Saturday, June 09, 2007

Helping Each Other: A Zimbabwean Feast

The world has many holidays to be celebrated, many guests to be welcomed, many special occasions to be recognized and many accomplishments to honor. In other words, there are many good reasons to hold a feast. Last Saturday, the women of Batsiranai held a feast to an honor an accomplishment – their own.

I have been meaning to write about this amazing group of women for a long time. The members of Batsiranai are mothers of disabled children who live in a township on the outskirts of Harare. Living in this township is hard enough – inflation constantly erodes the value of the money in your purse; electricity, water and telephone services come and go; many residents lost their homes in a government “clean-up” operation two years ago. Having a child with a disability creates additional challenges. Across Zimbabwe, it is common for husbands to leave their wives if they give birth to a child with a disability, as the woman is thought to be cursed. For the same reason, these women and their children often find it difficult to secure housing – no one wants to rent to them. And, of course, the mothers need to figure out how to get healthcare for their children in a country where the doctors are striking because of low pay and basic medicines are frequently unavailable.

Such circumstances would overwhelm the best of us. But Batsiranai means “helping each other” in Shona, and helping each other is the core of what these women do. By helping each other, the Batsiranai mothers have established a successful craft-making enterprise that enables their families to thrive. They sew, paint and embroider many different items – tote bags, purses, bookmarks, baby quilts, baby bibs, bottle-cap earrings, greeting cards and more. Attached to the women’s workshop is a day care centre where their children can rest and play while they work. A nearby hospital has an outreach team which regularly visits the center to talk to parents about how to help their children grow and develop. Batsiranai has other “helpers,” too, including volunteers who’ve made the day care center a welcoming place through colorful painting and donations of toys; volunteers who’ve connected them to retail markets outside of Zimbabwe; and all the people who buy their products.Last Saturday, Batsiranai celebrated a major accomplishment – the completion of an order for thousands of dolls. It was a huge project, and, to complete it on time, Batsiranai trained mothers of disabled children from other townships in how to make the dolls. The Batsiranai spirit is spreading. At the feast, one of the new recruits said, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to earn money; now we come home on Fridays with pay and our husbands have already done the ironing.”

And what was the menu for this feast? Beef, beef and more beef, plus sadza, cole slaw and a tomato and onion relish. And, just as important as the food, the feast was preceded by hours and hours and hours of singing and dancing.

You might not be able to make it to Batsiranai’s next feast, but you can certainly honor these women’s accomplishments by buying their fair trade-certified products. Their products are of very high quality, and make excellent gifts! Simply visit

(Full disclosure: my husband has volunteered with this group for almost two years!)


ExAfrica said...

What a lovely story. Finally...some good news out of Zim


Figs Olives Wine said...

What an incredible community and a huge accomplishment! Thanks for the link!

Ruth said...

The happy stories need more airtime around here. Good job on the cheerleading, Carolyn.

Jeanne said...

Great post Carolyn - brought tears to my eyes. It is always astonishing how people who face the greatest adversity can cope the best. I salute these wonderful, resourceful women - and yuor husband for his volunteer work :)