Category Archives: Notes from the field: Jennifer in Zimbabwe

Looking toward 2013 with excitement, and anxiety

Tariro coordinator Fadzie Muzhandu (left) with the Chipira family. Photo credit Trishula Patel

Tariro coordinator Fadzie Muzhandu (left) with the Chipira family. Photo credit Trishula Patel

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you a note written by our wonderful program coordinator, Fadzie Muzhandu, as a preface to this year’s annual report. I will be including some highlights from the annual report in forthcoming posts. As we seek to raise the funds necessary to continue our programs in 2013, Fadzie’s words, copied in below, are an exceptionally moving tribute to both the joys and the worries involved in our work.

From Fadzie…

Every year begins and ends with some excitement and anxiety for many Tariro girls and myself.  We are happy we got through the year, paid all our fees, and are moving to the next grade, and we are extremely proud that none of the students dropped out of school. We tell ourselves, the students and I, that we must be doing something right.

At the same time, we are restless about things we cannot control, like whether Zimbabwe will have presidential elections or not and what it means for the program. I am especially restless at the beginning of the year, because this is when our final year students receive examination results, and I speculate about how many will pass, and what future our students who fail have. Even those who pass are still confronted by the realities of a country not fully recovered from a decade long economic crisis, with unemployment well above 80%.

I also worry about whether we will have enough school fees for our students for the next year and how many more we can recruit.  Students worry about how their Christmas break will be, whether they will have enough food for celebrations, and if they are very lucky, whether a relative will buy them a new dress.

The realities of working with underprivileged children confront us around the holidays, but we still find time to celebrate our big and sometimes not so big achievements of the year. We celebrate the many students whose lives we have changed by paying school fees and through our mentorship programs. We celebrate that Noleen, who is in a wheelchair and through physiotherapy paid for by Tariro, made her first unassisted step.  Many students have become leaders of clubs or were selected to the student government, and have made contributions to their communities. Our proudest moment was when 3 students were selected to participate in a cultural exchange program that saw them showcase Zimbabwean traditional dances in Japan!

As field based officers we sometimes forget that the work we do is made possible because of the generosity of many. Many who have never been to Zimbabwe, but have committed their time and resources to improving the lives of young women. Through our donors’ generosity, Tariro has provided education funds for more than 300 students since 2003.

Every year I am encouraged by our supporters’ bigheartedness and would like to reassure you that your support is going a long way in empowering and transforming the lives of young women in a big way. Every year we recruit about 15 young women, and for these young women Tariro not only gives them hope, but an opportunity to rise above their backgrounds and plan for, rather than just dream about a better future. For some of these young women, we simply help them reclaim their childhood.

A balanced perspective on Tariro’s work

For me, one of the most powerful things about Fadzie’s perspective is that the work of development, like any other human endeavor, is marked by both happiness and suffering, both success and failure. For a grassroots organization like Tariro, the path forward can only be navigated by working together, in a concerted effort that begins with our students and staff, and expands to include our donors, board members, and volunteers.

Thank you Fadzie, for your hard work, your important insights, and your true investment and belief in our students. And thank you, readers, for your donations and support. Together, we’re making a small but powerful difference, one girl at a time.

Jukwa performance by Tariro students

Filmed in 2009, this short clip shows students in Tariro’s traditional music and dance ensemble performing a rhythm called jukwa.  They are accompanied by Tariro’s wonderful music and dance instructor, Daniel Inasiyo.  Enjoy!

Introducing our new students!

Peggy Samhaka, Highfield High 1 Senior Woman, with two of Tariro's new students, Audrey (left) and Rumbidzai (right)

In my last post from Zimbabwe, I’m happy to report that Tariro has finished our outreach for 2010, and have enrolled 13 new students in our program.  These include 7 new students at Highfield High 1, 5 new students at Domboramwari secondary school in Epworth, and Mai Chipira’s daughter Ashleen.

At each school, our outreach efforts were conducted by working with the Senior Woman, a position of great responsibility in the Zimbabwean school system.  Each school’s Senior Woman works closely with the school’s headmaster or headmistress.  This position is equivalent to a dean of students position in the US, and the Senior Woman is responsible for guidance counseling and student welfare for all students enrolled in her school.  In addition, she works closely with female students to address their particular needs.

Working with Tariro, the Senior Women at Highfield High 1 and Domboramwari compiled lists of orphaned students in need of sponsorship.  We used a combination of academic potential and achievement, as well as extremely vulnerability, to select students for sponsorship.   All of our new students were in immediate danger of being turned away at school for non-payment of fees, and had been attending school on the basis of a letter issued by their Senior Women stating that they were being considered for sponsorship.  Had it not been for Tariro’s sponsorship, all of these students would have been unable to keep attending school.  Many of them have previously missed entire terms at school because of their inability to pay fees.  Despite this hardship, however, all of these students are maintaining passing grades in their classes.

We are even aware of one student who had been sneaking into school, using a receipt from one of her friends whose family was able to pay her school fees.  Discovered several times by the school’s administration, she persisted in sneaking into school repeatedly over the past term, before Tariro stepped in with sponsorship for her.  I love that story… a girl who is dedicated enough to be sneaking into school even when she can’t pay her fees is exactly the kind of student I’m happy to be helping!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting regular profiles of our new students so that you can get acquainted with some of the new faces in our program.  We are looking for individual sponsors for each of these new student, so if you are interested in learning more about a particular girl, or stepping up to sponsor her, please let me know!

Gillian, one of Tariro's new students at Highfield High 1

Gillian is currently enrolled in Form 1, her first year of high school studies, at Highfield High 1.  Gillian’s brother also attends Highfield High 1, where he is currently finishing his O level studies.  From an exceptionally bright family, her two older sisters received prestigious Econet scholarships for their A level and university studies.  We have high hopes that Gillian will also be a good candidate for a scholarship for higher level education, and would love to see her go to University in the next five or six years!

Gillian’s father was a professional photographer until he passed away last month after a short illness.  Gillian’s mother is unemployed, and found herself suddenly responsible for covering all of the family’s expenses, including not only daily living expenses, but also her brother’s school fees, as well as transport expenses for her sisters, whose scholarships do not cover this expense.  From a stable home situation, Gillian suddenly found herself in a situation of extreme vulnerability, and was in immediate danger of dropping out of school.

As a grassroots organization, Tariro benefits from close community relationships.  Our sponsorship of Gillian is one example of how the web of our social networks improves our ability to work effectively within vulnerable communities like Highfields.   Gillian is the only student at Highfield High 1 who was not referred to us directly by the Senior Woman at the school.  In this case, Gillian’s family came to the attention of Tariro through one of Gillian’s aunts, Patience Chaitezvi, who is a respected mbira player, and the person who introduced us to Peggy Samhaka, the guidance counselor who helped us identify the new students we are sponsoring this year.  When Patience explained Gillian’s situation, it was immediately obviously to us that she was an excellent candidate for sponsorship, and we encouraged her to apply for our program before we had begun discussing other candidates with Mrs. Samhaka.  Our relationship with Patience thus had the double benefit of helping us identify one student in need in her own extended family, as well as enabling us to build the community relationships we needed at Highfield High 1 to conduct more general outreach, identifying six other students for sponsorship.

In addition to sponsorship through Tariro, Gillian’s family is also receiving a one-time grant of financial support from donations made by members of the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center in Eugene, OR, to assist them in covering basic living costs while her mother tries to plan for their future.  Tariro has a close relationship with Kutsinhira, and has received generous donations from Kutsinhira’s Community Development Fund to support our programs in the past.  Today, we are happy to be working side by side Kutsinhira to assist Gillian’s family.

Finally, we are especially happy to be sponsoring Gillian as she is herself a talented mbira player, and will make a wonderful addition to our traditional music and dance ensemble.  We hope that she may even be able to assist us to add an mbira component to the program.

Recent news from Epworth: working in Zimbabwe’s peri-urban township

Ambuya Bobo, grandmother of Tariro student Sabina, at Epworth guardians' meeting

I’m writing today with an update on a recent meeting with Tariro students and guardians, held on April 23rd in the neighborhood of Epworth.  The active involvement of both students and guardians in Tariro’s programs is a critical part of our project, enabling us to better recognize and meet the challenges facing our students, and giving our work depth and meaning from a truly community-based perspective.  Today, I want to give you a glimpse into how students and guardians are actively involved in influencing our work.

During this recent meeting, Tariro guardians in Epworth expressed how grateful they are for the financial support provided by Tariro, and for all of the extra-curricular activities we offer to students.  Many of the guardians actually jumped to their feet to sing songs praising Tariro’s work and encouraging us to continue with the support we offer to the orphaned children in their care.

At Ambuya Bobo's home in Epworth

Guardians also suggested improvements we could make to best help the students, identifying one particularly major concern that has been affecting the Epworth girls.  This concern is the distance the girls have been walking to attend school, which for some of them totals two hours per day to get to school and back home.  Because of this long walk, a few girls have been missing early morning classes.  Students additionally observed that this problem would be even more difficult during the coming winter months, when it is cold and gets dark quickly.  As the girls in Epworth do not have electricity, the long walk to school also makes studying after school a big challenge.

When teaching at many public schools was suspended due to an extended teacher strike and administrative problems in 2008, Tariro transferred Epworth girls to Young Africa Academy, a private college where teaching continued as normal.  By transferring students to YAA, we were able to maintain instruction for our students even in the very challenging educational and social conditions facing students in Zimbabwe during the last few years.  However, this decision came with a trade-off, as the transfer meant a much longer walk to school for many of our students.

At our most recent meeting in Epworth, and after discussing the different options for the girls, we decided in consultation with the guardians that it is time to transfer the students back to a nearby public school, Domboramwari, which is a ten-minute walk from most of their homes. All parents and students agreed that this was a potential solution considering the improvements made in the public sector schools system during the past year.   The headmaster at Domboramwari graciously agreed to enroll the girls in the middle of the year, and we are happy to report that all of our Epworth secondary school students are now attending lessons at Domboramwari.  As the school fees are roughly similar at both schools, we incurred no significant costs in making this transfer.  I’m pleased that Tariro’s small size and flexibility makes it possible for us to respond quickly and effectively to the changing social, economic, and educational circumstances in Zimbabwe, in order to give our students the best possible chance of achieving their educational goals.

Visitor Cai Emmons and program coordinator Fadzi at Epworth guardians meeting

Our Epworth students face many challenges as they do their best to achieve academically despite the lack of electricity and running water in their homes, and given the very basic state of the schools they are able to access.  Thank you for supporting our work with these extremely vulnerable young women, for whom Tariro’s assistance means all the difference in their ability to attend school.

I’ll be traveling back home to the US soon, so look for one or two final posts on the blog while I’m still “in the field” over the next few weeks.  And if you would be interested in having me speak on my experiences in Zimbabwe during the month of June at your school, church, community center, or whatever, please contact me!  I would love to bring photos and talk about my work in person in your community.

The group in Epworth

Tariro students attend the Harare International Festival of the Arts

Step Africa with member of the Chitungwiza Harmony Singers at HIFA 2010

Every year, Zimbabwe celebrates the arts and culture through an annual festival known as the Harare International Festival of the Arts, or HIFA.  With six days of performances in theatre, dance, and music, as well as exhibitions in the visual arts, HIFA is the highlight of Zimbabwe’s arts calendar, and also the highlight of the social calendar for many!  During HIFA, we are privileged to attend performances by world renowned artists and musicians.  And every evening, we party well into the night!

We’ve just finished this year’s HIFA, which began last week, and featured artists including Malian legend Salif Keita, Haitian musician Emeline Michel, Portuguese fado singer Mafalda Arnauth, and the London Festival Opera.  Among the highlights of the festival was the opening show, a production of Carmina Burana featuring local artists as well as members of the London Festival Opera.

Thanks to tickets donated by visiting author Cai Emmons, six members of Tariro’s traditional dance group, as well as our instructor Daniel Inasiyo, were able to attend one or more shows at this year’s festival.  Tariro students watched WoCalling, a collaborative performance by women musicians and dancers from Zimbabwe, in addition to a dance production featuring dancers in training at the Dance Foundation Course run through Zimbabwe’s National Ballet.

Tariro students at Step Africa's performance

The highlight of the performances that our students attended during the festival, however, was definitely Step Africa, whose performance at HIFA was sponsored by the US Embassy in Harare.  This African-American step company performs an energetic style of dance and body percussion similar to South African gumboot.  A uniquely African-American form of expression, step nonetheless resonates strongly with Zimbabwean audiences, who are already familiar with gumboot and other forms of traditional percussive dance.  Our students absolutely loved the show, as we could tell by their excited cheers throughout most of the performance!

Tariro students with Step Africa dancers backstage

After the show Tariro students had the opportunity to go back stage and meet the performers, who spoke about their experiences as professional dancers.  The five Tariro students who attended this show all live in Epworth, an extremely disadvantaged neighborhood without electricity or running water.  As they seldom speak English even at school, they were extremely shy to interact with the dancers.  However, in discussion with dance instructor Daniel Inasiyo, the girls opened up and talked about what they had learned from this performance.  Many of the girls commented that the show had taught them that creativity is not dependent on material objects, and that it is possible to make music and dance using just the body alone.  It seems to me that this is an especially important lesson for girls living in resource-poor settings, and a very unique way that Step Africa was able to communicate across cultural and class boundaries.  The girls also emphasized how much the show had taught them about conveying confidence and expression as performers.  As well, they said they finally understood why we keep trying to encourage them to smile when they are performing!

Step Africa in action

Finally, our instructor Daniel Inasiyo observed that attending this performance was extremely helpful for him as a professional dance teacher and choreographer, and gave him new ideas in his own work with our students.  Maybe we’ll even see some step performances in the future!  The girls are already talking about putting something together to perform for other students at this year’s empowerment camp…

HIFA was also an excellent place for me to network and make connections as executive director.  I’m excited about growing our programs in Zimbabwe, and expanding our local networks is one important way of doing this.  Thank you, readers, for your support on both sides of the Atlantic as we continue our mission of educating and empowering some of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable girls.

Tariro writing workshop: Reflections from author Cai Emmons

Tariro student Melody at a writing workshop held by author Cai Emmons

Today, I’m sharing author Cai Emmons’s reflections on the writing workshop held for Tariro students last weekend, as well as the remaining three short stories written by participants in the workshops.  Enjoy reading!  Here is Cai’s account of the writing workshop:

On Sunday morning I led a writing workshop with 6 of the Tariro girls who came to Jennifer’s house.  I had decided that I would try to get them to think about character as that pertains to the writing of fiction and often to non-fiction writing as well.

We began by talking about other people: through how they look, how they speak, how they behave, through what others say of them.  Though initially they were shy about speaking, I teased and cajoled them and tried not to fill the silences myself, and eventually they began to talk.  “What have you learned about me and how have you learned it?” I asked and they had plenty of answers!

We then read aloud some excerpts from stories by Sandra Cisneros and Charles Baxter.  We talked about how they created characters on the page, and I encouraged them to be specific in citing text that informed them about the characters.

After a muffin and tea break, I asked them to write about a character of their choosing, either fictional or from their own lives.  I gave them about 15 minutes to work and afterwards we read the results aloud.  You will be (or have been) reading some of the results.

I look forward to working with these students again, over a period of days, perhaps at next year’s empowerment camp.  I would like them to understand the value of rewriting, and to claim writing as a powerful tool for self-expression and for expressing reactions to the world at large.

I loved working with these girls who are so much in the thick of discovering what they have to offer the world.

And here are the remaining stories…



From the day her husband died people turned their backs on her.  They thought that she was responsible for her husband’s death.

Because of the four children she had, she didn’t give up.  Jean worked very hard so that her children would be educated.   She was a very humble person and most of the people admired her.  Some of the people respected the work she was doing because in her community widows find it difficult to go on with their lives without their husbands.  Her children shared the pain, sorrow and humiliation with their mother from their relatives.  It is said that learning much, suffering much and studying much are the three pillars of education, that’s what her first son did.  He was highly educated and was able to look after his mother and his other brothers.

He thanked his mother because if it wasn’t for her, he would not be educated.

Jean lived happily because of being strong and not giving up on her family because of what other people think or say about her.



“There’s your water” Mary said handing Jane a glass.  Jane smiled graciously at her and waited until Mary had exited the room.  As soon as Mary was gone Jane took the water and poured it into a bowl clearly marked for Butch the family dog.  Jane crouched down on the rough wooden floor and started lapping the water using her toungue.  Just as Mary walked in… A few hours later Mary had been deciding which clothes to wear to dinner and had settled on a turquoise coloured dress, just then Jane walked in and started pulling the dress away from Mary- using her teeth.  Mary ended up wearing a torn dress covered in spirt to the restaurant…. Moonlight shone through the window.  Mary woke up and alked across the room to the window.  She looked out and saw Jane sitting on a rock in the garden.  Mary snuck outside.  The darkness was here and there was no sound except a loud piercing howl.  “I knew it” Mary said walking nearer.  Mary saw Jane start to get hairy and saw very sharp teetch replace Janes normal ones.  Just then Jane let out a piercing howl.  Mary realized she had gotten her suspisions all wrong- Jane wasn’t half dog, She was part-warewolf…



I had been admiring him for quite a long time and finally this other day, he was there, standing alone, leaning on a wall, with his legs crossed and his arms crossed at his chest.  His shoulders revealing a muscular somebody; somebody who is energetic and very active.  His handsome face was enlightened by a shining smile.  Slowly, he then said, “Hie, my name is Taurai, would you mind if we can talk for a while.”  Without any hesitation, I told him that I was not rushing anywhere so it was nice to have a small chat with him.  We started talking about our backgrounds and the conversation ended up being an intimate one as we gradually discovered that we were both interested in each other.  He was someone who was very open and this was the right man I was looking for!

Watch out for chapter 2

Aspiring women writers: A Tariro workshop with author Cai Emmons

Writing workshop with author Cai Emmons

One of the reasons I’ve been posting less frequently on the blog during the past few weeks is that I’ve been busy hosting a Tariro visitor here in Zimbabwe.  Today, I’d like to tell you a bit about her visit.

Cai Emmons, a published author and professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon, is deeply involved in supporting Tariro’s work, and has been visiting to get to know our girls and see our programs in action.  This past Sunday, five Tariro students, accompanied by two other young women participating as guests of the program, took part in a creative writing workshop facilitated by Cai.  After reading excerpts of work by Sandra Cisneros and Charles Baxter, the girls discussed what goes into developing a fictional character, and practiced writing short excerpts which they then presented to the group.

Tariro students Pauline, Rachel, and Melody at the writing workshop

The girls invited to participate in the workshop included Tatenda and Daphine, who recently finished their A levels and plan to attend university this coming year, as well as Pauline, a Tariro student working toward her degree at the University of Zimbabwe.  These three university level students were joined by Rachel and Melody, two of our more advanced O level students, in addition to two invited guests, Lillian and Chiedza.   Tatenda and Melody have both been profiled in previous posts, if you are interested in reading more about these two individual girls.

Today, I’m including four of the seven pieces written by the girls during the workshop for you to read.  I’ll post the other three sometime early next week.  I’ve left the pieces written by the girls unedited, so that you will get a feel not only for their individual voices as writers, but also for the level of their writing.


From the way she looked, one would tell what sort of a person she was.  Getty was a very hardworking woman who looked after her two daughters well.  She was also a widow.  She was very strict and sometimes said to her daughter, “when you are sharpening your pencils, the pencil is the one which is supposed to turn around and not the sharpener.”  She always had to go to other people’s fields to work so as to earn a living.  Getty’s mother was old and she was the one responsible for taking care of her mother and her two daughters.

One day, she became sick.  She did not have money for the hospital bills and her first daughter, Melody, had to take care of her, clean up all the messes.  She had T.B. and had a big ulcer at the back of her leg.  The doctors could not find the cure for her wound or ulcer.  Day after day, she continued to be worse and finally she died, living her daughter with no one to look after them.

Maybe if I was a doctor, I would have helped her.

NB. This made me think f becoming a doctor so as to save other children’s mother’s lives.


As she walked into the kitchen, there was silence.  The only sound that could be heard was that of a clock tocking on the wall, and as usual the annoying sound of the metal spoon hitting the dhaga plate coming from little Zanile.  Mrs. Tubili strolled to her usual place and dragged the chair so she could sit.  It was time for dinner.

She had black short curly hair that she liked to maintain.  She was tall and dark and that evening she was looking stunning in her grey outfit which was probably one of her favourites.  Mrs. Tubili tapped her fingers on the table as she looked at her empty plate.  Everyone knew what that meant.  Melissa who was younger than Karen stood up to dish her food.  It was mufushwa and sadza.  She didn’t finish dishing the last of the relish as she had noticed the facial expression on her difcicult mother.

“Well, what do we have here my dear?  If its not those dried greens again that your father keep bringing from the village all the time.  She drew her chair from the table and stood up firmly.  “I shall have spaghetti and plain sauce for dinner and I want it in 10 minutes.”  Mrs. Tubili walked away leaving everyone speechless.


When I have a problem, I don’t hesitate, I just rush to Rosinah, Why? because she is so caring; politely, “are you okay” she always ask me.  She is also someone who is down to earth, she never boast about herself though she is capable of boasting, rather she is an incourager, “I know you can do it!” those are always her words whenever we are together.  She even incourage me to work hard, “sweat for sweet dear, and this is the most reason why I like her.

What else can I say about this nice woman, she is nice more than the word nice itself, I would like to believe that she is a gift from heaven to her community and family, and I am sure everyone who saw her will confess the words “ichi chipo chedenga.”  Aa-ah she is my role model.


Its dawn everyone is in the house, except one.  “Do we want this person to come home tonight?” I asked myself as I say relaxed in the our sitting room.  The back door opened, we looked at each other with our eyes wide open.  Within a second we had everything in order- “Bang,” the door shuts and the ocrridor floor makes strange sounds.  We here footsteps like those of an elephant getting closer.  I feel like crying, running away, “What do I do?  I hate this time of the day, worse still, ‘today.’  Jane is worse, she has drawned herself in the left porch near the French door, with her pal face.  I knoe her heart is pounding very hard, I am afraid she might find it in her arms.  We broke the Mazda 203 window and now the boss is here.  Daddy will kill us.  Evening we all said, He sits down opens his newspaper and says manheru as if we didn’t welcome him first.  anyway, “that’s him” a serious man indeed, we don’t even remember a second we saw him smile, do we know the color of his teeth, I don’t think so.

The group at the writing workshop