After all these months of waiting, I finally have my Zimbabwean work permit and officially started as Director of Hlekweni in April. It was quite a shock to hear that the permit had been approved – I had almost given up on it and we were starting to think of making plans to come back to the UK for good this summer. Instead, we have shifted into a new gear of preparing to be here for the next two years (thepermit is until Feb 2013), and being totally responsible for Hlekweni with all its rather pressing challenges.
The absolute poverty here is a constant source of frustration, and I am still struggling to adapt to a situation of absolute scarcity of all resources. As just one example; Moya and Jonathan's school has
been waiting for months to have a dangerously hanging classroom roof fixed – on investigation I discovered it was because there weren't any nails. I finally bought a bag of nails, but the work seems to be stalled again, pending the availability of something – perhaps we are out of hammers too...
Despite the general air of desperation about the place, there are also encouraging 'signs of hope' to help keep us going. The micro-credit scheme we have set up for the local community is working well, and focusing local people's energies on a renewed sense of possibility and self-reliance. The first loan we made was $160 to a group of women who are making Ndebele bead jewellery, and as well as selling to overseas visitors they are starting to become a fashion item around Hlekweni
too. I have designed a business plan template which lots of other groups are using to develop their small business proposals, and our farm manager Lungisani has led a workshop on business planning for the community. One local man told me how important it was to him that Hlekweni is now doing something to help the community who live here, as well as the people from rural areas who we provide training to. Moya and Jonathan are still having a great time, now just starting their month-long Easter holiday. Jonathan has introduced the local boys to the joy of home-made bows and arrows – there was a little band of them playing Robin Hood the other day. Moya has been helping sometimes at the Hlekweni library, reading stories to younger children as well as joining in with the new games club for local children (pictured).
Things in Zimbabwe generally are quite worrying. On the positive side, the economy is continuing to recover, with more foodstuffs available in the shops and businesses re-opening. Politically, the situation is deteriorating, as the security services and youth militias are being used intimidate the population in advance of elections. Hlekweni is still an oasis of peacefulness, and we haven't encountered any trouble ourselves – in fact this is probably the safest place to be in the
whole country. It is dispiriting to see the hopes of Zimbabwean people being crushed out of them though, as they feel totally powerless to change their situation. Despite their envy of the revolutions in North Africa, no-one I have spoken to sees any prospect of something similar here, where the army is so solidly and ruthlessly behind the current regime.
We are all looking forward to our holiday in the UK in June, where we are all being put up by some of our wonderfully hospitable friends. I have got a few speaking/fundraising events lined up, including a talk on 29th June at Friends House in central London, 6-8pm.
Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed, written letters and sent wonderful parcels. It is a highlight of our week to visit the Post Office where there is almost always something waiting for us as a reminder of all the love and support that keeps us going. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and stay in touch – there are more photos and news articles on our new website at: www.hlekweni.org and we are also on Facebook at: www.tinyurl.com/hlekweni