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.