, of social inclusion. Instead of being ostracised in the community, they realise there are people out there who care, who recognise their potential and who want to help them progress.

I am hugely looking forward to getting the opportunity to meet some of the borrowers in the coming weeks. Again, as with EEF, I can imagine it’s going to be an immensely humbling experience. Just reading some of the individual stories, I can already see the strength and drive of these young women, in the face of severe adversity. I feel very lucky that Kiva and CAMFED are giving me the privilege of witnessing it at first hand. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes…

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4 thoughts on “Early days in Zimbabwe – and an introduction to CAMFED

  1. Fantastic Alan. It looks amazing – and you have an office, although the weekend office looks much the best. Women and girls are the future in every country! We empower girls, we empower the next generation. Although I have to say I am hugely disappointed by some powerful women’s lack of humanity but we have to try!

    1. Thanks Liza. Completely agree. I can see how, when just given a bit of an opportunity, these amazing women come together to transform the whole community and, as you say, the next generation.

  2. Alan, have just written you a long message on here and then deleted it. Don’t know why/how. A very overdue message. Will endeavour to do it properly tomorrow as you deserve it. Have shared you on facebook as a consolation prize. I hope what you’re doing is making you happy as it is evidently making many others way happier than they ever could have been. Love you. p

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