As an ActionAider working in the internal audit department, participating in the Participatory Reflection and Review Processes (PRRPs) as we plan for the ActionAid Zimbabwe strategy for 2018 to 2028, has been a humbling and motivating experience. I met Esther Mwashita Mutsambi (50), a Community Ward Development Coordinator who works with women and girls. She is from Ngavagare Village, Tombo Ward 15, Nyanga District, east of Zimbabwe.
Esther, who works under the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development is passionate and hardworking despite the long distances she travels to do her work. She finds her way on foot around the mountainous and hilly terrain of Tombo Ward to reach out to women and girls in her community. Her meagre earnings have not deterred her from achieving the self-satisfaction she gets from working in communities where most of the work is done with her using her resources in most cases. She does not have a bicycle to go around Ward 15, whose radius is about 20km. In any case using a bicycle may even be difficult to her to maneuver in the hilly area.
In doing part of her work in Ward 15, Esther works with Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT), an ActionAid partner. I asked her what motivated her to work in the community. She said: “Being a survivor of gender based violence (GBV), I felt women and girls had no one to stand for them especially on knowing their rights and how to become survivors instead of being victims of GBV. I saw the job that I am doing advertised by Ministry of Women Affairs and I applied for it in 2006. The job involves three key result areas namely, gender mainstreaming, women empowerment and community Development.”
Esther’s zeal for her work has seen her assisting women and girls on GBV and preventing child marriages. Recently she prevented two grade 7 girls from dropping out of school and marrying at 13 years old. “I had to walk about 10km one way in a mountainous place looking for the two girls who were married to elderly apostolic sect husbands. One of the girls had become a third wife. Imagine one of the girls was a head girl and best pupil in school in one of the primary schools in my area. “
I managed to negotiate with the husbands and the families involved to allow the girls to go back to school. As I speak the girls are back at school and are going to write Grade 7 examinations for 2017, said the jovial Esther.
Esther has managed to link the girls to two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who have promised to pay the school fees for the two girls up to secondary school.
To ensure that women and girls are capacitated on GBV and on the campaign against child marriages, Esther is currently mobilizing the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) which is working closely with FACT Nyanga to educate communities at village level on the above-mentioned issues. This is the first time such an initiative has been brought to the communities where Esther is working. Over the years, the community trainings were conducted at Ward level.
At village level, each village head will be able to bring many more people including some of the perpetrators of GBV and child marriages to attend the trainings that will be facilitated by LRF. This was not possible at ward level. The village level trainings will cover 12 villages where I am operational.
Esther is a member of the Rural Women Assembly (RWA), a community group of women promoting the empowerment of women and girls supported by FACT Nyanga. Through the RWA, Ester has mobilized communities to attend various trainings on GBV, the campaign against child marriages and women economic empowerment initiatives. She is an all-rounder and has numerous qualities envied by many. She was a busy bee during the PRRPs community meetings conducted by FACT Nyanga and ActionAid at Crossdale Primary School in Ward 15. While organizing the community groups to attend the PRRPs, she also prepared the food for communities, doing the unpaid care work most women find themselves doing due patriarchal beliefs. I was worried that due to her busy hectic responsibilities she would not be able to attend the community focus groups conducted by FACT Nyanga and ActionAid at Crossdale Primary School in Ward 15. I was happy to see her in the leaders’ groups, making her voice heard and standing in for the women in her community.
Ester has benefited from the cancer screening programmes supported by FACT Nyanga in the past. She said she was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus and had her uterus removed. She said she is now fit as a fiddle. She benefited from GBV trainings conducted by FACT Nyanga and has been cascading the trainings in her communities.
I have never seen such a selfless multi tasked hardworking woman. She is a mother to three children, one who is married and two who are in college. She is a leader.