If you've been following the news, you will know that things are not going well in Zimbabwe. It all began with a shortage of forex, a couple of years ago. Zimbabwe was exclusively dependent on forex after the collapse of its own currency in 2009. The lack of cash dollars made the import of goods such as fuel and food difficult to finance. The government responded by introducing a quasi-currency, the bond-note, or RTGS (real time gross settlement) in its electronic format, for a time maintaining that it was on a par with the USD. That illusion did not hold up very long on the black market, and in 2019, the government finally relinquished and decoupled the bond from the dollar. By that time, there was a fuel shortage over the entire country, which the government responded to by periodically hiking the price of fuel. Since the entire economy is based around fuel, prices rapidly increased. Inflation is currently at 100%, the second-highest in the world after Venezuela. While we're still far from the insane inflation of 2008, this still makes life very difficult for ordinary Zimbabweans. To add make matters worse, the country is not able to keep up with the demand for passports, trapping its citizens inside its borders at a time where they most need to leave to find employment elsewhere.
Resilience in times of hardship
If there's one thing to be said about the Zimbabwean people we've met, it's how resilient they are. Most people we spoke to admitted that the situation was likely to get worse before it got better, but shrugged it off with an air of "we've been through this before, and we'll go through it again". Thanks to WhatsApp, we are able to follow the situation as it unfolds - our contacts send us pictures of the daily price rises, of people crammed on government busses since kombis (commuter busses) are too expensive, and explain to us that they have to get water from the borehole (and then triple boil it) because the water supply has been cut off. This situation is compounded by the fact that salaries are struggling to keep up with inflation, and so even having a job is no guarantee that one will be able to fill up the tank the next day. We were expecting that this would have a big impact on our project. The rise in fuel prices and the long queues to get petrol have made it very difficult for our sensei Gerald to make it from Chitungwiza to Marondera, which has the potential to really affect our project. We were bracing ourselves for large numbers of dropouts, and possibly having to mothball the whole thing until the situation improved. But that is not what happened. Senpai Prichard came to class week in, week out, and so did the girls, bolstered by the support of the club's patron, Mrs. Jenica Nachombo, who has now enrolled her own daughter in the classes. Not only do the girls come to training, but they also still compete! After a difficult start to the competition season, the girls have finally found their stride and brought home 13 medals at the Kofukan Invitational Tournament. Let's as ourselves how many of us here in Europe would still be competing if we had to worry about whether we will have electricity today, and where our next meal would come from? We can and should applaud our girls all the more for it.
We can still help
So what can we do to help? It's clear that some things we had planned are going to have to wait: we were planning to put in an application with a big Dutch donor for a community centre in Marondera, but getting anything built under these conditions is simply too unpredictable, so it will need to happen once things stabilize. It's also not so easy to send large teams on impact visits when transport is such an issue, and as such, having consulted with our local contacts, we've had to postpone the larger 2019 impact visit. But that doesn't mean we cannot help.
Firstly, Myrthe will be heading to Zim in September to check in on the girls and our local team, and evaluate what their urgent needs might be, and well as their suggestions on how we could move forward, given the circumstances. It is important to us that even though we cannot send a big team with Sensei Gonzalo as we did last year, we still send someone on the ground to get a clearer idea of the situation and discuss the project with local stakeholders.
Secondly, when we were in Zimbabwe in October 2018, we ran a women's health seminar in which we distributed reusable sanitary pads to the girls. Since then, the price of sanitary pads in Zimbabwe has risen to the point that such basic commodities are too expensive for ordinary women to buy. We asked the teachers at Nagle House if they would be willing to experiment with Mooncups, which are silicone menstrual cups that can be re-used for several years. They said yes, and so we put out a call for Mooncups and received 15, along with 10 reusable pads. Tinashe Munemo, our ambassador of change, took the items to Nagle House and ran a workshop to explain how to use them safely and hygienically. The cups went to the teachers and the pads to the girls. We received very positive feedback about this action. You can still send us Mooncups for Myrthe to take in September! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to donate some.
Where we go from here
The situation in Zimbabwe is bad, and there is no telling when it will get better. What our girls and our local team have showed us is that they aren't ready to give up, and neither should we. However, more than ever before, we need to move forward at the direction of the local team who know better than anyone how the situation is on the ground. That is why Myrthe's mission in September is so important. We will allocate the money for the Zimbabwe project based on the priorities that our local team decide on. It could be a fuel allocation so that Gerald can get to Marondera, it could be Mooncups, or whatever the local team and the girls need to ride out the storm and keep the project alive. When things do get better (and we believe they will), then we will be able to move forward as a stronger team.