Recently in 2014 I was travelling back from a day trip to a village in Saunyama area in Nyanga in the Eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. I was with a team of ActionAid Zimbabwe staff and partner organizations. The trip had been made to gain practical experience in applying participatory tools to support communities identify their development priorities for 2014-2018. As an Inspirator from Uganda in Zimbabwe for 9 months, I had been invited to learn alongside an ActionAid Zimbabwe local partner (Batsiranayi Programme) that I am attached to. During this journey back, I remember watching the sun set. Its glorious rays made the skies appear pink and orange. The mountains had become a silhouette in the horizon with a few red spots indicating bush fires.
This was truly a beautiful part of the country. Yet reflecting back on the place we had visited that day, I could not help but wonder why more people did not migrate to towns and cities? It had taken us two hours on a dirty road by an all-terrain vehicle to travel from Nyanga town to that village. I put myself in the shoes of a mother of newly born twins we had met in the village. She lived about an hour away from the village we were in where there was the nearest health centre. One of her babies was sick.
I wondered why she never considered moving to a town which was bound to improve her access to quality public services– better health services, better schools for her children etc. What would have happened if her baby had been severely ill? Commuter operators referred to as “combis” in this part of the world did not pass through these roads often and the rural health centres do not have the capacity to handle complicated illnesses. It would be a risk she would have to deal with living this far off from the nearest district hospital.
Other problems caused by the remoteness of such villages I heard of included there being no vocational schools and few secondary schools. In addition, farmers often complained of no market for their crops because few buyers passed through their village.
So I put this question forward to my colleagues (ActionAid Zimbabwe and partner staff) in the vehicle I was travelling back with to Nyanga town. I asked the people in the vehicle: “Why is it that more people don’t move to bigger towns here? Don’t you think they believe it could improve their quality of life?”
Someone replied: “How would they survive in the city? Jobs are hard to find in this country these days.”
I asked again naively: “They could consider selling their land to start a business in the city? Because it meant improved quality of life, don’t you think they would consider taking that risk?”
Someone replied: “A lot of importance is attached to where one comes from. The move would only be considered if it was temporary, like a job which provides for family back in the village. Even if one spent twenty years in the city, one would still want to be buried in their village when they died. But to sell one’s land and make a permanent move to the city would mean to lose one’s roots, one’s identity.”
Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but feel a new found respect for the people I had met in that village that day. In spite of everything that Zimbabwe has been through, to see its people love it so much gave me a new sense of hope for them. Running away from a village because it has fewer facilities than what would have been ideal is running away from the problem rather than facing it head on. This is why ActionAid Zimbabwe’s work around engaging government and the corporates for improved social service delivery is so important in Zimbabwe. Communities are mobilized and capacitated to engage the government on developmental concerns that they face in their villages.
In its strategic plan 2014-2018, ActionAid Zimbabwe plans to assist 350 000 adult women, young women and men, children and other people living in poverty in Zimbabwe to engage the government and corporates for improved social service delivery. In doing this, ActionAid Zimbabwe hopes to facilitate improvements in the quality, equity and gender responsiveness of public services for 350,000 adult women, young women and men, children and other people living in poverty in selected rural, peri-urban and urban wards in Zimbabwe.
ActionAid Zimbabwe works with over 23 community based organisations and national non-governmental organisations in all the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe. In Nyanga alone ActionAid works in partnership with Simukai Child Protection Programme, Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) Nyanga and Diocese of Mutare Community Care (DOMCCP) which all work in selected wards in Nyanga.