Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

Wednesday: “Berejena was the first village we connected with back when we began, and the Berejena group has always been a source of beautiful, prize winning baskets, but the broader changes we have seen over the years were evident in what we encountered at Berejena today- the baskets were not up to the usual standard we have seen from this group.

As our older caregivers have left the project and as fewer households are losing their ‘parent’ generation to AIDS, our representative Rebecca has found new women to step into the project. These are women who might not be caring for orphans, but they are caring for their own children, so they are motivated to join the group in order to work toward school fees. These women are new to our process, and do not yet know the skill expectations for the baskets— I think that explains the shift in quality. We went over expectations, and next visit I suspect we will see improved basket quality.

There is now only one child-headed household left in Berejena!!!! This means that the households we have supported have now grown into adulthood, and improvements in HIV status-awareness and anti-retroviral treatment have resulted in fewer households deprived of a parent figure in Berejena. Our one remaining child is Rhatidzo Shumba- she is in fifth grade, and she has cerebral palsy. Her family chose not to care for her, but four years ago, an elderly neighbor who had been part of Zienzele took her in. Zienzele has supported Rhaditzo and her aging caregiver for the past four years as part of our Child-Headed Household program. She has done well in school and wants to be a lawyer. With continued support, we hope to see her reach her goal!

Petronella Chikwati got my vote for Zienzele All Star of the Day! She wrote a great letter to Prisca and I ( "the most important people in my life" ) this morning with the message that “challenges do not affect my studies, but rather strengthen my faith to study hard”. She is currently at Great Zimbabwe University studying Geography and Environmental Studies. She is seeking an internship at a mining company and came to offer to work for Zienzele for the chance to earn the money she will need to cover transportation for this internship. Together the three of us agreed that she will clean the Masvingo house and help with the roofing project we have scheduled there in May in exchange for the money she needs to make her internship happen.


Petronella Chikwati,

Zienzele All-Star!

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

This entry gives you a sense of how we handle a more challenging situation. Prisca and Nancy make tough calls based on decades of experience supporting our caregivers and young people through profound struggles, and seeing what strategies have a lasting positive impact. Days like this are NEVER easy.

Monday: “ Today was our always-hopeful journey to Makovere. This is an aging women’s group working under poor management, a combination that never bodes well for basket production. Indeed, although the baskets were of a somewhat better quality than last visit, the quantity of baskets they produced was woefully inadequate for the number of children they need to support. We purchased what we could and then did a 1/2 price second round to boost the sales as high as we reasonably could.

Our visit to the school was also discouraging, much chaos and confusion. We sorted out the student list and then met with the kids: such cute sweet kids, but obviously living in very poor conditions. The visit to Razi Secondary School to meet with the 18 kids in Form 1-3 was also difficult. Several of kids we used to support are no longer at school due to poor performance or because they made the choice to head off in other directions.

One girl, Precious Maunge, is a special concern for us. She is one of several grandchildren living with Gogo (Grandmother) and Precious has the burden of caring for many of the younger children under Gogo’s care. The school claimed she was a behavior problem, that she was rude to her grandmother etc. But when we met with her, her school uniform was barely intact and she was wearing busted shoes. She passed 5 subjects and wants to be a nurse. We addressed the shoes and school, and offered a special encouragement for her to be safe, strong, and focused on school: a new school uniform from Zienzele if she passes 5 subjects next term. We'll see what happens.

We brought the plans for the Zienzele Community Center to the Councillor; he will bring the plans tomorrow to show the DA in Chivi. Everyone so far has been totally impressed by the printed plans (thank you, Christopher Smith!!). At the end of a long day, we returned to Masvingo and we purchased the prizes for the Poultry Competition: chicken feed, chicken fence, chicken-sized water-troughs, and chicken-medicine!”

Thank you, Cumbie!

BHASO is a wonderful organization that we have worked with often over the years. This year, Cumbie facilitated Men’s and Women’s workshops and workshops for children in grades 3-7 in Rungai.

Nancy and Prisca will talk about these workshops at our annual Zienzele Night (May 22nd), but information is also available at BHASO’s website!

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

Saturday: “Nemauzhe: What started out as a normal trip to Nemauzhe Primary School turned into an exciting adventure indeed! When we arrived at the school, we found quite a ‘scene’: new 4x4s, a huge make-shift tent, loud speakers, and all the kids gathered around with excitement. This was a celebration of a new ‘facility’ (a new WC) built by the Jairos Jiri Association.

We made our way to the Headmaster’s office—he could only spend a few minutes with us so he left us with our teacher friend. We reviewed the student list and established that fees won't change (although the currency is now down to 3.5 to 1). After a visit to the tent to say hello to everyone, we went back to the office for lunch with the assistant headmaster, an Education Ministry official from Chivi, a Councillor lady, several village head men, and the Paramount Chief of Chivi South and his wife. The Paramount Chief is a very influential person, someone we had not met before. Prisca talked with him about the project over the years. We gave his wife and the Councillor lady each a basket as a gift, and then we left to meet with our women’s group and the twenty-eight kids under their care. The caregiver group had only one new member, but they had produced many very fine baskets—and we purchased them all! We are seeing great progress in all three regions overseen by Mai Chirigo, our newly elected coordinator. We sent Solomon in to say goodbye to the Chief (as protocol demands). It took forever for him to return, but once he returned and we got underway, he told us that when he got to the tent the Paramount Chief was regaling Zienzele as the kind of organization that has made a big difference for SO many people; he then spoke with Solomon about Solomon’s history with Zienzele and the Chief observed that there aren't enough good mechanics (like Solomon). So that had Solomon over the moon. Also exciting, the Chief sent along to us his phone number, and asked us to let him know when we would be working in the area again. He also wanted to assure us that no one should ever give us a hard time when we are in Chivi South region: he's got our back! Quite a day in Nemauzhe: kids doing great, great baskets, and an influential new supporter!”

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

Thursday: “We were out of the house by 6am for the first annual Poultry project competition. Three Agiritex /veterinarian folks served as our judges. They had their criteria: they inspected the structure, protection, ventilation, and hygiene of the coops, and they also considered each committee’s structure, notes, and how each group was organized. We visited Chamatutu, Chikofa , Mupagamure, Chomuruvati, Musvovi, Berejena, Paradza and finally Nemauzhe where we shared a meal of project-chicken and sadza. And the winner was....drumroll......MUSVOVI! This means that next Thursday there will be an all-group Poultry Show at Musvovi. All very exciting, and a great success for a great group and an exceptional leader, Mai Tafadzwa.

Another bit of information about how this works: WOW are we exhausted from walking village to village! For everyone back home who participates in the Walk for Zienzele I have this message: these villages are the ‘stations’ on our fundraising walk, and I want you all to know that walking between these actual villages is MUCH tougher than walking around Occom Pond in Hanover! At one point a huge cobra crossed the road in front of us! We made it back to Masvingo safely with Blessing at the wheel, exhausted but ever so pleased with how the day went.”

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

Wednesday: “Rungai is back! We had seen something of a decline in motivation and basket quality over the past few years- but our Rungai caregivers’ group now has an enthusiastic new leader, Mai Chirigo, and WOW Rungai amazed us today: the number of women in the basket-making group has doubled since our last visit in Autumn 2018, and the baskets they presented were both plentiful and beautiful! Our basket purchase more totaled more than the cost of school fees for all the children under their care, so this women’s group is already ahead of the game! We are just SO thrilled to see this reinvigorated women’s group thrive like this! The new headmaster was also pleased because we were able to increase the number of kids on our list to forty, and more kids means more money for the school- something that benefits the headmaster AND the students. The bravest of the kids got extra pencils and pens to reward them for finding the courage to shake hands and chat with Mbuya wa Joseph (aka Nancy, grandmother of Joseph). A day that exceeded all our expectations in the most wonderful way!”

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

Tuesday: “Makumure has been through many ups and downs, mostly downs, but today they were great! We met with all the kids, and the caregivers came to our meeting with many more baskets than usual, and of higher quality than we have seen before from this group! Mr. Machokoto also came to our meeting prepared with MANY spoons and bowls! Prisca and I decided to shift some things around financially so that we could buy all the high quality baskets and spoons- this worked out just fine, since we stopped at Mr Edward’s garage and spoke with Mr.Mitchell who said he can offer us car fuel as long as they have a supply. This will save us a bit and definitely saves us the time spent on the search for fuel. Back in Masvingo this evening, we visited again with Petronella, Godknows, Daniel, and Tapiwa to hear about their day and to invite them to participate in our workshops, as they have in the past; it makes a huge difference to have these older “Zienzele Kids” speak to our younger generations of children- they make such great role models and have so much to share. Oh! Some of the young kids have been making grass bracelets, very cute. We encouraged them to keep at it, hope to bring some back Stateside to offer for sale.”

Nancy's notes from the field: Spring 2019

First days in Masvingo:

Masvingo was spared by the cyclone, so Nancy and Prisca are getting right down to business.

Saturday: “I arrived to be greeted by all the Z-House kids, including new arrival Godknows Bvacatcha, who is doing a secondary Ed course at GZU. Tonderai is at an attachment (internship/apprenticeship) in Harare and living with Blessings older sister; Thabani is tutoring math in Chivi; Rodwell is in Beitbridge; Daniel is enjoying his attachment and Petronella goes on attachment in June; Dawn is teaching.”

Sunday: “Blessing left at 4 AM to procure fuel. Prisca and I are thinking about a project of sewing launder-able cloth sanitary pads for the girls in school. Will take some planning, but there is a demand for this. Also planning three community meetings to talk about the center.

Best thing today: Daniel Chitatu told us everything that he has been learning at his attachment! He said that everyone wonders how he got the position- we know the reason: his perseverance! So great to see his enthusiasm, and such a joy to watch him succeed.”

Monday: “First stop was in Chivi to meet with the DA (official) who had caused trouble last year ( he had asked to see proof of my visa saying we had snuck in!) He asked for a list of kids we are paying fees for in Chivi, but we had the information ready- he glanced at it and wished me a lovely visit to Zimbabwe! He must have had bigger fish to fry today. Then down the long and winding road to Chiware with the coordinators and representatives; great turnout, we talked about the Center and the community meetings we will hold in the three areas, the ladies loved the Center plans. I addressed the concerns some ladies had about corruption in the basket show last October by describing the process we use to select the winning baskets; being transparent seemed to calm everyone’s concerns.”

Cynthia's notes from the field, October 2018

Cynthia Stadler is a Zienzele Board Member and certified nurse midwife. This was Cynthia’s third field visit, and during this trip, she ran her second cervical cancer screening clinic. These are some of her notes and images!

Cynthia, Nancy, and Prisca

Cynthia, Nancy, and Prisca

Yesterday was our first Teen sexuality workshop. We were joined by two amazing women from BAHSO- Kombi and Chipiwa. BAHSO is an organization founded by the family of the first woman in this area to die of AIDS. They are inspiring educators focused on living positively with HIV , STI prevention and sexuality education. Zienzele frequently collaborates with this terrific organization.
We had 47 students come, ages 12-17. 
We covered puberty, reproductive anatomy, STIs, pregnancy and birth control, healthy relationships and gender based violence, PLUS planning for your future and careers.
The students asked great questions. It seemed they really got something out of the day and enjoyed it.
Knowledge is Power!


Our big cervical cancer screening day. It was a grueling day. We left the house at 7am and didn’t get home until after 7pm. We screened 94 women using VIA (visual inspection with acetic acid) and found 14 positives. This is a low tech screening method developed by the WHO for low resource areas using vinegar and the naked eye. We have arranged for the 14 women needing cryotherapy to travel by van together to the hospital for treatment.


We held our second teen workshop in Berejena today. A donkey decided to join the class! The highlight for me was the three post secondary students who came to tell their story and provide inspiration to the younger students. Solomon, Petronella and Daniel were great! So wise and honest and inspiring. Solomon had the kids all chant “ Zienzele helps you stand on your own two feet!”


Today we delivered food and clothing to the 69 of the child headed households (children who live without an adult or with an old disabled adult) that Zienzele supports.


Each of our 46 basket groups submit their best weaver’s work into our big annual basket competition-always an exciting gathering full of dramatic skits, singing, dancing, laughing, and for ten women and the cooperatives they represent, the honor of winning… and prizes!

The woman in the photo is this year’s first-prize winner, posing with her winning baskets.

Zienzele Representatives are crucial on-the-ground liasons with our women’s cooperatives and the children we support, keeping us all connected between Prisca and Nancy’s field visits.

Zienzele Representatives are crucial on-the-ground liasons with our women’s cooperatives and the children we support, keeping us all connected between Prisca and Nancy’s field visits.