Tariro is saddened to report the death of one of our former students, Beula Choto. Beula was one of the first students to be enrolled in Tariro, and was sponsored by Tariro at Rwizi Secondary School until she finished Form Four in 2008. After completing her studies, Beula joined the Tariro sewing club in her rural village of Mhondoro, where she was a talented member of our embroidery group.
Beula’s death is very difficult for me to write about. Of over a hundred students Tariro has sponsored during the six years we’ve been working in Zimbabwe, Beula is the first student we have lost. We learned of her death when her family sent a message to us that she died last month after a short illness. Her relatives did not report the exact cause of her death, and given the breakdown of Zimbabwe’s health care system, it is possible that she never received a diagnosis or proper treatment for her illness.
We will never know whether Beula’s death was HIV-related, which is not an unusual situation in Zimbabwe, where many families never learn the HIV status of family members who pass away. From our perspective, however, knowing whether any one death is HIV-related is less important than recognizing the overall impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS on Zimbabwean communities. As we know, HIV/AIDS has a detrimental effect on communities, robbing them of caretakers, leaders, and productive workers, and increasing poverty. In turn, the poor are at higher risk for contracting HIV, and are much less likely to be able to access the treatment that would prolong their lives. Tariro’s work with girls is a critical part of trying to break the cycle of poverty and HIV/AIDS that undermines development in Zimbabwean communities. Losing Beula, however, shows us how difficult this work is.
Tariro recently received over a hundred panels from the embroidery club of which Beula was a member. Over a dozen of these panels were sewn by Beula. We’re currently thinking of ways to use these panels to create a meaningful tribute to her life. Some of our ideas include sewing a quilt, or making a set of prayer flags featuring the panels, which could be displayed at various events in communities which support our work. Losing a young, educated, and talented woman like Beula is a terrible tragedy. A memorial project dedicated to her life is one important way for us to acknowledge her individual story as one among millions of people in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in the world, who have lost their lives, or their loved ones, to poverty and HIV/AIDS. If you have any ideas for the memorial project, or would like to get involved, please let me know.
I’m including two photos below. The first shows Beula alongside Tatenda and Faith, two other Tariro students. The second is a very sad photo showing a drawing Beula did at our 2006 empowerment camp, where she illustrated her dreams for her future. After spending so many years working with Beula and getting to know her, many of us will feel her loss for a long time to come.