The economic crisis in Zimbabwe remains severe.
- Zimbabwe’s GDP was halved between the years 2009 and 2012
- 74% of the population survives on less than $5.50 per day.
- Estimates of unemployment range from 5% to 90%
- Zimbabwe has a 89% literacy rate (higher than the global literacy rate of 86% and higher than the subsaharan literacy rate of 64%).
- (All data from this article click here)
Like many economic crises, rural areas are hit harder than urban areas.
The focus on community was one of the factors that sets IMIRE apart from other game parks. IMIRE invests in its community. They hire from the community. They have numerous training programs, food drives, primary and secondary education, built and stocked libraries, as well as financial empowerment programs. Part of our volunteer work at IMIRE was to volunteer and contribute to the community.
On several days we performed different community activities. We taught reading to two classes of primary graders. Alyssa, Kyle, Sharleen, and I each had a group of 12 students to which we read the book: “Larry the Lion”. The students loved having Kylie and Alyssa as teachers as they were younger. “The student were excited to have young people teach them, they never had that before,” Trymore told us. The students loved touching me. Brushing my knees when I knelt, grabbing my hand, or pretending to fall and wanting me to give them a hand up. We finished off with a healthy game of duck duck goose and a lot of laughs!
On another day we worked in the community organic garden at school. Aside from their staple academics, NUMWA school also has some vocational focus: building, sewing, and gardening. We spent time in the garden weeding, learning about their staple crops, and helping them practice their English.
On another occasion I had the honor of teaching Form 1-A (their 9th grade math class). With the permission of the teacher I taught a mathematical thinking exercises. As in any class the students struggled with it. Some caught on and some continued to wrestle with it. However with a class of 48 (which was only two-thirds of the entire class), the quantity of students who wrestle with the material were magnified. Ensuring every student got the help they needed became extremely difficult. I talked to the teacher after the class. “We only get 35 minutes to teach math lessons every day. The syllabus of what we are supposed to cover is so large. We struggle, there are not enough properly trained teachers. Thank you for coming, it was so good for the students get a lesson.”
IMIRE was large, and our schedule was full every day. We constantly had to drive across the park to one activity and then drive back in the afternoons. Many students walk between 15-20km each way daily to get to school and some even more. Quite a few use the park’s dirt road to head home (some even live in the park). Whenever we saw students walking, we crammed as many students in our jeep as possible. Sometimes we had upwards of 20 students in a jeep made for 12. Kylie made some good friends, and towards the end of the week, the students started giving us drawings and letters. Alyssa asked one girl: “How much time does this ride save you?” “It saved me two hours of walking time.”
On our way home one day we stopped by this place. Trymore explained that some of the students live so far away that walking 4-5 hours to school, and then 4-5 hours (or more) home becomes impractical. A local person donated some space and built these 7 mud-brick rooms many years ago to help out. Gradually more and more students started to stay there. Now over 42 students live in this rooms. Their bathroom was an outhouse a few meters away. They showered using a bucket and water. Trymore showed us inside one room sized 3 meters by 3 meters. “About seven boys live in this room. You can see their pots here. The bag there is milimew. Sometimes their parents will send a bag of corn meal or milimew to them for the week. They cook out here over a fire.” I watched Alyssa and Kylie as Sharleen reminded them how lucky they were. “Many times their parents don’t have enough money for proper shoes. You remember the boy at the garden wearing flip flops? That was what his parents could afford.” We rode off in silence. All my first world problems seemed so trivial. All these young men want was to get an education. They endure so much to get that education.
A home visit
Gift, the beekeeper, invited us to his in-laws house to see how the Shona community members lived outside IMIRE. We passed by several farms and the circular houses, but we were still curious as to what life was like. We drove with Trymore and Gift started by teaching us the traditional way to enter the home. We each had to clap our hands (men clapped with their hands parallel, and women clapped with their hands perpendicular).
As we entered the circular building, we had to announce in Shona, “Hello father and hello mother.” They explained: “The kitchen is the central meeting place, this is were greetings and meetings occur. The building is circular so everyone can see each other.”
They explained about daily life and the roles for men and woman, as well as their beliefs about asking ancestors for help and support in times of need. We learned that most cooking is prepared over fire in three pots and one pan. With those materials, they showed us how they made several foods including relish and traditional bread (which was delicious). “We believe that children should spend as much time as possible with their grandparents to get as much wisdom as possible from them.”
While the food cooked, they took us outside to milk their cow. We each had a turn. After milking the cow, we plowed a section of the field using oxen. Hilda, Gift’s mother-in-law, taught us how to carry items on top of our heads.
|Alyssa milking a cow.||Kylie milking a cow.||Sharleen milking a cow.|
After learning about the work that was done, we went back to the kitchen for lunch. We were treated to maize, beans, and pumpkin. Despite limited tools, it was all cooked exquisitely.
The conversation moved from daily life to changes in recent years. “Hilda and Samson have lived here since 2002 as a part of land reform. Before that they lived on reservations.” “Reservations?” “When Zimbabwe was colonized, many of the native Shona people were moved to reservations. Much of the land was given to white farmers, who then hired people to work giant plantations.” “So Hilda and Samson were born on the reservations?” “Yes, for all the problems we’ve had with land reform and our crashing economy, in some cases it has worked.” It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of the rangers: “Our economy is very bad, but at least the land we work is our own.”
Our time with them ended with an interesting conversation about names. “Many people named their children based on things they liked, words that sounded neat, or after feelings they had. “That is why many of us have names like Window, Green, Gift, Polite, Bright, or even Trymore.” “How did you get your name Trymore.” “Well my older brother was born and his name was Serious because a first kid is serious business. My parents wanted a girl next, but I came, so they named me Trymore, as in try more for a girl. My little brother came next and my parents named him Norest, as in no rest until we get a girl. At last my little sister was born and they named her Loveness.”
We all laughed, and Trymore continued. “It is important for you to realize why you are here. Many people come from overseas to see the big animals and then leave. We want you to get to know our people as well. We want you to see how we live and what we value. We also want our community to see people who visit. We want exchange and not a one-sided relationship.”
Hilda and Samson gave us big hugs. It was a warm household and we were blessed to share the enriching experience with them.
Trymore was an amazing fellow! He was our guide all week long. Aside from being extremely knowledgeable about the park and wildlife, he was so full of joy and shared so much love for us and his community. “You know, I lived in a place like this.” He told us as he showed us the housing the 42 boys lived in. “My parents emigrated here from Mozambique when there was lots of work. During land reform, my dad lost his job and had to move over 100km away to a family plot. I decided to stay because I didn’t want to leave school. So I lived in a place just like this. Now I have 27 young men living with me and my father in my house to help out.” He further explained that he intended to join the military when he left school. However he loved wildlife and and started the process of studying to become a guide. Riley Travers (the youngest grandson of Norman Travers who opened IMIRE and runs the conservation portion of the park), offered him the opportunity to finish the last portion of his “guide research” in the park, and then asked Trymore to become a guide for the park instead of moving to South Africa.
He was a big man with a big heart. We were lucky to have met him!