As a part of our long term development vision for the Mambanje Community, a remote village which lies less than 2km from Hwange National Park Boundary, it was with great anticipation that after twelve months of planning and fundraising, we packed up and drove the four hours from Bulawayo to the community with a team of seven facilitators from Family Impact to Mambanje Primary Schools where we pitched our tents for the four days of training.
An energetic and entertaining team of three led the 118 students of Mambanje Primary School in the Life Skills Program. The Sanitary Pad Making team came prepared with four huge sacks of materials which they used over the three days, teaching over 100 women from the community how to sew their own reusable sanitary pads, each woman making 12 re-usable sanitary pads over the 3 days. This was just days after a local minister addressed the very relevant fact that over 60% of girls in Zimbabwe miss school because of inadequate access to sanitary materials with the majority of these living in the rural areas. Being so remote, these women often use what is available to them from the surrounding area, being newspaper and leaves from trees, which unfortunately often leads to life threatening situations. By learning about the health aspects and making the sanitary pads these women are able to make informed decisions for them, and the generations of young ladies that will follow them. It is our hope that these skills will be passed down and make life a little easier for all women and young ladies every month, through the many years of their lives.
The Life Skills program develops skills for life such as communication, decision–making, thinking, managing emotions, assertiveness, self–esteem building, resisting peer pressure, and relationship skills. Additionally, it addresses the important issues of empowering girls and guiding boys towards new values. It teaches them how to become leaders in their roles in their communities using the leadership tree model. The Life Skills approach is completely interactive, using fun and innovative methods such as role-plays, games, puzzles and group discussions.
The three day Sanitary Pad making course not only gives women and girls access to Sanitary pads, it also leads to improved dignity and self worth, knowledge of reproductive health issues such as cervical cancer, taught by a trained nurse which leads to women attending clinics for regular testing. Family Impact have an amazing track record and feedback from women who attend their courses say that they feel empowered through the knowledge they learn and that their confidence in themselves increases greatly, something which we hope to witness for the women of Mambanje as we conduct follow up visits with the Family Impact team within the next weeks and months.
It was a fun filled and busy three days, sharing our meals with the community during the day in the meals we provided and the four primary school teachers who live and work at the school, the lack of electricity and running water was a reality as we ate around the fire at night and had to pump water from the hand pump at the borehole in the morning for an authentic bucket shower. Six volunteers from the community camped with us and were up before dawn to prepare the meals of the day for the women and children and their cheerful company made us feel very much at home.
On the last day of the training, African Bush Camps Guides Raymond and Mike from Somalisa Camp arrived with Liz Bentley from the Rotary Club of Sorrento to Mambanje.
She was on her last leg of a 2 ½ week safari where she was leading a group booked through her travel business, Sorrento Travel. Liz , being a long time avid traveler to Africa visited Mambanje Community for the first time in 2012 and has since been an amazing partner and advocate in raising the funds for the majority of the development projects identified in partnership with the community. The Rotary Club of Sorrento has so far raised the funds to replace all of the school furniture, repaired over 120 of the broken windows, fitting doors onto the classrooms, repaired and re-drilled the borehole, paid for the 2013 school fees and all previously outstanding school fee’s for the 79 orphans at the school. This three day Life Skills and Sanitary Pad making training is also a part of the funding Rotary has risen, as is the tuck shop run by the community of which the majority of the monthly profits will go directly back to the school. Now that the borehole is fixed, we are currently fundraising to equip a solar pump to the borehole and provide solar power to the teachers’ house and school classrooms. Elefence International has so far assisted us in raising over 50% of the funds needed for this and as the surface water in the river from the rains has all but dried up, this is now an urgent need. As the elders and leaders of the community greeted Liz and her group to their community and thanked them for their efforts so far, they also highlighted the urgent need of the completion of this solar installation. Not only will it provide clean and safe drinking water for the school and community but will allow them to undertake income generating projects which cannot be done without water, and projects such as the vegetable garden for the school and community can finally be set up.
We were also joined by Ingrid Scharer, a high school Science Teacher from Australia who is spending a month volunteering at Mambanje Primary School, working with the school and community, one of the main objectives is to equip the teachers, school and community to effectively implement the Happy Reader books which were a part of the donation received in April when the Dete 10k Fun Run took place. She arrived and acclimatized straight away to camping out, the prefect way to get to know the teachers and community and have a first hand understanding for the challenges faced by the community.
The guest visit also culminated with the Mambanje men’s and boys soccer teams receiving their new uniforms which have been donated through Steffi and Kai Wolfermann from Terra Vista Reisen of Germany, the joy and pride of their new uniforms visible in their bright smiles.
As we packed up and prepared to leave the community on the last afternoon, an old grandmother slowly made her way to us, she had not been able to attend the three day sanitary pad making course as the distances are too far for her to walk each day, she did however not want to miss out and asked for sanitary making kits for the teenage girls under her care, saying that she wanted to go back home and sew for them – leaving us in the knowledge that this is indeed a very real need for the girls and women of the community and that we will have made a valuable lasting impact.
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