“As a mother it is not easy to accept that you have actually given birth to a disabled child. It is traumatic, especially if the child is your first born,” said Margaret Mugwisi, a committee member for Batsiranai in Dzivaresekwa, a women’s group that assists mothers with disabled children cope with socio-economic and emotional challenges.
“After giving birth you might not even be aware that your child is disabled. Doctors see it first and when you are informed you are traumatised. Men usually blame women for giving birth to disabled children and one can be divorced for that. In a patriarchal society such as ours, the men’s relatives may also torment you, accusing you of bringing a chikwambo (goblin) into their family. The community also looks at you with an accusatory eye,” Mugwisi said.
Such problems are precisely what Batsiranai helps its members overcome through counselling, social and economic empowerment.
The group, operating under the banner of Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children, was formed in 1998 at Dzivaresekwa Community Hall.
“Initially we came together to give each other moral support and encouragement as mothers with disabled children,” Mugwisi explained.
“We were then assisted by a white lady Pippa Curling who facilitated our training in making small animal figures for sale.”
Curling, of whom the group speaks highly, left them in the hands of Lynn Pool, who had great influence in shaping the organisation’s destiny.
“Lynn was very encouraging and she helped us find our own place where we could work with little disturbance. Lynn assisted us to buy this house in 2004. We came here with nothing, nothing at all. We did not have a single machine to use,” recalled Mugwisi.
The women were not deterred; with training, careful organisation, common sense, commitment and business acumen, they have transformed themselves from insignificant housewives with disabled children to astute and confident businesspeople with an eye for a greater future.
“We now have a bank account, machines, computers, our own place with a crèche and teachers whom we pay from our own coffers. We are now on the Internet and this enables us to capture the international market for our products. We market through friends, exhibitions at fairs and lately through Oxfam Australia. We work closely with shipping agents to ease export problems,” Mugwisi proudly elaborated.
Maideyi Siyakurima, the organisation’s secretary, said: “We rely on orders for our products for survival. When people place orders, we then make the required items. Each member is paid according to the number of pieces she produces. When the member is paid, the product now belongs to the organisation and the proceeds from the subsequent sales are pooled to make the organisation survive.”
But how do they pay members (the group has 26 members)?
Rosemary Muchero, another committee member, explained how they do it.
“We have a template for the labour costs of producing each item. If there is a new item, we calculate the costs and add them onto the template so that each member is aware of how much she is paid for producing a specific item. So a member is paid on the basis of the labour cost of producing an item multiplied by the number of items produced.”
It is this ability to scientifically organise themselves that has kept the organisation intact and growing. They have a neat division of labour structure.
“We have a crèche with two trained teachers and two assistants who prepare food. These are on fixed salary. Then we have those who work on the products. Then we have those who are responsible for marketing, sales and accounting,” Muchero explained.
A seven-member committee runs the organisation. All committee members are elected. Margaret is the longest-serving committee member.
She is also a founder member of the organisation. However she believes people need to give every member an opportunity to be on the committee.
“Rotation is good as it enables us to grow. New members come in with new ideas.”
Apart from astutely organising themselves, the women have a strict regulatory mechanism.
“We have strict rules and regulations here and a member may be suspended or fired depending on the gravity of the offence. Theft, fighting and child negligence or abuse are some of the grave offences for which a member is fired,” Muchero said.
The group, like most organisations in Zimbabwe, faces financial challenges that hamper their dream of growing.
“Our vision is to have a real factory and this means we need a bigger place with advanced machinery. We need cars to use that will be driven by our own members. Our biggest challenge stems from the fact that we rely on orders for survival and these might not easily come by. We are not donor funded. Last year was very tough. We did not have orders until towards the end of the year and we had to use our reserves. Most of our orders come from outside the country as they are considered a luxury in Zimbabwe,” Muchero said.
NewsDay crew had the privilege of sampling and buying (at factory price) some of their products in their neat and well-stocked storeroom.
They had a wide range of products that included embroidered cards, children’s purses, lined shoulder bags, baby quilts, car pillows, baby ruffled pillows, yoga bags, oven gloves, angel ornaments, fleece animals and baby tees with embroidery.
Only women with children born with disabilities qualify to be members of Batsiranai.
The organisation can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or
0772 758 243 or 0772 746 580.