Guest Column: Grace Chirenje
Last year, I had the pleasure of visiting India. It has always been on my bucket list. However, my mission was not the spiritual retreat I had always desired, it was a mission to get some serious training on humanitarian work. What blew my mind was the last day when we had to simulate a humanitarian crisis and I took the role of coordinator working between my international non-governmental organisation, the community and funding partners.
The stress, wit, confidence and trauma I faced only because of a simulation weeks after the meeting, was unexplainable. Now, imagine being the one during a humanitarian crisis being caught in the eye of the storm. You being the leader at any level, being the victim, survivor or the one facing a crisis where you lose everything and are not even sure where to begin? Well, I cannot even begin to fathom it. That is the grim reality facing our fellow Zimbabweans in Chimanimani today.
We are a collective
The Shona culture has an adage that goes, chara chimwe hachitswanyi inda (collective effort is always critical). Our country has undergone many crises that have left you and I fragmented at many levels. Some of us have been left so fragmented that we cannot even begin to understand our very own mental stability. That is the nature of being alive and living in this very context we find ourselves in as Zimbabweans. We find ourselves struggling to unpack our lives and coming to terms with what we are forced to face each day of our lives. We ask questions, cry, weep, question, go crazy and do all sorts, so we can cope with life and live a near normal life. However, have you noticed how many times we regain our confidence and sanity? With each collective interaction as we share stories, exchanges tales, strengthen each other and somehow, somewhere deep within, we find ourselves regaining our long-lost strength. We work towards ensuring that we can live through another minute, day or week. Such is the gift of being African. We do not live in isolation, we have others to carry us through the storms and help ease the pain. Ours is a story of collective responsibility, love, trust and being. That is what we are and that is what we can choose to become for you and others we meet. Can you do that? Become part of a collective? It’s your choice after all to become part of a beautiful collective narrative!
Our women of wonder
During that India mission, I learnt that women are usually the first respondents in any humanitarian crisis. Not just that, they work very closely with other members of society to ensure that they begin the process of ensuring that whatever happens, life begins to be preserved, protected and packaged in such ways that those that are part of the humanitarian crisis keep the hope alive. Now, for a moment we need to pause and think how difficult a process this should be. When we are facing our own trauma and still take time out to ensure that others around us are still upheld and supported. That indeed is a show and example of strength. It reveals how women continue to be the backbone of society as they carry the burdens of many in a bid to ensure that societies remain functional and coordinated. That should never be women’s badges of honour, no, but we do acknowledge their massive contribution. However, they cannot do this alone. Women need your support and mine too, so that as they do what needs to be done, we continue as their cheerleaders, supporters and the very ones that continue to affirm them in ways that support an understanding of their role and what society can do to ensure that the women get the necessary support to be the social justice advocates they continuously are becoming. It is possible if you and I stand together.
Oh, our beloved government!
Much is being done by government and well applauded, we are grateful. What I still fail to understand and please do forgive my ignorance, is how government seems to have failed to avert the humanitarian crisis we currently face. While there is talk of the army and all sorts of government efforts, I still shudder to think of the very many lives that could have been preserved had we been more mitigatory and pro-active in our approach. Those of this language I use to write do speak a lot about there being no use crying over spilt milk and that is true. What is critical is that government becomes more pro-active in its efforts to facilitate for the preservation of life. It is possible. It can be done. It has been done before. I am of a very strong belief that many interagency are willing to support if government does step up and ask for support during such situations. Going forward, it could be a great way to start ensuring that efforts are made for different arms to facilitate for mitigation more than crisis management. It is very possible. This is not the time for politicking. After all, we are a collective. We are willing to do what it takes to make a difference at many levels. Our current efforts do point to that before I am because we are, and we are because I am — Ubuntu!
Having debriefed and shared what we see broadly in life. It is imperative that you and I take up some sense of responsibility and explore here and today how we can best support the current humanitarian crisis that has been caused by Cyclone Idai. Many players are doing what they can to collect various food and non-food items that can support our fellow brothers and sisters in Chimanimani and beyond. Now is not the time to seek political party mileage, personal glory or anything along those lines. Now is the time that you and I join hands as fellow Zimbabweans and support our own.
The brothers and sisters who have been affected by Cyclone Idai need more than our prayers. Each of us need to start asking ourselves where the true spirit of being Zimbabwean is. Now is the time we dig deep within our souls and tap into our humane side and ensure we contribute. Seek where it is that you can step up and be counted as we each make a difference for fellow Zimbabweans. Our brothers and sisters need our support, it is very urgent we do whatever it is within our power to contribute. Now is the time we stand up and ensure we make a difference. No one is coming to save Zimbabwe. It is our home, it is where we belong, it is our responsibility to step up and act so that those who have been affected by Cyclone Idai feel that they are part of a Zimbabwean community that cares about the next brother and sister. You and I have that responsibility. We get up and make sure that our voice counts, we amplify the cause and work towards ensuring that our brothers and sisters get the necessary support they so urgently need during these dire times. I am here now and not in a simulation somewhere out there in India. I am Zimbabwean and so are you. We cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot wait for others to get up and do something. It is our responsibility to support those affected by Cyclone Idai. This is our country, we should protect it and its citizens in whatever way we can, so that we collectively uphold our dignity. Let’s do this!
Grace Chirenje is a feminist activist with vast experience in feminist leadership and youth empowerment acquired from diverse contexts across the African continent. She writes in her personal capacity.