Interviewer: Sr. Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN
Q: As a Social Worker in Harare, Zimbabwe, what has been and is now your ministry?
For two years, I have been working with the Mashambanzou Care Trust (the Trust), established in Harare 20 years ago. With teams of social workers and nurses, the Trust works to alleviate poverty in the community and to contribute to a generation free from HIV.
People suffering from AIDS are brought to the Medical Centre (Centre) in the city for care and treatment, and in some cases, to die with dignity. The Centre has 28 beds, male and female sections, and a small section for children. In my first year, I was responsible for counselling very sick and dying people in the Centre, and reaching out to their families and the community of these patients.
This ministry took me to Mbare, one of the oldest, high-density suburbs, south of Harare where I had oversight for two homes for vulnerable older children, one for boys and one for girls. As a social worker, I needed to follow-up on school attendance and performance, and to verify identity documents for these students. During school holidays, I drove long-distances to accompany some teenagers to family members in other parts of the country, and insure their return at the end of the holidays. The Centre relies on donor funding for several vehicles and drivers to serve this need. Another responsibility in Mbare was to visit, check attendance and documents for 60 orphans and vulnerable children with AIDS in a crèche (day nursery) directed by the Trust.
Community Outreach Now
Since late 2014, I have been ministering also in community outreach in Glen Norah, Highfields, a high density suburb and Hopley Farm, a large informal settlement on the edge of the city with few resources. With local volunteers, we reach out to people identified by local caregivers as needing help with HIV patients.
We work in teams of a social worker and a nurse. In a typical family centered visit, the nurse checks the physical condition of the sick person, while I engage with the family in
conversation about how they are coping, or not, with their situation, and journeying with the sick. Some families cast out and cut off members infected with AIDS. These ‘discarded’ persons and their families present a large challenge and require continuing follow-up by our staff. Many individuals do not have the necessary Identity Documents. Others who do vending and begging are the breadwinners, and belong frequently to families now left destitute, hungry and unable to manage their infected family members. The hardest cases are patients with tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, or those with neglected sexually transmitted diseases, particularly difficult to treat in the confined situations of an informal settlement.
Hope for Hopely
Hopely has over 30,000 people, moved out of other areas in 2005 when the Commonwealth Games were to be held in the city. Political leaders ordered the removal of vendors and squatters from city precincts. The campaign was known as Murambatsvina in Shona, meaning “Operation Drive Out Rubbish.” The Trust has also been assisting this community to buy bricks for building classrooms for more than a thousand children attending Tariro, a privately established primary school, directed by an altruistic man: Edwin Msipa. He says: “To lead the school is a struggle,” but he finds inspiration in keeping over a thousand young girls and boys off the streets and away from crime. Nine small roughly built rooms serve as classrooms on a rotational basis; all other classes take place out of doors, in inclement and in fine weather. Access to fresh water in Hopely is from home-dug, shallow wells, providing water, often polluted by sewerage in the rainy season.
Some children are unable to attend school because they take turns caring for sick parents and relatives. Despite our efforts, many children are still playing in the dusty, city streets every day. The Trust provides food for the children, and clothes, especially in the cold season. People identified at the Harare Centre as very sick receive medication, care from a doctor and nurses and good nutrition, to help them get better so that they can return home.
Training for Sustainability
Many families struggle to get income for themselves through vending. They receive a little capital for small income generating projects from the Trust; it provides training for community members, involved in vending, in an Internal Saving and Lending Scheme. Trainers work in an area 2 days per week, with 35 individuals. This training helps the people to increase income through a semi-formal structure with a constitution, membership, etc., and to organize and support each other. Currently the focus is making small capital available, but the Trust hopes to include pooling and sharing labour and basic skills, as used in Cooperatives elsewhere in the world. A burial society ‘owned’ by small community groups is also a possibility.
The goal for the people is to:
– Uplift standards of living, through mutual assistance to one another
– Become more self-sustainable, less reliant on outside groups
– Pay school fees for their children
– Build their own houses
– Live more humanly and comfortably
Q: What have been your most challenging assignments?
For me, one challenge is visiting a family where the sick person is bed-ridden, has no money for food, and with children not at school… a fairly hopeless situation. Illness affects the whole family, and especially those not able to deal with such sickness. When a sick person has TB, there is no facility to disinfect eating and other utensils, making the whole family at risk.
I worked with Maria, a young woman with HIV+ who received her Certificate, after passing her examinations. She wanted to study nursing and needed this Certificate to register for nursing. Her uncle, who had helped with her education, withheld her Certificate. She was unable to pursue any further education. He told Maria that there is no future for someone with HIV+. Much work/education is necessary TODAY to face acceptance and discrimination, with the stigma attached to this disease! The challenges are ongoing in this ministry.
“We choose to stand with people made poor…” (2014 General Chapter Calls)
Reprinted with permission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Good Works, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 2015, pp. 14-16. Download the GWNov2015 edition or review the Good Works Archives located on www.sndden.org.