One of the things that has struck me when I spend time in the rural districts with the Camfed team, is the extent of the impact that is being achieved when people from across different sections of a community come together, establishing strong networks and working in collaboration.
I’ve been seeing this time and again, on my visits into the rural areas. An obvious example has been the local ‘Community District Committee’ (or CDC), established by Camfed in each area. Usually, this is comprised of representatives from not only Camfed, but also the Ministries of Health, Social Affairs, Education, Women’s Affairs and Agriculture, the local council authorities, the local police and judiciary (often their victim support section), the National Aids Council, the National Association of Primary and Secondary School Heads and the local tribal Chief. A pretty impressive group! And when I make visits to a borrower for my Kiva verification visits, many of them take the time to come along and ensure the trip goes smoothly.
All of these interested stakeholders (or ‘dutybearers’, as I heard them aptly described), work closely together, in unison, to support Camfed in its work in the community: for instance, checking that it’s the most deserving beneficiaries who are receiving support, tracking and monitoring the progress and impact of the education support programme, providing business and entrepreneurship training to new Kiva / Camfed borrowers, working with teachers and parents to ensure the girls get the right support.
The CDC will usually also have a representative from the local Mothers Support Group (or MSGs, as they’re referred to within Camfed). MSGs are themselves one of the most powerful networks within the local community. Elizabeth, Chair of the Buhera MSG, explained to me their role: “Given resource constraints, not every girl can receive Camfed support or every young woman receive a Kiva loan. MSGs provide an additional level of support across the community, spreading out beyond those in direct receipt of help.”
An MSG might take on chores for a family, that enable a young girl to be released to attend school (collecting firewood, washing clothes). They often help with cleaning of the village or fetching water for older members of the community. They play an important role in teaching children about the importance of their education, encouraging them to attend school and keeping track of those dropping out. And MSG groups often finance and run school feeding programmes.
Here are some pictures from the feeding programme I witnessed in Shurugwi district, in the south of the country: Camfed provided some limited financial support to get the programme off the ground but it is the local mothers who now finance and run the initiative, themselves.
Elizabeth, herself, has a particular mission at the moment: she’s concerned about children who are travelling long distances from their remote rural homes to attend one of the local schools. The journey is so difficult that many end up sleeping rough overnight, which can make them vulnerable to abuse. Elizabeth’s plan, through the MSG, is to build a hostel, which would provide a safe refuge.
From my Kiva perspective here, these networks are hugely important. Many of the most successful Kiva borrowers have, behind them, a strong MSG. Apart from the practical support, they can provide important counselling and advice; for instance helping men in the community, who often struggle greatly with the idea that their daughter / wife is now becoming, through their Kiva loan-financed business, the main breadwinner of the household. And I heard stories of how, when a business suffered an unexpected blow (theft, poor harvest), the MSG stepped in to help put the borrower back on her feet.
All in all, an inspiring reminder for me, watching these CDCs and MSGs, of the power that can come from working in a strong, collaborative community.