Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Remembering Senzeni within a wider Zimbabwean context

Senzeni jpeg

This photo shows Tariro’s librarian Senzeni Matikiti in 1995.

Today, I want to take a few more minutes to address the recent death of Senzeni Matikiti, Tariro’s beloved librarian. While my first post about Senzeni’s passingwas a more personal reflection on how she became involved in Tariro’s work, I also feel it is important to reflect on how Senzeni’s very early death, at only 35 years old, is part of a much large constellation of issues of health, education, poverty, and social justice – the very issues that Tariro is dedicating to addressing in our work to educate at-risk girls.

Life expectancies in Zimbabwe

When I heard the news that Senzeni had died, I was immediately reminded that her early death was sadly not an unusual event in Zimbabwe, where life expectancy dropped precipitously in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By 2006, Zimbabwe had the world’s shortest life spans – 34 years for women, and 37 years for men. Recent reports from organizations such as the World Bank suggest that life expectancies have improved in recent years, reaching 60 years for women and 56 years for men. Yet, these numbers are still lower than Zimbabwe’s average life expectancy in the 1980s, suggesting that HIV/AIDS has erased many of the health gains made immediately after independence.

The thinning population pyramid

In the lyrics to his song “Mabasa,” which addresses the ravages of HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwean popular artist Oliver Mtukudzi sings the poignant lines:

The young lead the way (Pwere dzotungamira)
The workers lead the way (Mushandi wotungamira)
Only elderly men and women are left (Sare chembere neharahwa)

Mtukudzi’s lyrics reflect exactly how HIV/AIDS and related diseases have affected the “population pyramid” in countries like Zimbabwe, by hollowing out an entire generation of people in the most productive years of their lives: teachers, farmers, mothers, fathers, nurses, and traders. Let’s take a moment to view some graphics illustrating the devastating social effects of this process.

Normally, developing countries like Zimbabwe have a population pyramid that tapers evenly, from a large base of dependent young people, through a mid-sized group of workers in their productive years, and to a small number of dependent elderly people. The following chart, while illustrates the population pyramid of Mozambique, is an excellent example:

Population pyramid, Mozambique. From the BBC.

Population pyramid, Mozambique. From the BBC.

In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, the population pyramid radically thins out just at the ages of 35-39, as we might expect after the drop in life expectancy over previous decades. While Zimbabwe is located right next to Mozambique, its population pyramid thus looks very different:

Population pyramid, Zimbabwe. From Indexmundi.

Population pyramid, Zimbabwe. From Indexmundi.

The shape of Zimbabwe’s population pyramid reflects the predictions made by scholars interested in demographic changes in countries affected by HIV/AIDS, as you can see in the following illustration, which predicts the relative population of low-income countries affected by HIV/AIDS, represented by the dark shaded area, in comparison with those unaffected by HIV/AIDS, represented by the light shaded area. Note how closely the prediction for countries affected by HIV/AIDS matches Zimbabwe’s actual population pyramid.

Population pyramid model illustrated the effects of HIV/AIDS. www.sarpn.org

Population pyramid model illustrated the effects of HIV/AIDS. http://www.sarpn.org

As people in the prime of their lives are lost to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the effects are felt not only on an individual, family basis, but throughout society as a whole. Their loss is, in a very real sense, everyone’s loss. When I think back to the invaluable role Senzeni played within Tariro, I think of all the people whom she interacted with in her professional life: our students, their guardians, their teachers and headmasters, our other staff. For each of these people, Senzeni’s death is a narrowing of their professional and social world.


Yet, needless to say, the deepest pain of Senzeni’s death is that felt by her two children, Jesse and Tinashe, both of whom are still under the age of 18. Senzeni was an amazing mother: no matter how hard things were, Jesse and Tinashe were always dressed in cleaned, well-ironed clothes, and always had a smile on their faces. It was obviously how much they respected and loved their mom, and no one will ever be able to fill that gap in their lives.

Jesse and Tinashe now join the ranks of almost a million orphans living in Zimbabwe, all of whom have lost either one or both parents. Among these orphans, Jesse and Tinashe are among the most disadvantaged, because they are now “double orphans,” rather than “single orphans” who have lost only one parent.

In a country of only 10-12 million inhabitants, the problems of caring for nearly a million orphaned children should be clearly evident. Who will take them in, feed the, and pay their school fees? Who will be able to spare the extra time to wash and iron their clothes, pack their lunches, and protect them from abuse? And who can muster the extra emotional energy to guide them through the trauma and grief of losing not one, but often multiple family members?

The many pressing needs of Zimbabwe’s orphaned children is precisely the site where Tariro has chosen to intervene in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Instead of institutionalizing orphans, our approach is to strengthen the ability of their extended families to keep them at home and care for them. Your support and generous donations have been essential in enabling us to make this difference.

Tariro’s Executive Director Kenny Magwada recently reported that Senzeni’s children have been taken in by an uncle who lives in Highfield, not far away from where they used to live. This is excellent news, since it will minimize further disruptions to their education. Yet, the road will be very long and difficult for both of them. Tinashe, in particular, was supposed to write his O Level exams this year. So soon after his mother’s death, however, it is likely that he will not pass. And there are no guarantees that they will be able to continue living in the same neighborhood, or with the same relatives, until finishing secondary school. As long as they are still in Highfield, however, Tariro is dedicated to supporting their education in Senzeni’s memory.

Infections and inequalities

Borrowing a phrase from the amazing work of Dr. Paul Farmer, the last point I believe it is important to make is that Senzeni’s death from tuberculosis reflects the way many modern infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and now also ebola, have become diseases of the poor. Relatively rare in developed nations, they have become entrenched in places like Haiti and Guinea, and are also endemic within pockets of institutionalized poverty, including many prison systems.

Yet, as Paul Farmer has long argued, these conditions are not simply private problems; they are public health problems, with important ramifications for all of us. From Russian prisons, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB, threatens to spill over into the larger Eastern Eauropean population. From Sierra Leonean districts like Kenema, Ebola eventually reaches Dakar, Madrid, New York City, Dallas, and Kayes. Among these infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS has taken the greatest human toll; it is also implicated in the spread of other opportunistic infections, like TB.

In order to successfully change this dynamic, Farmer argues that we must move away from explanations that rely on dubious assertions about “culture” – the idea that people in Guinea engage in dangerous burial practices, for example – and toward addressing the structural problems that create the conditions for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB, and Ebola to spread. Foremost among them is, quite simply, poverty.

Once again, it is here that Tariro is participating in creating small, but radical change, since educating women is the single best way to transform poverty. Our mission is one of empowering girls not simply to transcend the problem of infections and inequalities, but to participate in changing the very conditions by which the two become linked. Please join us.

In memory of Senzeni Matikiti

Tariro program officer Senzeni Matikiti (center), pictured together with other Tariro staff members Fadzie (left) and Daniel (right). Photo: Tessa Munson Wood

Tariro program officer Senzeni Matikiti (center), pictured together with other Tariro staff members Fadzie (left) and Daniel (right). Photo: Tessa Munson Wood

It is with very deep sadness that I write this post informing you of the recent death of Tariro’s librarian and program officer, Senzeni Matikiti. In addition to working with Tariro, Senzeni was a close personal friend, whom I have known since my first trip to Zimbabwe, in 1995. My feelings after losing Senzeni are too big to fit in a single post. Today, I want to give you a glimpse into Senzeni’s life and work. I will follow this with another post early next week honoring Senzeni’s experience, and reflecting on how her life speaks to a much larger, Zimbabwean story.

1995: Meeting Senzeni

Originally from Mukodzongi village in Chiweshe, Senzeni came to Harare as a teenager, where she lived with one of her female relatives, whose name was Kesi Chauruka. In a typical trade for adolescent girls, Senzeni helped the Chauruka family with various household tasks, cooking and leaning in exchange for her food and lodging. When I first met Senzeni in 1995, we were both fifteen years old.

Obviously, there were major differences between us. While Senzeni was no longer attending school, I attended a prestigious public IB program in Eugene, Oregon. While Senzeni had little access to any kind of financial resources, I had the ability to travel halfway around the world in order to study Zimbabwean music. Nevertheless, we developed the kind of friendship that often results from extended, daily interactions. Frequently, we walked to Machipisa market together to do the daily shopping for the Chauruka family. We also sat for long hours around the family’s cooking fire in the evenings, stumbling to converse in each other’s languages. By the left I left, we had developed a close friendship, which would last for nearly twenty years.

1997: Returning to Zimbabwe

When I returned to Zimbabwe in 1997, Senzeni was no longer living with the Chauruka family. Near the end of my stay in 1995, one of the residents of the Chauruka household, a woman named Mai Ndasara, had passed away of an undefined illness. Shortly after this, her widowed husband, Baba Ndasara, took Senzeni as his new wife, and moved out of the Chauruka compound.

Now, Senzeni had a son, whom she named Tinashe, or “God is with us.” While we no longer saw each other every day, she hadn’t moved far, and we still frequently encountered each other walking through the streets of our neighborhood, a high-density township called Highfield.

2008: Senzeni falls ill

After several short trips to Zimbabwe over the years, I finally returned for another year-long stay in 2008, in order to begin fieldwork for my PhD dissertation in ethnomusicology. Returning to Highfield to visit old friends, I quickly learned that Senzeni’s husband had died since my last visit, and she herself was now seriously ill.

Greeting my old friend, I was struck by the desperation apparent on her face. Long stricken with asthma, Senzeni now seemed to have a serious respiratory infection, and was struggling to breathe. She also had a skin condition affecting much of her scalp, and was thin to the point of appearing emaciated. With no steady income, she had resorted to buying popsicles, known locally as “freezits,” in bulk, which she then resold our of her home freezer to neighborhood children walking home from school. Obviously, this creative economic activity didn’t produce enough income for Senzeni’s family, especially as she now had a young daughter, named Jesse, in addition to her son Tinashe.

2009: New hope

Much to the consternation of Tariro’s old program coordinator, Fadzie, I tend to act immediately whenever I feel I might be able to make a difference. Indeed, I quickly sprang into action after visiting Senzeni, arranging for her to see a doctor in the nearby neighborhood of Glen Norah, and paying for her to fill prescriptions to treat each of her various conditions. Going even further out on a limb, I offered Senzeni a part-time job as a librarian at Tariro.

Of course, this wasn’t in our budget, so I paid her salary out of my own pocket, never telling her that her position was anything less than completely official. While she received only $100 a month for her work, this was an incredible sum in comparison to what she had previously been trying to survive on. Relieving her of some of the burden of paying school fees, I also enrolled her daughter, Jesse, in Tariro’s sponsorship program.

2012: Our invaluable librarian

Senzeni threw herself into her work with Tariro with unparalleled enthusiasm. In addition to staffing our lending library, she gradually began to take on a much wider role within the organization. In monthly updates from our program coordinator Fadzie, for example, I started encountering phrases like these:

“Senzeni has been amazing with following up, and making sure our receipts meet the standard we have set for ourselves.”

“Senzeni is currently paying all the fees I couldn’t pay.”

“Senzeni and I have completed most of the home/school visits.”

“Senzeni and I compiled a report which we have submitted to Mercy Corps showing how the funds were expensed as well as the signatures of all the students who benefited from the grant.”

“I do have another copy of the students register, compiled by Senzeni.”

By 2012, Senzeni had already been made an official staff member at Tariro. Yet it was becoming clear that she was much more than simply a librarian. In response, Tariro’s board president, Easther Chigumira, suggested that we raise her salary. In recognition of her invaluable assistance to Tariro, board members voted unanimously to double her salary to $200 per month, giving her a very decent income by Zimbabwean standards.

2014: Mourning Senzeni

While Senzeni’s health had improved somewhat, she was still frequently too ill to come to work over the years. In September, I heard from Tariro’s new Executive Director, Kenny Magwada, that Senzeni was now seriously ill, and seeking treatment at Harare Hospital, a government institution. Soon, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and transferred to the Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital. I told Kenny to contact me if there was anything I could do, and asked for Senzeni’s telephone number to call her.

A short time later, I received word that Senzeni had been discharged, and was now at home. Visiting me in Rochester was Cosmas Magaya, a wonderful Zimbabwean mbira player, and one of our Zimbabwean trustees. Together, we called Senzeni to see how she was doing. Both of us were shocked at how ill she sounded. In another sign that her illness was very serious, her mother had traveled from the rural areas to care for her.

Once again, I sprang into action, asking friends in Zimbabwean for referrals to a private specialist, and contacting other friends whom I thought might be able to help arrange transportation for Senzeni, as well as covering the initial costs of her visit. As plans were being put into place for this to happen, I received the news that on the morning of October 12th, Senzeni was transported by ambulance back to Beatrice, where she died.

Yesterday, Kenny traveled to Senzeni’s rural home of Mukodzongi Village to attend her burial. Please join me in saying, “Nematambudziko,” or “We share your sorrow,” to Senzeni’s family, especially her mother, and her children Jesse and Tinashe. And if you play mbira, please play a song for my dear friend.    

A special Saturday for Tariro Girls !

Board members visiting…

Saturday was another special day for the Tariro Girls. Usually the girls meet for traditional dance practice and general meetings. However this one was a bit different as they mixed and interacted with two of Tariro’s board members who were in the country visiting. The two, Dr Stephanie Bengtsson and Dr Jo Ailwood are faculty members at the School of Education at the University of Newcastle Australia.


Words of advice: The girls listen attentively as Jo illustrates a point.

The day started with Jo and Stephanie giving the girls some career guidance. After that the girls showcased some of their marimba music and traditional dances. As if to reciprocate the girls were treated to some Zumba and Salsa dancing lessons from Stephanie ( she is a licensed Zumba instructor). It was indeed, a jovial atmosphere for everyone – releasing stress and strengthening the body!


On the dance floor: Stephanie leading the girls through some Zumba moves.

Gifts Gifts Gifts!

To put the icing on the cake, the girls received gift bags from Stephanie and Jo. In those bags was an assortment of stationery as well as sanitary ware. The girls were quite thankful for the gifts and couldn’t hide their joy.

Stephanie and Jo’s visit was a much needed morale booster for our girls. Not only did they have fun but they also benefited from the career guidance from professionals as well as invaluable gifts that will go a long way in empowering them.

The girls listening to Jo and Steph while holding their gift bags

The girls listening to Jo and Steph while holding their gift bags

Third and final term begins!

The third and final term of the Zimbabwean academic calendar has started, considered by some as the shortest; it comes as the defining term for most students who will be sitting for their national examinations. We have students in Tariro who will be writing their final examinations this term. Three of them will be writing their grade seven examinations, this examination is a terminal examination for the primary school students, and they will be going to secondary level.

Grade seven candidates

This year it will be Rufaro M, Fadzai M and Noleen C; These girls will be seating for their Grade Seven examinations in October. Fadzai and Rufaro  have, behind them, a satisfactory academic performance and we even featured them in previous blogs for having won academic prizes of excellence. Most of you may now be familiar with Noleen C, a special needs student whom we sponsor. She is is quite excited about writing her final examinations.

Four subjects, Maths, English, an indigenous language , General paper (a combination of natural and social sciences) will be examined at the Grade Seven examinations.

Noleen C at her home in Norton

Noleen C at her home in Norton

We would like to wish our girls all the best as they seek to crossover from primary to secondary education. This is also an opportunity for us to thank those of you who have been assisting us to realize our mission of educating and empowering young women and girls in communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

Fadzai displaying a certificate of academic excellence that she was awarded when at the end of her grade 6 year.

More of our girls for University!

Well, after a long break, we return with some good news.

Two of our girls, Edwinner S. and Jestina T. have been accepted into university. Both will be studying at Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE).

Edwinner will be studying towards a Bachelor of Science degree in Social work while Jestina will be taking a Bachelor of Science degree in peace and governance. this brings the total number of Tariro beneficiaries to  6. ( Just to refresh your memory, we already have Politness N. and Melody M. at the University of Zimbabwe, Tariro K. at BUSE and Pamela K. at Harare Polytechnic college)

To Jestina and Edwinner, we wish you a fruitful academic journey ahead and we promise to be faithful companions just like in the times past.

Edwinner (L) and Jestina (R) are bound for Bindura University of Science Education

Edwinner (L) and Jestina (R) are bound for Bindura University of Science Education

Meet one of our rising stars Rufaro M.

‘To be educated means… I will not only be able to help myself, but also my family,
my country, my people. The benefits will be many.’

These touching words were said by Meda Wagtole, a schoolgirl from Ethiopia and they are full of promise and hope for improved individuals, families, communities and the world at large.

In today’s post, I am quite happy to note that most of our beneficiaries carry the same sentiment. Let me introduce to you one of our promising star, Rufaro M. Rufaro stays with her father who is also struggling to make ends meet as a vendor in Zimbabwe’s constricting economy.

Rufaro is doing her grade 7 at Chembira primary school. While in Shona language  “rufaro” means happiness Rufaro’s story has been a capricious one with her missing out school due to non-payment of fees, lacking food and adequate clothing.

Fortunately, Rufaro is bright in school and last term she got an award for academic excellence. Rufaro is also active in Traditional dance and last year her team at Chembira reached the traditional dance provincial finals where they emerged on position 3. She is also an integral member of the Tariro dance ensemble.

Rufaro wishes to be a doctor and help other less privileged children in her situation. She is thankful to Tariro for the help she is getting and has never missed school due to non payment of fees or uniforms ever since.

At Tariro, we are glad to be assisting her as we know that odds against her are being lessened with each year of basic education that she gets.

ImageRufaro M in her traditional dance regalia, after a performance.

Our Girls sailing High!

We are happy that the first term is coming close to an end and once again we find joy in the work we are doing. As many of you know, this is the term that our beneficiaries who would have written their O and A levels in the previous year receive their results. Well, just like in the years past our girls have defeated unimaginable odds to emerge victorious and empowered.

The A level results came first and we had an enviable pass rate of 80%. Our girls are waiting to get into university and other tertiary institutions and we are hoping for the best.

Next were the O level results in which we had our students doing exceptionally well, here we had a pass rate of 63% against the national pass rate of 20.72%. Currently 7 out of the 9 beneficiaries who sat for their O levels last year have been accepted into A level.

Yet as happy as we are we never forget to thank all our donors and all our friends who support us. We thank you for helping our girls outmaneuver the throes of poverty, disease, and abuse and establish themselves as empowered individuals.

Below are some of the girls who did us proud.


Pride R.


Gillian M