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Creating a home away from home

Life & Style
Zimbabwe Leeds Community (ZLC) chairperson

MANY Zimbabweans have flocked to foreign lands like the United Kingdom (UK) in search of greener pastures. The migration of Zimbabweans to Western countries has really intensified and it seems it is not going to stop until the economic environment in the country improves. In foreign lands, Zimbabweans are pursuing various endeavours through education, jobs, entrepreneurship and other opportunities. In such foreign lands, robust governance structures have been set up to build sustainable communities in cities. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Winstone Antonio caught up with Zimbabwe Leeds Community (ZLC) chairperson Chris Goshomi (CG) who shared insights into the formation of ZLC which was inspired by the hope and faith to recover the lost culture Zimbabweans once had back home. The community is built around a philosophy based on how they are trying to preserve the Zimbabwean culture in foreign lands among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.

ND: When was ZLC formed and  what are its main objectives?

CG: Zimbabwe Leeds Community was established in 2016 for Zimbabwean people living in the West Yorkshire area, north of England.

Zimbabweans here have come to realise that individual success does not amount to a change in collective image and this understanding inspired the birth of ZLC. The motivation behind the formation of ZLC was the hope and faith to recover a lost community that we once had in our country of origin.

Chief among the many objectives for the formation of ZLC is to mobilise and bring the people of Zimbabwe who live in the West Yorkshire area together, and build a diverse, but centralised community which is able to support each other in times of need.

The Zimbabwean people in the West Yorkshire area have come to understand that the process of migration can be stressful depending on the type and cause of migration, and has far-reaching negative effects on the socio-economic circumstances, health and wellbeing of the migrating individuals and their families.

ND: What can be cited as the major challenge in settling in a foreign land like the UK?

CG: One of the major challenges of migrant communities is establishing the theory of change, something which I define as the art of bringing key stakeholders from different parts of the community together to build consensus.

Zimbabweans are no exception to this. They come from a background where agreeing on things is often forced than negotiated. Democratically reaching a consensus takes quite a long time.  Although it has taken quite some time to build consensus among the Zimbabwean community in West Yorkshire to establish ZLC, the confidence in recent years has astronomically risen, particularly at the end of 2022 with the newly-elected executive committee.

ND: How is ZLC helping Zimbos in Leeds?

CG: The enabling UK environment has allowed the Zimbabwean people to settle relatively perfectly in the West Yorkshire area which has led to great success among the Zimbabweans individually.

In an attempt to address some of the contemporary challenges among the community membership, ZLC last year took advantage of its ballooning membership to crowdfund to buy Christmas goodies for vulnerable groups, which included those who are less fortunate, like new migrant workers and students who are not yet financially established, the elderly, the disabled, and those with health challenges and are not able to work. This opportunity was an enriching experience to understand the level and scope of ZLC’s ability to benefit its communities.

I went with a team of 10 colleagues and spent all afternoon delivering groceries, clothes and other items to people in need, as well as having time to talk to the communities.

The engagement was so fulfilling to both the ZLC committee members who were delivering the goodies and the recipients.

It was an opportunity to hear from the communities what they expect from ZLC in the future, and also identify the needs of the people. I have assured the communities that ZLC will always be there for them and would like them to live home life away from home.

ND: Any opportunities the Zimbabwean government should consider?

CG: While the migration of Zimbabwean people to Western countries has intensified due to the economic environment in the country, instead of the government of Zimbabwe looking at this negatively, it needs to change its attitude.

The need to support the settling of the country’s population abroad has become of great importance. This is an economic opportunity which has just presented itself for the country through remittances.

The wellbeing of its population abroad is very important and increases their economic productivity through sustainable labour market participation. Also, the creation of favourable financial policies which facilitate sending money home will be highly beneficial to the country.

ND: Since culture matters, how is ZLC helping to preserve the Zimbabwean culture in a foreign land?

CG: A major dilemma for migrant communities is the struggle to balance between integrating into the new country and embracing the new ways of life while at the same time retaining their own culture and identity.

It is well established in research that individuals who migrate experience multiple disadvantages which include loss of cultural norms, religious customs, and social support systems, and their adjustment to the mainstream host country culture and systems without tailored support, often affecting the mental wellbeing of such individuals.

However, for many of us, the feeling of being Zimbabwean was never lost in the long journey to the UK. The love of having an identity and embracing our own culture, to feel Zimbabwean and to live Zimbabwean although in a foreign country has remained very strong among the Zimbabwean community in the UK.

Just like many migrant communities, we are also keen to preserve our cultural identity, and would also want to ensure that we create a conducive environment that supports the intergenerational sustainability of our traditional values.

This can only be achieved by the Zimbabwean community. Communities are the custodians of wisdom and are the obvious resource themselves to deal with their own challenges or threats.

ND: Any milestones after the formation of ZLC?

CG: Numbers are growing each day, we are also experiencing many women and youths coming to join the community project, something which was a real struggle in the past years.

There is wider participation and stronger community cohesion. There is a clear collective sense of purpose among the membership. Also, initially, ZLC just focused on crowdfunding for bereavements, something which has been very helpful to support families in dealing with funerals.

ZLC has perfected the funeral funds collection process, resulting in the ability to raise substantial amounts. It has also benefited from the growth of the membership following increased confidence among the Zimbabwean community. 

Other than helping out with funeral funding support, ZLC is now focusing on greater issues, such as looking at projects which support the youths, our ageing community and other vulnerable groups.

ZLC is its now placing importance on projects which address contemporary issues among its community members, such as a high rate of social breakdown threatening the sustainability of their integration, examples being, the increasing suicides, divorce, children’s behavioural challenges and crime.

ZLC has in the past successfully managed to fight to stop the deportation of some of its members, by working collaboratively with various skills, such as immigration lawyers, and journalists within their community to raise awareness on the challenges faced by its members and mobilise resources.  

ZLC has also managed to establish solid structures, which consist of sub-committees working on various projects which include the welfare and support team.

An events and entertainment team which looks at facilitating entertainment events such as Christmas and other festivals celebrated by the Zimbabwean community has also been set up.

The events are meant to facilitate community engagement and cohesion to avert individual isolation for those who live alone, and new arrivals who may not know the existence of other community members.

We have also established the media and communication team, which comprises talented journalists working for various broadcasting institutions to market the work we do to increase awareness to the wider community, local authority and other third sector stakeholders.

 We have also established a finance team, which deals with the finances of the project and exploring for more funding opportunities.

ZLC also established the legal policy and strategy team, whose role is to ensure its functions align with national and local policies.

ND: What are your future plans?

CG: Apart from what the local authority is doing under the austere environment to provide community welfare, ZLC is going to augment the council provisions by providing targeted equitable support to its community members to ensure  sustainable wellbeing.

ZLC understands that welfare is not just the provision of goods and services, but the provision of love, care, and a feeling of being at home. Welfare is culturally sensitive. It has been clinically established that isolation leads to ill health, and isolation is not a lack of people around you.

It is a lack of people you can relate to and resonate with. As a community, we have realised that we need to be around each other to break the isolation.

ZLC is also working with the Zimbabwean youth for the intergenerational sustainability of our culture to make the youth appreciate the way we look after our elders and vulnerable people in society. The welfare team is also composed of the youth so that they learn the Zimbabwean way of life.

We are currently working on the formal registration of ZCL as a charity with the Charity Commission. We created a registration team which consists of the best lawyers in the Zimbabwe community and other supporting members with experience in establishing charities.

We are also looking at how we can increase revenue to build the Zimbabwe community centre which is the long-term plan.

ZLC also is looking at various funding opportunities available to increase resources to support our vulnerable members and to provide training to the committee members to improve their capacity to carry out their duties.

  • Follow Winstone on Twitter  @widzonato

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