Women’s group fights for recognition
by Clayton Masekesa
Raised in a community that looks down upon women entrepreneurs, members of Chigodora HIV and AIDS Prevention Organization (CHAPO) in Mutare South, speak about their shattered dreams in the hope that one day society will recognize their valuable contribution. CLAYTON MASEKESA reports.
Based at Chitakatira business centre, about 20km south of Mutare, a group of 20 dedicated women conduct HIV and AIDS awareness programmes, run early childhood classes, operate a restaurant and manage home-based care initiatives.
All members of the group, which includes former sex workers who have transformed their lives, each paid an initial $100 registration fee. They used the money as capital for the establishment of the crèche and restaurant business.
The Chitakatira Early Child Development Centre, established in 2010 is headed by Ruth Muwani, 40, who graduated with a Diploma in Early Childhood Development from Marymount Teachers’ College. Her assistant, Lucy Ndawana, 25, is also a trained ECD teacher.
Muwani is the group’s chairlady. The crèche is registered by the Ministry of Primary Education has this year enrolled 46 children aged between four and seven. The centre also runs a feeding scheme for vulnerable kids from the surrounding community and offers home-based care initiatives to HIV positive people.
The women use part of the proceeds from their various businesses to support their families. They also assist at the HIV voluntary testing and counselling centre at the nearby Zimunya Clinic.
Their restaurant has become one of the busiest at the business centre, where it offers traditional dishes that have become popular with customers.
In a world where men normally rule the roost, these women say that despite playing a major role in assisting their families, their efforts have gone unnoticed since the group was formed.
“We have not been receiving support from the male community. Some of them have become jealous of our successes. Many women want to join us, but they are being discouraged by their husbands,” said Muwani.
Because the group includes three former sex workers, some men believe it is a group of prostitutes. “We are a group with professional women. Yes, there are ladies who were commercial sex workers, but now they have reformed and are empowering themselves through our projects,” explained Muwani. “It is sad that we are losing respect with some males who think that we are a group of prostitutes and we are there to influence their wives. We are saying time is flying and others are being empowered while some men are denying their wives a chance to succeed in life,” she adds.
However, despite such a successful story, the women say they still look at the future with uncertainty as funding for further development of their centre is a big challenge.
“Our desire is to see our businesses grow so that we are able to support as many people as possible . But the biggest challenge is to get additional funding,” said Anna Huruwa, the group’s Treasurer and is charge of the restaurant.
“We are having challenges from the banks that are refusing to give us loans to expand our business. We are therefore calling for banks to empower us through the loans and we know that as women we will deliver,” she said.
“We need to have an additional space for our restaurant and we have plans to establish a bottle store. We are considering having another class for the growing numbers of children in the pre-school, but both projects need additional capital. Also there is need for training of people who manage the various initiatives,” Huruwa added.
Josephine Mukoko, who is in charge of the home-based care givers, says the group is raising awareness about HIV and AIDS. “There are condoms at the clinic, but some people are still shy about getting them there, so we are encouraging them to come to the home-based carers to get them,” she said.
“To be a carer you have to be a strong person. You must also be able to love people and you must be able to keep information confidential. Older carers are particularly respected and trusted and the community likes to talk to us,” she added.
“There are eight home-based carers in our group and since our training and work in the local community, people’s attitudes about HIV have changed. Before, if a household had an HIV positive member, the neighbours would stop visiting and saying hello. There was a stigma attached to the disease,” Mukoko said.