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!