Our Sisters' keeper
This is the transcript of Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos' inauguration speech in Lusaka, on May 28, 2022.
Friends of FairFight,
Supporters of women’s rights.
Today marks a very special occasion: the opening of the sixth programme of the FairFight Foundation here in Lusaka, in collaboration with Girl Kicks Zambia represented by Nayombe Martha Muliyunda and the Kwok Meil Wah Foundation represented by Prof. Stephen Chan. He is not here today but we salute him from afar.
What are we celebrating today? Ostensibly, we are welcoming the opening of a new karate school in Chibolya, where girls from the most precarious, underprivileged backgrounds can learn karate and self-defense with Sensei Martha Muliyunda, the highest ranked female karateka in Zambia, and now the only woman in Zambia to run her own karate school. We are grateful to the very generous donors who provided the funds for the equipment, the rent, and the running costs of the dojo. A special mention to our friends up in Scotland, to Matthew Last from HDKI, to Lu Ann Sieber in the USA, and to the other sponsors who wish to remain anonymous. We are applauding the fact that these girls will be returning to school with the support of the Kwok Meil Wah Foundation. Watching girls put on a school uniform, in some cases for the first time in years, fills out hearts with joy. Thank you, Stephen Chan, for your steadfast support. These are all great achievements, and we can be proud.
Today, we are also celebrating the success of a model: the FairFight approach to women’s empowerment. Seven years ago, we arrived in Zimbabwe with bags full of karate equipment and the dream that we could build a lasting road to improving women’s lives through martial arts. Our idea was simple: find local martial arts leaders who care about women and girls, give them the tools, the guidance and the support they need to run women’s programmes in their community, bring the community on board by working with local schools, associations and community groups, and watch the girls grow. Thus, the first FairFight dojo was born, in Marondera, Zimbabwe. A year later, we opened our second dojo in Varanasi, in India, showing that the FairFight principles could work in a completely different cultural context. Being a pioneer is always challenging, a few difficult years ensued. We climbed the steep end of the learning curve. We had to learn everything from scratch: how to you work a model across such different contexts? How do you do justice to the stories and lives of such different girls? How do you bring new people on board while staying true to your values? How do you make sure you have enough to pay for your dreams without letting the money cart lead the idea horse? It was hard, but we learned. We built a fantastic team of volunteers from all over the world, and I would like to take a moment to thank those volunteers from the bottom of my heart. We are here today because of you. You built FairFight and I believe the world is better off for it.
So we learned. And then came COVID. But we had already done the hardest part, we already knew who we were. Where so many charities fell apart in the pandemic, we thrived. Since 2020, we doubled our number of volunteers, doubled our fundraising, and most importantly, we tripled our number of programmes, from two to six. Three programmes in India. Two in Zimbabwe. And now, one in Zambia. We inaugurated a new scholarship programme for high schools, then another one for universities. Our girls became medical students, trainee nurses, masters students... they won national and international karate medals, became team captains, and won sporting awards. Most importantly, they look out for each other. During the pandemic, our ambassadors of change delivered food door to door to their community in Zimbabwe and India. When one girl succeeds, she holds her sister’s hand so she can succeed in turn: help with school work, with finding jobs, with applying for university... and so, our dream takes on a life of its own. FairFight is no longer just a charity. It’s a template for how we translate the core values of martial arts into real world change.
Finally, today, I want to celebrate the living embodiment of an idea: the idea that we, women of the world, black, brown, white, are our sisters’ keeper. For centuries, patriarchy held us down, divided and conquered by the twin forces of racism and class oppression. Too long has the feminist movement torn itself apart. Today, rich, white women purchase expensive handbags and fancy two-piece suits in the name of feminism while ignoring the plight of their black and brown sisters. In response, some black women, understandably dejected, proclaim that white women cannot be feminists. Nobody wins in this scenario. The fight for women’s rights can only be won when women come together to fight oppression. United in solidarity, we are our sisters’ keeper. United in solidarity, we can move mountains. I have seen a chain of 8 women link arms across the world to get one girl from poverty in Harare to medical school in Lusaka. I have seen the wonders that happen when you take a girl by the hand and say loud and clear, I will not let you go. Commitment and solidarity lies at the very heart of the FairFight ideal.
Before I close, a word to our brothers, and the gentlemen here present: you are also called to this fight. Women’s rights isn’t just a women’s issues - we all win in a fairer, more just world. Empowered women bring home more money, raise better educated children, live longer, and healthier lives, can lift their whole families from poverty and provide role models for the next generation of boys and girls. Brothers, we need you too. We need you to tell your daughters that you believe in them, we need you to take them to school, take them to the dojo, and encourage them to soar. We need you to stand firm against other men who fear equality, to show them what they have to gain from a fairer society. We women can go far, but with you, we can go further.
The dream lives on, the model shines bright, and here we are, on this day May 28 2022, I proclaim the FairFight Zambia programme, officially open.
In October 2021, Nayombe Martha Muliyunda set the foundations for the Zambia branch of FairFight, marking our third country of operation and sixth programme overall. While a great success for the whole FairFight family, this new programme is also a special personal achievement for Martha.
Born and raised in Lusaka, Martha is a mother of four, the highest-ranked (4th dan) female karate instructor, and the first female dojo owner in Zambia. Her story not only encompasses adversity, perseverance, and trailblazing, but most importantly, it also emulates the hope that we wish to give to the girls in our projects.
What motivates her?
Martha lost her mother at age 11 and her life was never the same. The privilege that she previously enjoyed was no longer her reality in the high-density area of Lusaka. Martha knew she “had to fight [her] way out of the situation”. At age 16, her friend introduced her to karate, which she immediately found released her anger and frustration about her mother’s passing. When she earned her first black belt, Martha was 8 months pregnant.
At 19, she had her first baby and was in a teenage marriage. Through the ups and downs of her personal life, Martha always gravitated back towards sport and karate. Karate empowered her, gave her patience and peace, and pushed her to see things from a different perspective. Martha’s personal story of overcoming adversity drives her to share her passion for karate and sport with other people, especially young girls.
What is it like to be a female in this field of work?
Martha is a trailblazer for women in many different areas. Her earlier work in marketing and business taught her to block out the prejudice against her and keep persevering.
In her experience, businessmen are often afraid of what women can do and often relegate them to the kitchen. Two years ago, Martha was the host on Capital One radio reporting on football. The comments and backlash she endured from this confirmed that women are still seen as women first, and not for their actual abilities or passions. Considering the challenging climate in her professional life, Martha stands by the importance of taking up space and standing up for herself and other women.
What are her ambitions and plans for this programme?
Martha dedicates her work to giving every girl a fair chance. She is up for the challenge of fighting for equal opportunity, believing that her perseverance can and will make a difference. She recognises the passion and aspiration of the girls she works with, and wants to help give those girls the means to reach their goals.
Martha aims to be an example for girls to overcome hardship, setbacks, and resistance. She wants to give them hope by “showing them that there’s a different world out there if they excel and put their minds to it”. The goal of the FairFight project is to instil hope and self-discipline in these girls and help them achieve their goals, so that they are in a good place to later give back to their community. Humility, generosity, and courage are the pillars of Martha’s practice. Simply put, she wants to give girls hope and a fighting chance.
What are her personal goals?
Aside from helping girls in Lusaka, Martha dedicates a lot of time to her own karate practice. Her karate idol, Sandra Sánchez, inspires her to keep striving for a top fitness level. This is also a way for Martha to show that she is not just a role model who has gone through experiences in the past – instead, she is a living example of strength who continues to strive for better and overcome adversity. Another personal goal Martha has set is to compete internationally.
Rebuilding with Covid-19
It's been a challenging 18 months: with an economic crisis in Zimbabwe and a political crisis in India, FairFight was already facing headwinds before the global pandemic. With global lockdowns enforced around the world and international travel off the table, we had to adapt to remotely managing our programmes. We navigated complicated connection issues in India and Zimbabwe, international money transfers in countries with unreliable banking systems, and building and maintaining long distance partnerships. Nevertheless, in a world with endemic COVID-19, FairFight has come out stronger, better organised and significantly more ambitious than it was in 2019. Now that international travel is tentatively possible again, we look towards the future with sober determination: excitement about the opportunities we can create, tempered by the shadow of international crises and emergencies. We can no longer take a stable, open world for granted, but we can do our best to ensure the resilience of our programmes.
New partners, new horizons
Before COVID-19, opening new FairFight programmes was done through impact visits: we would visit the potential programme site, meet the partners and the girls, and then build the formal outline of the programme. During COVID-19, we began collaborating with new partners from Mbare Dojo in Zimbabwe and Red Brigade Trust in India on Zoom. In hindsight, the progress of these programmes despite the poor quality of the internet connection is impressive: Mary Stevens graduated a cohort of 40 Red Brigade women through her self-protection programme over Zoom, and we co-hosted the first FairFight day in Mbare in June by empowering our local volunteers Elsabe Nel, Vimbainashe Mushure and Madeline Muusha to manage the organisation and delivery from our side. The success factor in these instances was excellent organisation and reliability from our partners' side. However, with international travel tentatively open (tentatively: travel from the UK to India remains precarious), visiting the programmes in person was a top priority for FairFight.
In October 2021, Ginie Servant-Miklos, Chair of the Board, and Maryse Degbegni, Mentors Team coordinator, headed over to Zambia and Zimbabwe. In December, Mary Stevens will be heading over to India.
Ambassadors of change
Our first priority in returning to Zimbabwe was to check in on the six girls who hold Ambassador of Change scholarships with us. The girls suffered months of lockdown in the Dombo Tombo township, an underprivileged community with no electricity or WiFi with which to do remote learning. Our mentors guided them as best they could through through precarious communication channels (we thank everyone who donated a phone!), but this was still an enormous challenge with physical and mental health repercussions for our girls. One of our girls was relocated to a boarding house at the expense of FairFight to give her the environment she needs to complete her A-levels, and several of the girls struggled to keep up with school work and house work at the same time.
On our short visit to Marondera, we arranged a picnic for the girls at Gosho Park, a local nature reserve, accompanied by Sensei Gerald and Mrs. Nechombo, our dojo's patron. The girls all received gifts from their mentors, we replaced all of the broken or obsolete phones, and gave them all new gis (donated by Matthew Last). We were impressed with their karate progress: last time we visited, we graded our first green belts. Now, they have belts ranging from orange to brown. But during our picnic, we talked about important topics not usually covered on the dojo mats: safeguarding, personal online safety, personal protection against harassment, and community-building. As a community of sisters, we rejected the shame that is cast upon women when men are the perpetrators. Finally, we discussed profile-building: our girls have no experience of building a CV or working towards an online presence. We shared with them the success stories of Tinashe and Ruvarashe, who were able to find work and financial support through their online profile-building. We are helping the girls to record their own profile videos, teaching them lifelong skills of confidence and poise in public speaking.
Our partners at Mbare Dojo
Our second priority in returning to Zimbabwe was to connect with our new partners at Mbare Karate Club. Senseis Paul, Nato and Moyo hosted us for the day on the dojo premises: we were introduced to the girls of the FairFight group, we presented them with donations of gis and gloves, and had the opportunity to get to know them on the mat through a women's self-defense class that imparted practical techniques for ending a fight without strength in a very short amount of time. Vimbainashe and Maryse presented our scholarship programme, and shared with the girls their experience with taking life opportunities as a woman. We offered 2 scholarship places for Mbare dojo for 2022. We also had an opportunity to visit the premises, including viewing the repairs on the roof funded by FairFight. We were impressed with the efficiency and speed with which our funds translated into upgrades on the building.
FairFight has an ongoing interest in Zambia: our girls are regularly invited to competitions in Lusaka, and with our Future Leaders scholars admitted to university in Zambia, it makes sense for FairFight to create a permanent FairFight platform there. We spent several days in Lusaka, meeting with prospective partners. In particular, we trained at Chelstone Dojo under the guidance of Hanshi Mushipi, and forged an agreement with Sensei Martha Muliyunda, 3rd Dan in Shorin Ryu, to investigate opening a FairFight Dojo in Lusaka in 2022. As an independent business woman, skilled martial artist and mother of four children, Martha is a role model for women in the community. We look forward to seeing where this project takes us!
Our visit was short, and our schedule packed, but we also took the time to reconnect with our old friends at Old Hararians Dojo in Harare, to visit the Kurai tournament in Chitungwiza to support our girls and provide the opening speech, to meet with the leadership at Nagle House school to re-establish lines of communication, and to discuss study plans with our scholars Ruvarashe and Patience. There's clearly a lot of work to be done, with two, soon potentially three programmes running out of Southern Africa. We hope to send three teams on impact visit next year, so thank you to everyone who supported us to make this visit possible and keeps supporting us to make our future plans happen. It's not the same world as it was before COVID, but the success of this visit shows that we have learned to be more nimble, more resilient, and more effective. Onwards to 2022!
In 2018, FairFight adopted a new organisational structure that organised volunteers into specialised teams, with a coordinator leading and supporting each team. At first, we developed an India Project team, a Zimbabwe Project team, a Volunteers management team and an Outreach team. In 2020, with the launch of the Ambassador of Change scholarship programme, a Mentors team was added. It took some time to find the right people to lead each of these teams, but we are now pleased to introduce to you our complete roster of Coordinators! These are the people who keep FairFight running from day to day, and they all do so as volunteers. We are incredibly grateful to have so much experience, talent and energy in one organisation.
Volunteers Coordinator - Elisabeth (Lis) Kerr
Lis is a British black belt in Shotokan karate and has been volunteering with FairFight since 2019. She is currently completing her PhD in African Linguistics at Leiden University, having graduated from the School of African and Oriental Studies in London.
FairFight is a completely volunteer-run organisation and relies on a diverse team of volunteers to achieve our mission. As Volunteers Coordinator, Lis has the important role of recruiting new volunteers and managing existing ones. Her team also organises training and development for volunteers with the help of Vera Westerheijden, which ensures we are constantly learning and upskilling as an organisation.
India Project Coordinator - Mary Stevens
Mary joined FairFight in 2017 and first visited India on the January 2018 outreach visit. She has been managing our India project since October 2018. Based in Oxford, UK, Mary is a BTec Level 3 trainer in Self Defence with the National Federation For Personal Safety and a 3rd dan karateka with the British Combat Karate Federation. She owns and runs the Athena School of Karate, which blends traditional values with modern life-coaching strategies.
Mary’s expertise has contributed to her development of a context-specific self-protection programme as part of our India outreach. She has also worked closely with Pamela Armitage on developing trauma-informed practice for the FairFight team. Before the pandemic, Mary organised three project visits to India. She continues to connect with and offer training to our colleagues in the Red Brigade Trust via Zoom, which allows us to continue supporting their work across Uttar Pradesh. Mary is excited and eager to resume this work in person as soon as we can travel safely again.
Zimbabwe Project Coordinator - Myrthe Minnaert
Based in the Netherlands, Myrthe started her FairFight journey as an impact evaluator on our India trip in January 2018. Although not a martial artist, her passion for addressing inequalities and creating community-driven change has connected her with FairFight’s mission and served her well in her role as Zimbabwe Project Coordinator.
Being a coordinator involves keeping the day-to-day happenings running as well as making plans for the future. Myrthe keeps track of not only our projects but also important political and economic developments in Zimbabwe. She is in regular contact with key stakeholders and works closely with our partners and team members who are actually in Zimbabwe. These include Sensei Gerald, Sister Sandra, Jenica Nechombo, Tinashe Munemo, Patience Mukarati, Ruvarashe Nyamukunda and Victoria Sithole, all of whom help to keep the dojo at Nagle House running.
Looking ahead, Myrthe is excited for the different kinds of collaborations we will have with Mbare Dojo (our newest partner in Zimbabwe, thanks to the help of Charlie Stevens and Elsabé Nel!).
Mentors Coordinator - Maryse Degbegni
Maryse is a black belt from the UK who has been practising karate for 15 years. She joined FairFight in 2020 as a mentor for one of our Ambassadors of Change in Zimbabwe – Ruvarashe Nyumukunda.
Maryse recently took on the role of Mentors Coordinator, which involves supporting the mentors of the Ambassador of Change programme and coordinating on behalf of the mentors with Ginie (our founder and Board Chair) and Myrthe (our Zimbabwe Project Coordinator). Maryse also arranges regular meetings with the mentors, which aim to help the mentors better support their mentees as well as each other. She is passionate about empowering the younger generation of future leaders and, at the moment, is working on confirming two new scholarships.
Outreach Coordinator - Vimbainashe Mushure
Vimbainashe joined FairFight as our first Outreach Coordinator in 2021, and is one of the newest members of our FairFight family. Hailing from Harare, Zimbabwe, Vimbainashe graduated from the University of Zimbabwe with an Economics degree and is currently training at Sensei Gerald Muusha's dojo. Being a proactive and optimistic person, she is particularly passionate about activating other people’s potential and enabling them to prosper, especially women and communities. This is shown by her experience volunteering with Enactus in the sustainable entrepreneurship space and with the Global Leadership Network Zimbabwe on their youth leadership programs in Zimbabwe.
As FairFight’s Outreach Coordinator, Vimbainashe’s role consists of developing and executing a strong outreach strategy to help us grow in our impact. Her management responsibilities range from building our fundraising capacity to overseeing our donor communications and social media presence.
By Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos, Chair of the Board
The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic has upended our plans, cancelled our impact visits and stalled some of our projects, but instead of mothballing our activities and waiting for the storm to pass, we strengthened our foundations, found new ways to operate, put our projects in the hands of the local communities, and built a resilient organisation ready for the next five years. A new book celebrates our journey up to this point.
A test of strength
Resilience was the leitmotiv at FairFight even before the pandemic hit. In January of this year, we were already dealing with the closure of the Disha House and the worsening economic crisis in Zimbabwe. During the General Assembly of 2019, we unanimously decided that despite the negative impact of the economic hardships on our programme, we would support our people in Zimbabwe come what may, cost what may. 2020 put our resolve to the test, and I am so incredibly proud of our board, our coordinators, our volunteers and our supporters for rising to the occasion. Far from scaling back, we intensified our community support with five food distributions, three new scholarships, an a new round of re-usable sanitary pads distribution. When Nagle House closed its doors, first because of the lock down, and then because of the ensuing teacher’s strikes, we rented a community space so our girls could keep training and studying. When our teachers lost their jobs, we provided them with a stipend to keep them and their families going. When our lines of communication were disrupted, we branched out, providing phones to all of our Ambassadors of Change so that we would always know in real time when, where and how help was needed. The support for our efforts from our followers in Europe was so overwhelming that we were able to provide food assistance to our sister community in Ruwa, and to the Musha Wevana orphanage in Marondera.
Moving forward in the face of adversity
But my team was not content to simply maintain a lifeline to our projects. As the last few days of 2020 roll by, we have two new projects in the starting blocks: a new partnership with the Red Brigade Trust, an NGO founded in Lucknow (UP, India) in 2011 with a mission to empower women through self-defence education; and a partnership with the Mbare Community Dojo in Zimbabwe. Both of these projects bring together local knowledge and network and the expertise built within FairFight over the years.
Mary Stevens, our India Project Coordinator, is leading our collaboration with the Red Brigade trust project. You can follow her progress more in details on her blog, but this project brings together her expertise as a newly-qualified self-protection instructor, the local knowledge of our on-site team with Dheer and Moyee providing logistical and translation support on the India-side, and the network and experience of the Red Brigade volunteers. For now, as travel India remains difficult, the project is moving forward with coaching sessions on Zoom.
In Zimbabwe, our newest volunteer Elsabe Nel is on the ground with Gerald and Madeline Muusha to kick off a trial self-defence class for women at the Mbare Dojo, with the logistical support of Myrthe Minnaert, our Zimbabwe Project Coordinator, and the technical support of Sensei Gonzalo Villarrubia.
And we have not merely witnessed progress within the projects. This year, it felt we were adding a constant stream of new volunteers to the team - indeed whereas there were fifteen people involved in 2019, we are now 24-strong, including our new board of advisors! Our volunteers training programme, now moved online, continues apace, with a mentoring skills training provided by EUC student counsellor Katie Kachmarchyk in November, and a training on processing trauma in the pipeline for 2021.
The arrival of the HDKI association in our network of partners at such a critical time has felt to us a bit like the arrival of the Rohirim Army at the gates of besieged Gondor. Not only has the HDKI provided us with three fantastic new volunteers, namely Alexander Best, Maryse Degbegni and Chrissie Howard, but they have also boosted our fundraising efforts in ways that allow us to dream of providing university scholarships for 2021.
A year to celebrate, after all (with a book launch!)
In the first few months of 2020, I held my breath, wondering how it would be possible to celebrate our Lustrum year (fifth anniversary) under such dire circumstances. Now, in the last month of 2020, I raise a glass to this incredible organisation, more confident than I have ever been about our impact, our possibilities, and our potential. Celebrate we shall! And to do so, I am incredibly proud to present FairFight: since 2015, our Lustrum Anniversary book. This book was the product of months of hard work with the whole team. A special thanks goes to Elsie Cheung, who devised the book structure and wrote the first draft of the text, to Katie Alexander, who provided us with all of the illustrations, and to Yannick Servant, my brother, who poured countless hours into the design of the book. A special mention to all the volunteers who contributed photographs and memorable quotes. This really was a team effort, and I could not think of a more fitting tribute to our journey.
Part of FairFight’s mission statements is to create durable relationships with the communities with which we work. Our hope is that by engaging through the shared values of martial arts, respecting each other through the honour code of budo, we can build meaningful and supportive relationships that do not replicate colonial patterns of thought and behaviour that are sadly too common in development work. However, over the years, it has become apparent to all those involved that simply avoiding “voluntourism” and “white saviour complex” isn’t enough to create significant relationships with our local teams and with the girls that we are shepherding in their empowerment journey. Now that we know each other a bit better, all parties to the FairFight project feel the need to engage in relationships that go beyond (necessary but not sufficient) financial support – whether for karate or education. In this blog post, we reflect on what those relationships might look like, and introduce our new Ambassador of Change scholarship programme.
Rethinking FairFight’s role in Zimbabwe
When we started FairFight, we did not immediately start an individual mentorship programme, because we didn’t feel confident that we knew enough about the Zimbabwean context to pull off such a scheme. We had initially planned for Gerald to act as a mentor for the older girls who might in turn become mentors for the younger girls, down the line. FairFight would act primarily to provide guidance and support for the local teaching team, and material assistance where needed. However, the idea of Sensei Gerald as a mentor did not work out – mentorship is a one-on-one relationship, and that was time-wise not a feasible proposition, even while economic conditions were reasonably good. Sensei Gerald has dojos all over Mashonaland and several dozen of students to look after. It would have been too much to ask him to mentor 30-odd girls at Nagle House as well. And given the gender dynamics in Zimbabwe, we also realized that young, vulnerable women would not be comfortable opening up to an older male mentor. Even so, we were still wary of the idea that female volunteers from Europe could act as mentors for girls in Zimbabwe – we were unsure of how to build such long-distance relationships against a backdrop of disparities of wealth and issues of racial justice. That reticence was finally overcome when the request for direct volunteer-to-student mentorship came to us from the girls themselves. Regular readers of this blog and supporters of FairFight will have followed Tinashe Munemo’s journey from white belt at Nagle House to Tri-Nations tournament champion and final year university student. One aspect of Tinashe’s story that we didn’t reflect on, until now, is the mentoring relationship that she built up with FairFight’s founder Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos. That relationship was the inspiration for the new FairFight Ambassador of Change scholarship programme.
Story of a mentorship: Tinashe and Ginie
Tinashe: When FairFight promised to watch me through my studies, I was very scared. I was scared that I would disappoint (because to me I thought they would expect me to be perfect in every way), I was scared because I was dealing with an entirely different race (I thought I would never fit in), I was afraid of letting them down.
Ginie: When Tinashe contacted us in December 2017, I was wary at first. We were not used to having direct contact with the girls outside of the impact visits, and though I knew that we would do everything we could to help her to finance her studies, I hid behind the sponsorship relationship to avoid personal, emotional commitment. Beyond my own beliefs about loyalty and keeping promises, I was still haunted by the people I (unwittingly) disappointed in Togo and Vietnam on previous failed development projects, and was very reluctant to engage on a person-to-person level. I didn’t want to make any promises I could not keep, and did not want to get entangled in a personal connection with so many unknowns.
Tinashe: I felt very angry and sad at the same time. I was angry because I knew I didn’t deserve to feel that way. I was angry because I thought if I had someone other than these murungus to watch me through my studies at least I wouldn’t feel like I’m working under so much pressure. The pressure to produce more than I can. It was very tiring and I was sad most of the time. We were trapped in what is called a donor-recipient relationship. <The term donor-recipient relationship is a concept from development studies that refers to the complications and power relations that come from receiving aid/support from a donor. One common characteristic of this relationship is the uncertainty of the recipient about what the expectations and conditions are for the donations, what kind of strings are attached to the money.>
Ginie: I was deeply aware of the economic imbalance of the relationship and the fraught issues of inter-racial mentoring. But Tinashe wouldn’t let it go, I think she saw me as a mentor before I saw myself as such. Ultimately, she forced me to confront my own misgivings and fears, and to engage beyond my comfort zone. I think the tipping point for us came when she started asking me really simple questions about puberty – things she hadn’t been told at convent school. It made me laugh because I recognize some of these issues from my own catholic upbringing, and then I realized that there’s far more that binds sisters across the world than that separates them.
Tinashe: Ginie started talking to me. Mentoring me, guiding me and caring for me not just like a big sister, but sometimes (and increasingly most of the times) like a mother! At first it was really weird and I was even more scared. I always thought I was too broken to be fixed, too poor to be loved, and too messed up to be given another chance. That made me feel even sadder. But she cared so much and when I was broken and she cared even more.
Every time she visited Zimbabwe she made sure we spent as much time together as possible, working or not working. We would go watch the sunset together. Every day before bed she would come sit on my bed with me and talk stories until I felt sleepy. Every morning she woke me up with a cup of black sugarless coffee (which is also very weird for black girls from Africa) but I knew it was made with love so I enjoyed every sip of it.
Ginie: I tried to educate myself about the experience of being a young African woman as best I could – I read the complete works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tinashe and I worked on the translation of a feminist Shona novel together, and I asked questions, so many questions. At some point, I came across the book by Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists, in which he argues, data in hand, that the best way to manage a financial relationship in the context of economic injustice is simply to give the poorer person the money, no conditions attached. That relieved a lot of pressure for me, it simplified the financial aspect of our relationship. I simply promised to support Tinashe no matter what, to make sure she could go to school, have food on the table, pay her medical bills, or whatever else she told me she needed. I learned to trust her judgment and that she would not abuse my trust. Unconditional commitment – the very thing I feared, turned out to be liberating for both of us.
Tinashe: Slowly, because of these small things she did, we were able to build a more meaningful and personal relationship than the donor-recipient relationship we had at the beginning. I felt safe, free, loved and cared for. I felt less pressure and more accepted. I also started seeing her and all the other FairFight members as people who actually have feelings and not some bloody murungus who just want to be seen as great charity givers. And finally, I felt free!
Ginie: We were able to build up a strong emotional connection that endures even during my long absences from Zimbabwe. I worry about Tinashe on a daily basis – if I don’t hear from her for a few days, I frantically call up Gerald and other people in Harare or Marondera to see if anyone knows what’s happened to her. And sometimes it’s pretty bad – like the time she was robbed of her phone and laptop by armed thieves in the middle of the night. But I think it means a lot to her to know that I worry, and will be there to help her pick up the pieces no matter what happens. We still talk a lot about race, and we accept that we’ll always be trapped in a dialectic between our personal relationship and the structural (financial and racial) injustice of the situation we’re in. It will always be a work in progress, and ultimately, the goal of a mentorship is for the mentee to outgrow the mentor, which is a challenge for both. But I’m glad we chose to go on that journey.
Ambassador of Change Scholarship Programme
In 2019, Tinashe and Ginie discussed the possibility of creating opportunities for other FairFight girls to build mentoring relationships with European FairFight volunteers. The idea was floated at the FairFight General Assembly in August of that year, and broadly accepted, though no concrete plans were made. Action was once again catalyzed by events in Zimbabwe, when we realized that our team captain Patience Mukarati would quit school before her A-levels if she did not receive financial assistance and support with her learning. The FairFight board then set about putting their ideas on sponsorship and mentorship to paper, learning from the experience with Tinashe and Ginie. We called the programme the Ambassador of Change Scholarship Programme. These are the main features:
To kick-start this programme, Patience Mukarati will receive the first Ambassador of Change Scholarship from FairFight and the Kwok Meil Wah Foundation. Nivedita Sarveswaran, a FairFight veteran with a black belt and a PhD in neurosciences from Cambridge University, will be Patience’s mentor. The two already met when Niv visited Zimbabwe in 2017, and are both excited and a bit nervous to start the journey. Tinashe has provided Patience with advice from her own experiences, and Niv has been in long discussions with Myrthe, the coordinator of the Zimbabwe project and post-colonial student at SOAS, on what to expect from the relationship.
Mentorship, what to expect
Tinashe: In my experience from all this, I would advise all the murungus who would want to become a mentor for a black African girl to:
1.Keep in mind that this is a black girl from Africa and we have many cultural differences. In my perspective it is important to know what exactly you are dealing with because we are different in our own ways.
2.Leave room for mistakes, and talk them through. Be sure to mention what you don’t like and what you like but it’s also important to compromise.
3.Talk about your personal experiences. This helps the girl to open up to you too. This also help her to see that you are also as vulnerable as she is and that you also have feelings.
4.It is important not to be too soft, because the girl might and most likely will see you as a role model. And you do not want to create a fluffy teddy in a country full of hardship.
5.Spend time with the girl. Video calls, phone calls, texting, etc. This creates a bond between the two of you and the girl will feel safer.
6.Communication is crucial! Let them know when you are free and when you are not. Talk about what you expect and what you don’t, especially what seems most obvious or normal to you.
7.Don’t feel sorry for us all the time. This makes us not to want to tell you some things because we are afraid to worry you up to a level that you get fed up and leave (because truth be told there are a hell lot of problems in this country so it’s basically one thing after the other).
Ginie: I find it difficult to give “dos” and “don’ts”, the relationship I have with Tinashe is quite unique and hard to generalize. But I would definitely say that this mentoring experience has been as challenging as it has been rewarding. It will definitely be hard work, and mentors must expect to invest a lot, mentally, emotionally. I had to work hard on my communication skills. I know that the commitment aspect is difficult for a lot of Westerners – we’re all so damned busy all the time, with work, with training, with our social and family lives and with everything else life throws at us. But my hope for this programme is that people who volunteer as mentors will cherish the commitment as much as I learned to, and make time and space for this unusual, but incredible bond. I wish Patience and Niv all the best as they embark on their mentoring journey!
Are you a woman over 25 and interested in becoming a mentor for one of our girls? Please email us at email@example.com with a CV and motivation letter.
In 2015, when we started FairFight, we believed in both Zimbabwe and India as promising places for the development of martial arts in communities of vulnerable women. The possibilities were vast – but we were looking at the future through the lens of the present. We were about to learn that continuity is a foolish assumption to make. The world order we grew up with burst at the seams in 2016 and there seems to be no end to the unravelling. Thus, we welcomed the 2020s in the colossal global headwinds of the climate emergency, a global nationalist surge and massive movements of social discontent. These trends hit our project locations hard: an unprecedented drought is wreaking hunger and misery in Zimbabwe, with rolling power cuts, fuel shortages, food shortages, a mass exodus of human capital, and a return to fighting for survival that Zimbabweans thoughts they had left behind ten years ago. Meanwhile, in India, social discontent and nationalist fever grips the country, stirring ethnic and religious tensions that culminated last month in riots that became violent in Uttar Pradesh, with fatal outcomes in Varanasi. The political climate in India is especially hostile towards foreigners, and particularly foreign NGOs.
Let’s be frank: had we faced such headwinds five years ago, we would not have been able to get the FairFight projects off the ground. It is therefore a credit to everyone involved that our projects survive despite the situation. A credit to the volunteers who keep traveling to Marondera and Varanasi and investing in the cause despite the risks, a credit to the local teams who lose neither faith nor energy in delivering the projects, and a credit to our supporters who so generously support our projects financially – even when it feels that all we’re doing is fire-fighting. For instance, when we called for help to deliver food packages for the girls in Zimbabwe who were not able to finish an hour’s training because they were hungry, we received nearly double what we asked for in donations. Back then, it seemed like the hunger situation in Zimbabwe was the worst of our problems. Little did we know…
In late December 2019, we received notice that the Disha programme had to close temporarily due to certain regulations on homes for minor children. The decision was taken with immediate effect to send the girls back to their families. Fortunately, the timing coincided with the period when the schools close for the winter holidays, thus limiting the disruption for the girls. Act & Help is determined to do everything in its power to rehome the girls in a boarding school setting in Varanasi, as soon as possible. This new status for the Disha project would allow all the girls to finish their schooling under the protection of the Disha umbrella, even after they reach 18 years of age (which was not the case in the previous setup). When the new status comes through, there will be no more exclusions, no more excessive control from the authorities, but a new tie to a very good public school which will welcome all the girls together. Things are already in motion on that front, but it will take some time, possibly a couple of months, to get this arrangement in order. In the meantime, Act & Help continues to provide the girls with financial support for food and education. From our side, we have already determined that Mary Stevens, our project coordinator, will travel to Varanasi to check-in with the girls as soon as the local situation makes this a feasible option. We are looking into options to restart karate classes for 13 of the girls still living in Uttar Pradesh. In the meantime, Devesh and Pankaj have secured all of our equipment.
To say that the situations in Zimbabwe and India are setbacks would be an understatement. The girls are not a project to us, we care about them more than we care to put into words. Not a day goes by that we do not think about them. And while the situation is emotionally challenging for everyone, it is that human connection that forbids us from giving up, that makes us roll up our sleeves and say “right, let’s do this”, one problem at a time. All the while, we keep an eye on our ultimate goal: to empower women through martial arts. While we fight for the girls at Nagle House and Disha, Mary presses on with the “transition to university” self-protection seminars for Mala girls in Guria. Mary will also gather and host a focus group of students and working young women to inform the contexts of the self- protection strategies to adapt effectively for the local context. She has drawn some support for the project from the global self-defense community. Meanwhile, Tinashe Munemo, with my support, keeps pushing for women’s health in Zimbabwe’s most impoverished communities – women’s prisons and townships, and we forge ahead with our plans to build an effective shitoryu karate community in Zimbabwe with the support of Sensei Gonzalo Villarubia.
For us, for our girls, and for you, our supporters, the 2020s will be the decade of resilience. The months and years ahead will be small steps forward, and occasionally, big steps back. This is the story of FairFight and Act & Help, but really, it’s a microcosm of the story of humanity and the choices we will all have to make in the near future. Do we give up in the face of adversity, do we let ourselves be swallowed whole by problems so huge that the escape our control, do we turn inwards, listen to our fears and build walls? Or do we take small victories where we can find them, find solace and resilience in human connections, find power in changing one life at a time in a hurricane of challenges, and open ourselves to our sisters and brothers in the knowledge that we’re all part of this key chapter of human history?
What FairFight has to give is not an all-or-nothing – martial arts is a way of life, and once that flame is lit, it stays within us, no matter the adversity. Yes, the lives of our girls in Zimbabwe and India are difficult, but they have the power of karate in their bodies and their souls to carry them through. And we will be there for them, one way or another, no matter what, because they are part of our martial arts family. Together with you, our supporters, we will build the resilience to ride out the storms. After all, is that not what martial arts teaches us? Onwards, gambatte!
Dr. Ginie Servant Miklos
Chair of the Board of FairFight
The last members of the impact visit to India are on their way back home, marking the end of an intense and successful trip that clears the road for the future of FairFight India. For the second time in 2019, FairFight sent a team to Varanasi led by project coordinator Mary Stevens and comprised of Ginie Servant-Miklos, chair of the board of FairFight, Alton Brown, twice Shotokan World Champion and Olympic hopeful, Harald Herland, Norwegian film maker, and Nivedita Sarveswaran, Cambridge PhD students, black belt and FairFight Zim veteran. You can read the day-by-day account of the visit on Mary's lively blog: https://fairfightvaranasi.wordpress.com/
bringing world-class karate to varanasi
Our impact visit was the culmination of what seemed like an impossible feat only six months ago: to bring a world-class athlete to Varanasi to teach competition kumite to our local instructor team and to our most talented girls. For someone of such caliber to take time out of their training to come to India to teach underprivileged girls pro bono seemed like an impossible ask. So when Mary contacted Alton Brown, World and European Shotokan Kumite champion and currently competing for an Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020, we weren't expecting a response. Not only did we get a positive answer from Alton, but we also found in him someone who perfectly embodies the values of FairFight, who understands our mission to the core and passionately believes in the power of karate to do good. Alton delivered a two-day seminar that our partners at ISKF-UP, Sunbeam Bhagwanpur and Disha House will not forget any time soon. The energy was palpable in the hall, everyone was engaged and motivated to absorb everything Alton had to give. If they came away with one key lesson, it's that a good athlete is not just a good technician, but also thinks strategically, and puts on a show for the adversary and the referees. Victory is also a mindset - something our girls took to heart!
Alton has bridged our project with the World Karate Federation and the possibilities from there are simply endless. With such a receptive and willing audience, we can meaningfully upgrade karate skills here in Uttar Pradesh, for our instructors, our girls and all those who work with FairFight. Bringing Alton to Varanasi required an unprecedented fundraising effort on our part, and we are very grateful to everyone who supported us. Although it's been great to receive support in the form of equipment and materials at the start of our project, the future of FairFight is in investing in skills and talent. As we can see now, this investment pays off in spades.
Empowerment beyond karate
It's fair to say that FairFight India is entering firmly into Stage 3 territory, where we world towards a self-sustaining future, with a vast community network and a brand name that hold meaning locally. We made strides towards this with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the ISKF-UP to cement our 3-year collaboration.
Beyond the world of karate, we have initiated a collaboration with Sunbeam Bhagwanpur, the most prestigious chain of schools and academies in Varanasi. Sunbeam has facilities that are second-to-none in the area, and we are grateful for their generosity in letting us use their halls for our seminars. But Sunbeam also has a heart for women's empowerment and social change - they support FairFight's mission, welcome our Disha girls to their school for present and future events, and are helping us to organise workshops that tackle empowerment from different angles. Mary Stevens piloted a workshop on personal safety with the Sunbeam girls' college on Monday.
We also explored possibilities for collaboration with the Mala Project, a group of schools set up in remote rural districts of Uttar Pradesh for talented but extremely poor children from the carpeting industry district. We look forward to building up that collaboration in 2020, especially in the domains of teacher training and self-defense.
The road ahead
The main take-away from October's impact visit is just how far the project has come since we started in 2016. Our girls have well-deserved green belts, and hold their own, fearlessly facing down Alton and the other men on the tatami. They hold their shoulders up and their heads high, determination in their eyes and team-spirit in their interactions. This was what FairFight set out to do, and it's working. Where we go from here is really an open story waiting to be written. We will continue to support the girls in partnership with the AshaDiya Foundation and their sponsors Act& Help in Paris. Sohan Bhardwaj, chief instructor at ISKF, sees potential black belts in our group, and we see it too. Reaching that goal in the spirit of emancipation and gender equality will be our main focus. But there are many things we can do in support of that objective - there are possibilities for community partnerships opening up to us all over Varanasi and we are learning to find our feet in the city, away from the safe base of Disha House. After pulling off the seminar with Alton Brown, we're thinking about the next strategic steps in terms of investing in local martial arts talent. And we're also thinking about investing in a legal structure for FairFight India in its own right to manage financial flows from within India and ensure long-term independence for the project. The quality of the team invested in this project makes it possible to dream big, but one person can only carry so much on their shoulders, so for the dream to become reality will also require the on-going support of committed sponsors, promoters, and volunteers who are in it with us for the long run.
FairFight is only as good as the people who invest in us, and so we'd like to thank our local team, the ISKF instructors, our logistics coordinators Dheer and Moyee, the whole team at AshaDiya and Act & Help, and especially coordinators Uday and Juliett, who support us relentlessly, Alton Brown and Harald Herland for giving up their time and talents to help our cause grown, the tireless volunteers who give their time and energy to the project, and all the people who donated to the cause - every euro matters.
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.
International women's day event
In the age of #MeToo, International Women’s Day takes on a special significance, too large to let pass without marking the event in some way or other. This year, FairFight decided to go big on celebrations; partnering with the Erasmus University College, we hosted a special event titled Women in Action in the lobby of the impressive EUC Blaak campus. The evening featured four very different speakers for a broad sweep of womanhood in today’s society. First up, Ginie Servant-Miklos, chair of the board of the FairFight Foundation, shared our work in empowering young girls from India and Zimbabwe through the practice of martial arts. Lijnie Reijers, a self-employed ortho-pedagogue, aikido master, D66 municipal candidate, mother and wife who travelled with us to Varanasi in January 2017, shared her personal story of struggle - from her experience of child labour and family trauma, to her successful career and life today. Following on, Sarah Hopkins, at the head of a London-City based recruitment agency, incited women to break the glass ceiling and advance their careers within proper support networks. Finally, Aynouk Tan, the Dutch media personality who brought us the NRC Handelsblad series on the impact of clothing on identity, discussed gender theory and the concept of gender as “doing” rather than “being”.
The evening was structured around a feminist art gallery curated by Caterina Sardoni and Nico Skoularkis, both EUC alumni, organised in collaboration with the Rotterdam Arts and Science Lab. The gallery featured up-and-coming artists and students of EUC and the Willem de Koning Academy. Lumi Pulkkinen displayed photographs capturing the liminal space between trust and tension between linear narration and possibility. Marlene Biesendorfer prepared film loops and a lamp display that eerily reflected on women’s position in a consumerist society. Frederica Notari shared a poignant spoken word piece on biblical womanhood and her Italian heritage. Gwenn Le Pechoux conducted a live painting session in the exhibition hall, while Charlotte Schenk and Noa van den Boogaard had prepared a collection of IWD themed stickers. The exhibition also featured paintings and prints from Zimbabwean artist Tinashe Munemo, and British artist Katie Alexander, both of who also practice martial arts and work with the FairFight Foundation. Their artworks reflect the strength of the young vulnerable girls that the Foundation helps, depicting them as they grow through the practice of karate. These artworks were juxtaposed with printed pictures taken by Myrthe Minnaert during her visits to the FairFight Zimbabwe and India projects. Providing atmosphere to the whole evening with songs themed around women’s power, RASL musicians Tim van Breemen, Evelyn Gallard, Gina de Boer and Jonas Nabbe played sets while guests wandered around the artworks, glass of wine in hand. With an attendance of around 80 people, including EUR faculty and students, community partners of the FairFight and the Zonta Club of Rotterdam (a local organisation dedicated to the cause of women), the evening was vibrant, interesting and definitely something to consider again for the next International Women’s Day.