As our second trip to Zimbabwe comes to an end, it's fair to say that whereas our first visit was about exploring possibilities and opening dialogues, our return was all about community building and consolidation into a sustainable project. During these past three weeks, FairFight has expanded its horizons way beyond the confines of one girl's high school in Marondera; we have woven a network of friendships from Marondera to Chitungwiza via Harare - with people both urban and rural, martial artists, academic researchers, businessmen and women, teachers...
Tying into the Zim Martial arts community
When we started with FairFight in 2014, we were not expecting to find such a well developed martial arts community in Zimbabwe - but the more we got to know the country, the more we were humbled by just how much martial arts is valued here: karate, kung fu, tae kwon do... they all feature prominently in Zimbabwean life and school culture. At the heart of karate in Zimbabwe is a group of very senior karateka, 'The Old Harareans', training just besides Prince Edward School in Harare, and led by 5th, 6th and 7th Dan Zimbabwean black belts, presently led by Technical Director Paul Danisa. Whereas last year were worked only with Marondera Karate Club, this year we were finally able to meet and train with the Old Harareans, despite cancelling our first training with them when we burst a tyre and killed our car battery on the notorious Zim roads. Paul Danisa, Godwin Murambiwa and their crew were known to us for a long time: Mark Caddy had had a long standing invitation to come out and train with them through his ties with the World Jindokai Association, to which the Harare group is affiliated. So meeting them felt more like a reunion than a first encounter. The training, led by Sensei Mark, was fast and furious. It was great for FairFight volunteers to test their mettle with higher level training, and a nice complement to what we do in the schools with our beginners, white and yellow belts (I think Gerald can still feel his shin bone hurting!). Bringing FairFight and the old Harareans together signals a new phase for us, and we hope will bring about many more collaborations in the future.
But our martial arts endeavours are not exclusive to karate. We had within our ranks this year aikido represented by Floris Eland, shodan from Aikido Dordrecht, and Korean martial arts, represented by Emma Bouterse from the Netherlands Tang Soo Do Association. So far we'd only had contacts with the karate associations here, but this time round we met with a few practitioners from the Tae Kwon Do world, including our academic research partner Tapuwa Rushesha, trained under Master Lee, who came to show his skills with us at the Old Harareans. We hope to develop connections with the Tae Kwon Do community during the coming year.
Like last year, the FairFight project ran alongside a 3 week study trip run by Erasmus University College Student Association. Nine EUC students ran community research projects in Marondera under the supervision of PhD candidates Ashleigh Woodend and Ginie Servant on topics ranging from a phenomenological perspective on motherhood to the meaning of ubuntu in an entrepreneurship context. Like last year, the research was run in partnership with Drs. Winnie Mhaka and Tapuwa Rushesha, who earned their PhDs in South Africa based on research conducted in communities around Marondera and Harare. Thanks to Drs. Mhaka and Rushesha, we were introduced to the mayors of Harare and Marondera, who gracefully offered their time to meet us and speak with us. We were able to present the FairFight project to them, and both were delighted to hear about our work. Below, a picture with the mayor of Harare at the Town Hall:
Part of the community
For sure, apart from Alex Whitcomb who was born and bred here, the rest of us can never be Zimbabwean; however, this year we felt a lot less like outsiders landing in an alien country. People who last year were fresh acquaintances have become friends, and the streets of Marondera (and their notorious potholes) have become so familiar they almost feel like home. Projects fail when outsiders try to shove their ideals of change onto communities for which those ideas are neither fit nor considered. But when outsiders become part of the community and help to make the ideas of the collective become reality, then things can begin to happen. "Ubuntu" is a terribly difficult concept to grasp for Westerners, but perhaps this togetherness is the beginning of an explanation.
One of the great challenges we had in coming to Marondera in January 2015 was dealing with the newness of karate for girls in a community entrenched in traditional conceptions of gender roles. There was already a karate club in Marondera, run by Gerald, who turned out to be our greatest ally in this project; but as Gerald pointed out when we first met him, almost all of the members (except his daughter) were men. Winning the community over to the idea that martial arts could lift up girls and women and so-doing bring everyone else up with them wasn't something that we could do with a couple of punches and kicks, especially given the short amount of time that we stayed in Marondera. When we left after three weeks, we felt that we had planted a seed, but it remained to be seen whether it would grow and bloom or wilt and die. We left the project in the hands of Gerald and he did a stellar job of keeping it running, but he experienced a significant rate of drop-outs as some of our girls were discouraged by their parents to continue with karate and chose instead more traditionally female sports. Numbers were dwindling, especially as Gerald had some serious personal challenges to face and needed to miss training more than once.
When we arrived at Nagle House last week, girls timidly poked their heads through the door of the training hall, and there were some familiar faces, but very few. I was afraid that we would have to start from scratch again... and if we had to do that, then how could we sustain this in the long run?
My fears were unfounded: almost unnoticeably, number began to swell on the second, then third training, and suddenly, I turned around during the warm up led by Sensei Mark Caddy, and there was a whole row of teachers having a go in their colourful african dresses! We handed them T shirts and pants, and I assumed that like last year they would come and go after 15 minutes. Much to my surprise, when I returned from training the yellow belts an hour and a half later (we had to use a different hall because we couldn't fit everybody in the main hall), all of the staff were still there! And what's more, they promised to come back the next day. The class over-ran by quite some margin, nobody wanted to stop, and as 16:30 rang on my watch, suddenly a man came to the door and inquisitively peered through. I asked him if he was a member of staff but he replied he was one of the parents of the girls coming to collect his daughter. When I asked him what he thought about his daughter doing karate, he thought about it and replied: "this is very good, for strength, for discipline, for self-defense", then promptly asked if he could join next time.
Now that I think of it, I believe that the turning point was our girls' first competition in December, where Tinashe Munemo, a fiesty 17 year of 6th Form from Nagle House, won the national title in Kumite (sparring). Suddenly, a sort of karate-fever took over her school, and Gerald was allocated two rather than one classes per week. Enthusiasm was such that one of the Catholic nuns of the school, Sister Sandra, decided to join the classes, thus showing her community that martial arts could be practised as part of a Christian lifestyle. One day, where Gerald could not attend class, Tinashe took over and captained the girls through their training; this is hardly surprising to me, for Tinashe is exactly the kind of girl who understand what martial arts is about and how much it will impact her and her peers' life. Although she is still a yellow belt, she shows the spirit of somebody who will go very far with karate.
I feel like we're stirred something big, and it's no longer only about us and our girls. We've brought the whole community of Nagle House together around karate. Who knows what we could do next?
- Ginie Servant, Chair of FairFight
The FairFight team landed in Harare to the warm welcome of the Zimbabwe Karate Union and Zimbabwean sunshine, before heading over to Marondera, the spiritual home of the FairFight project. Seeing Gerald, Madeline, Wallen and the other members of Marondera Karate Club again was an emotional moment – they had certainly not forgotten us anymore than us them, and it was as though the distance and the year that had gone by had vanished into the present where we found ourselves once again united in the same place and with the same purpose. This sense of continuity was all the stronger the minute we returned to Nagle House, the starting point of FairFight, and the school where Gerald upheld his training after our departure last year. Kalvin, the deputy Head of Sports, welcomed us once again with open arms, and after a ritual exchange of T Shirts, we were reunited with our girls.
There were some familiar faces among the girls that showed up with their yellow belts and yellow stripes, but sadly, many of the girls we had begun with last year had left, and new ones had taken their place. When I asked Gerald about this, he told us that in some unfortunate cases, the parents put pressure on the girls to quit karate. He did not suggest why that might be, but after we completed a series of interviews in and around Marondera, it became apparent that we still have a lot of work to do before we win over the hearts and minds of the entire community, as many believe that martial arts is only about fighting and causing trouble and don't yet see its empowering potential for girls. As with all positive changes, these things take a long time, and with the full support of Gerald and his team, we are able to give it the time it needs. It’s a good sign that some girls came to us after class to ask if their friends, cousins, aunts and so forth could join the class. In addition, we have the privilege of having what is probably the first karate-practising catholic nun in Zimbabwe: Sister Sandra. We hope that her example will encourage young girls to take the plunge and start martial arts.
In terms of the actual classes, most of our lessons have been led by Senseis Gerald and Mark, with a rotation of instructors throughout the class based on their various strengths and disciplinary advantages – Emma taking over kicking practice and Floris supervising self-defense exercises, while Ginie has been teaching the yellow belts the Shitoryu kata Pinan Nidan for their orange belt exams. To close off the week, we returned to Monte Cassino, where we taught last year as well. After a very energized double-class in a packed school hall with the entire school (nearly 400 girls!!), the director of sports of the school was so happy that he has proposed to hire Gerald to teach the school on an ongoing basis, including transporting him from Marondera to Macheke. The difficulty of access of Monte Cassino was the primary blockage to a long term partnership with them, so with this issue resolved, we hope to count Monte Cassino among the FairFight schools of Mashonaland!
Emma's return to marondera
"Returning to Zimbabwe has been quite an amazing experience for me. First of all, it brought back all the memories from last year – it seemed like we had never left. Returning to Marondera, to Peterhouse, to Nagle House; it felt like I was coming home in a sense, as it all came very natural. Seeing Gerald, Wallen and Madeline again; training with Marondera Karate Club and preparing to train with the girls felt very good. The FairFight team has grown now and Pearla, Mark and Floris are as motivated we were last year, maybe even more! I must admit that I was a bit scared of going back to Zimbabwe. Leaving with a new group of people, teaching a new group of girls and putting it all together to make it as great as it was last year were some of the things that were on my mind before leaving. I have to say that everything turned out to be really great! We have a great atmosphere within our group and everyone is motivated and inspired by what we’re all doing. Coming back to Nagle House to see the girls that have been training with Gerald for a year was a great inspiration for me. They all had grown so much, wearing different coloured belts and looking even more motivated than last year. The new girls were just same; seeing the smiles appear on their faces during training, hearing their loud kihaps while kicking and punching – it was amazing o be able to witness that again! Yesterday we went to Monte Cassino, one of the schools we visited last year. The headmaster had told the entire school (over four hundred girls!) to join our training. This is only the end of the first week and I can’t wait for what is yet to come."
- Emma Bouterse, Secretary of FairFight
Pearla's first time in ZImbabwe
"I've been in Zimbabwe for a week now, and it feels like it has only been a few days. In a packed first week in Africa, I've been to play with the sweetest kids I've met in a local orphanage, and I learnt how to cook Sadza that we then went to serve at an old age home, where I had the opportunity to enter very interesting conversation where I learned a lot. I also experienced the everyday activities of buying fruit on the Marondera streets and riding the Zimbabwean dirt streets. Just as I'm slowly getting used to the bumpy rhythm of the car, I've grown to like the very sudden monsoon-like surprise showers of rain, whether I'm outside teachings karate or in the car at night. What will also stick with me is the people of Zimbabwe, who have been incredibly welcoming. Thank you! I could sum up my first week in one simple word, "happiness": happiness when I hear the laughter of my karate students, happiness when I see their excitement while giving a kick, a punch and a kiai. Most of all, happiness when I realize that what I was hoping to achieve by coming here is actually happening! I packed my bags with dreams of empowering young girls to believe in themselves and teaching them the tools to feel safe and defend themselves if needed, and the feedback has been uplifting. Several times the girls came up to me after class, telling me how awesome they thought I was, asking me to keep it up and come back quickly to teach them more, hugging and thanking me. Every time, I hug them and tell them that they can fly kick like I do to, they can punch and scream even louder than me, and they can easily be the kick-ass girl they think they see in me. So yes, I am happy, very happy with the mission and the trip up until now."
- Pearla Papiernik, FairFight Zim 2016 volunteer.
On January 8, FairFight is heading back to Marondera, Zimbabwe, to reunite with Sensei Gerald Muusha and the group of karateka-girls of Nagle House High School. We've got big plans for this year: pushing our existing group of girls to the next level, both in belt exam gradings and competition skills, bringing in a whole new group of girls into the karate-fold at Nagle House, re-tying with our friends at Monte Cassino Mission School and Peterhouse School, and bringing Martial Arts to a new school in Marondera: St Francis. Before we take off on the (very) long journey back to Zimbabwe, here is a retrospective of our preparations.
the eucsa ZIM 2016 group
You've already met our new Martial Arts recruits, Pearla, Mark and Floris, but we're also taking with us a group of 9 students from Erasmus University College Student Association who have assisted us since September in fundraising, managing equipment and will now we taking part in FairFight activities in Zimbabwe. There are some martial artists in the group, representing Wadoryu karate and Jiu Justu but for most of them this will be a whole new experience. We're proud to introduce to you:
Planning Zimbabwe 2016
Planning for Zimbabwe 2016 was easier than planning our first project on the one hand: since we already know the community, we knew what to expect. Sensei Gerald has been keeping in touch with us throughout the year, sending us photos of the girls as they progress in their karate skills. On the other hand, bolstered by last year's success, we were keen to offer more in 2016 than just a repeat of what we did the previous year. Planning this adventure was all the more challenging that one of our board members, Emma, was thousands of miles away in South Korea on student exchange, and two of our new members, Pearla and Mark, lived in different countries in Europe. Thanks to the power of Skype (and other useful apps), we were able to keep things rolling and come up with a plan that would expand our existing project, reinforce ties with our community partners, and extend it to new schools. There is always a danger of over-planning these things - probably a very Dutch habit! - we know from experience that in Zimbabwe things have a pace of their own. We expect that, like last year, our trip will require much making-it-up-on-the-spot. After a final board meeting on Tuesday, Simone left for Zimbabwe to join Alex in on-the-ground planning before we all join them on Saturday.
Final fundraising tally
As a final note before we take off, we'd like to thank you once again for your very generous support of FairFight across our numerous fundraising activities during this campaign: self-defence seminars, documentary screening, sponsorship and various other donations, but in particular, we'd like to thank once again the largest donors of the Zimbabwe 2016 campaign:
Thanks to these associations and all our other donors, we received around 4400 euros in fundraising, and over 30 gis and belts in donations.
If this picture is anything to go by, you will have some idea of the impact that your donations will have in Zimbabwe. Thank you all once again and see you in Zim!