Changing people’s perceptions and behaviours based on cultural, political and traditional practices is not a mean feat, especially in rural areas where such practices are a matter of course. This is the mammoth task faced by Marvel Acts Youth Organisation (Mayo) based in Mutoko.
As a result they have named their one of their campaigns “Changing the river’s flow series”.
“We have partnered Padare and SafAids in this campaign to influence positive perceptions and behaviours in communities in the face of the menacing HIV and Aids pandemic,” said the executive director of Mayo, Abel Mavhura.
Although the young men and women are based in Mutoko, their influential tentacles have reached other areas.
“We have spread our wings to other areas that include Mudzi, Murehwa and Shamva and it is our hope that we will become a nationwide organisation with time,” Mavhura said.
“Our main thrust is to change people’s behaviours in this era of HIV and Aids, especially behaviours rooted in negative cultural practices such as polygamy and appeasing evil spirits by marrying off young virgins, among other things,” Emmanuel Manyati, the programme officer, said.
The organisation has now been accepted as an important institution by the local communities.
Headman Robinson Chamanga of Chamanga Village in Makosa area in Mutoko, who is also the overall head of Chimoyo Ward B was full of praises for the youthful organisation.
“We are working well with these young men and women because they are helping communities with information about diseases such as Aids and they are also helping us with development issues. As the local leadership, our wish is that other youths emulate them for the development of our areas,” he said.
“They teach youths a lot in the community especially on issues to do with Aids, abstinence and development and we encourage the youths to attend their informative gatherings.
“The community now appreciates us because they are giving us material and moral support unlike in the beginning,” Mavhura said. Manyati chipped in to add: “The community now helps us with food in the form of maize meal and vegetables, among other things, when we have large gatherings.”
It was not a rosy path that led them to where they are today.
Mayo was established at Makosa in 2003, becoming operational in 2005 and the initial thrust was modified to suit the realities on the ground.
“I grew up in a rural set-up and I noted that most youths would roam the villages doing nothing after completing “O” Level and I decided to initiate what could gainfully occupy the youths so that they would desist from misdemeanours that would lead to drug abuse, HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies,” narrated Mavhura, who is the brains behind the project.
The organisation started as a club with both youths and adults but this arrangement soon brewed problems.
“Adults wanted to lead. They would not listen to our ideas and we decided to go it alone as young people because we wanted positive cultural and behavioural changes concomitant with development. We approached an embassy that promised to assist us to start an orphanage and a vocational training centre but this could not take off because of political interference,” he said sadly.
“We then embarked on income-generating projects such as nursing trees and making freezits for sale, among others,” he said.
“Our breakthrough was in 2005 when Lucy Mazingi of Youth Empowerment trust (Yet) identified us and facilitated small grants for us. We then registered in 2007 as a Trust and we began to get sponsorship from Culture Fund. We have trained 13 theatre groups in Mutoko as a result,” Manyati expounded.
“We have now partnered Plan International in their youth education programme and I must hasten to say that our partnerships with Plan International and Yet have borne fruit as these two organisations have assisted with institutional funding enabling us to hire qualified personnel for our projects,” said Mavhura.
Culture Fund is a very important partner for Mayo because drama is one of their main conduits for information dissemination.
“Our thrust is on transformational theatre in order to effectively address deeply rooted and negative cultural norms,” said Steven Nyamunda, who is the organisation’s head of department for theatre development.
“Our theatre group comprises members from different areas and this enables us to address practical problems from those different areas. We have Mayo senior and junior drama groups. We have often witnessed people crying after our plays confessing that we had touched on their problems. Our performance discussions are very helpful. We get feedback from people and we incorporate this into our plays,” he said.
As a result of their approach to information dissemination, Mayo have become a multi-pronged organisation.
“We have trained a number of drama groups in various schools and villages.
“We use innovative ways to make youths interested in our information dissemination meetings.
“Apart from drama we also use sporting events to entice youths to our programmes and these have become hubs for talent identification. Alvin Mubvakure and Gabriel Musodza were scooped by Premiership side Gunners Footbal Club after they were identified at one of our soccer tournaments.
“We have started a young women’s symposium programme that has seen young women participate in identifying and finding solutions to relevant problems.
“This has opened a window of opportunity as women have become empowered,” said Mavhura.
“We are also creating employment for the youth. We have 15 full-time employees and as the institution grows, we will definitely employ more youths and our policy is that we take people from local communities,” said the young director.
Apart from financial problems, the group faces challenges from politicians who want to push their political agendas without “interference”.
“Right now we have suspended our peace building programme because some influential politicians are not comfortable with it. They think we have political agendas, but we don’t. All we want to do is to teach the youths to co-exist with others in communities peacefully,” Mavhura explained.
One elder aptly summed up what the local community feels about the organisation:
“We are blessed to have such young men and women in our community. They are doing a wonderful job to build the future of their fellow youths in this menacing world.”