Visiting Bulawayo is always an enriching but very real experience. I have done so at least three times this year for work related reasons. In between the workshops and the meetings one always gets a chance to chat with old or new friends about what is going on in the City of Kings and its environs.
By way of serious discussions of socio-economic and political issues affecting it with civil society activists, journalists and entrepreneurial groups that are working hard to improve the livelihoods of the residents of Bulawayo, one can come to terms with our second city's realities.
One such organisation I came across is called Vanavevhu. It also uses the acronym, V2 for their entrepreneurial division.
Founded by a colleague Elizabeth Mhangami, in 2010 its mission is essentially to assist orphaned and vulnerable youth in Bulawayo to be able to learn not only life skills but also pursue self reliance through organic farming, cottage industries as viable small businesses.
In this regard, it undertakes not only training of young persons in organic farming, beekeeping and scented candle production but also how to market and sell the end products of their hard work. All of these products are made on site at their operations site in Douglasdale, 12 kilometers outside of Bulawayo.
Not only for sustainability and nourishment but also in order to give the young members a conducive environment for them to complete their formal education while at the same time learning life-skills (sexual and reproductive health, life choices), household management, financial savings and entrepreneurship/marketing.
The most salient feature about this organisation is not so much its charitable appeal but the model that it seeks to utilise to empower these youths both socially and economically.
It is essentially a community based and driven approach of identifying youth headed households that require empowerment not only by way of social support but also by providing an alternative life learning framework for the youths that are involved.
Because it is not a handout organisation, rules of engagement are established with the direct participation of the young persons. These include how to support each other in times of crisis, how to be transparent in accounting for work done and how to be good marketers of products to local industry and residents.
The key catchphrases in these activities are community support, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship of the youth. No loans are given. Everyone works for their upkeep and that of the organisation. Financial and production matters are handled in an open and transparent manner while socio-psychological support for the participants are provided for by the able staff at the institution.
It is a holistic approach to dealing with the challenges that young people in Zimbabwe, particularly those that are socially and economically vulnerable face. The values of building an enabling community environment combined with an entrepreneurial spirit help the participants to view their life challenges with optimism and perhaps above all, a plan of empowerment. This is because on average the students at Vanavevhu come in for three years and have to leave for greener pastures in order to allow others a chance at learning.
My visit therefore, brief though it was, helped me come to terms with a different model for youth empowerment. It is one that is based on community goodwill and concern for the future of Zimbabwe's young citizens in a difficult and exclusionary economic environment. Not by way of giving direct aid or politicisation and abandoning them but by also assuming responsibility for their future as self reliant citizens. Especially where it is done with an intention to assist them to undertake economic activities that directly benefit them with a strong element of social responsibility to not only each other but also the society in which they live.
This is a model that central government, local authorities and the corporate world would do well to examine seriously with an intention of supporting. While it cannot compete with bigger agro-businesses in horticulture, it can help young people learn leadership, entrepreneurship, self reliance and community responsibilities as is the case at Vanavevhu.
It may not be only to assist orphans and vulnerable children but also to assist those that are unemployed develop a new appreciation of what is possible to achieve even in dire economic circumstances and sometimes with limited skills.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)