A group of 7 African women sit around a table in discussion

Zimbabwe Is Still Here.

by Sylvia K. Ilahuka, Communications Officer

 A quick online search for the word “Zimbabwe” seldom brings up anything positive. It’s either news about a questionable election, financial crisis, or some other undesirable issue. Negative imagery of the southern African nation is propagated in the minds of those consuming this information, individuals and institutions alike. Western funders may be afraid to approach a nation like Zimbabwe, given its history, yet there is so much that deserves to be supported. This faith manifests in the work being done by Segal Family Foundation partners in the country – in education, women’s empowerment, technology, and healthcare all united in their quest for improved livelihoods.

The name Zimbabwe has its origins in the Shona language words for ‘stone buildings’ — a descriptor that aptly fits these organizations whose resilience has held them up amidst the nation’s vagaries and a global pandemic to boot. While the calm streets of the capital Harare do bear outward signs of a nation that has been through hard times, there are places like Katswe Sistahood that are a sanctuary for many who are still experiencing difficulty. Just seeing the sheer number of women and girls who turn up for Pachoto sessions and hearing their invigorating call-and-response of “Sista sista? Sista!” is illustration enough that there is demand for such spaces. Katswe is providing a difficult service in a manner that meets those in need of it where they are, right next door to a market run solely by women with a play area for their children to be safe while they work. It’s beautiful and necessary.

10 African adults stand in a row and smile at the camera
Segal team members on a site visit to Katswe Sistahood in October 2023

So is the work of Chiedza, who provide a stop-gap education to children who have fallen out of traditional schooling for various reasons. Ranging from early years to secondary, these children come to the center in the uniforms of whatever school they were at last; the playground at breaktime is a patchwork of colors. When the learners are sufficiently supplemented, they are transitioned back into mainstream schools — and their fees paid for to ensure continuity. Their families are also given support, financial and otherwise, and followed up regularly until stability is attained. Meaning ‘light’ in Shona, Chiedza has illuminated the path for many children who would have fallen out of the educational system, possibly never to return. Today, numerous alumni are university graduates and have gone on to develop a confidence that they attribute to someone believing in them and their families. 

An African woman watches another African woman try on a virtual reality headset
Segal program officer Temwa tries out a VR headset at Matamba Film Labs

While it may seem frivolous for a country with vast systemic challenges to focus on anything beyond getting the basics right, there are dreamers in Zimbabwe who are looking beyond the limitations. Run by a group of playfully bold women, Matamba Film Labs envisions a virtual world that includes African creators. The creative industry worldwide is rife with job insecurity that is detrimental to well-being; Matamba was founded to source funding for digital artists, mainly women, and provide a space for them to learn and practice new media skills. They are also working to show younger generations that professions are not restricted to the traditional fields of sciences, law, and business, but that artistic careers are also an option. Co-founder Kudakwashe Makuzwa says of the sector’s still-low income and challenges obtaining VR equipment, “This is Zimbabwe, we have sanctions.” But she believes that money is out there to be earned, and indeed Matamba has had partnerships with prominent agencies that have helped grow the organization’s profile and platform for advancing African digital storytelling.

A Zimbabwean emigrant once voiced to a Segal team member that there was nothing left for her in her country of origin. While this may be true for many who have sought better fortunes elsewhere, there are many more who are still in the country: living, working, raising children. People are still here, pouring goodwill into their communities through the work of organizations like these and others that Segal Family Foundation is proudly partnered with.