A real story about self-sufficiency
Here’s a great story in the spirit of the festive season.
Melbourne-based academic and human rights advocate Sekai Shand has spent the majority of the last 25 years working in various international disaster zones.
But she recently returned home to the African village where she was raised to perform her most important mission yet - helping the women of her village overcome poverty and violence through self-sufficiency.
Home these days is not suburban Melbourne but a small village called Matarutse that is 200km from the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.
Laughing at what she calls her “midlife crisis”, Shand is deadly serious about making a real difference with a program aimed at true self-sufficiency – of the type that will never requite another aid agency setting foot in her village.
Shand was born in Matarutse, and made several trips back to visit her 80-year old-mother. She’d give money each time she visited, but soon realised that these one-off donations changed nothing in the long run.
“I just arrived, splashed money around and then disappeared,” she says.
So Shand devised a better plan.
A former advisor to Tim Costello with years of on-the-ground international development experience in places like Rwanda and Indonesia, she was better placed than most to plan long-term.
“We have donors who give us seed once every year but then that ends. We need to become self-sufficient, so that we have grain and seed throughout the year, without relying on anyone else.”
In a community of approximately 300 people, almost 50 per cent of Shand’s own peer group have already died from HIV/Aids.
“I started by joining the Women’s Burial Society, raising money to pay for the coffins, but it wasn’t long before I became sure we could do something else,” says Shand.
“The women (of the village) were spending hours each day walking up to ten kilometres to grind their maze and collect water.
“I wanted to give them work and the power to control their resources.”
In the 12 months since her return Shand has gained funding for a maize grinder through a loan from a lawyer friend in Melbourne and with the use of her own car, organises monthly visits to Harare for villagers requiring regular HIV Aids treatment.
She’s also started raising chickens, a project more difficult than it sounds. Shand has to strap the noisy brood to the roof of her care and drive the 200km to market.
Social relationships are also on the agenda.
“In any project such as this one in my village, we must involve the men. I work with the women, but we must bring the men along.”
The younger, male, generation are of particular concern for Shand:
“There is an increasing level of violence and abuse among young women in the village because the young men are bored.
They are brought up to believe as men they must provide for their families but when there is no work, they drink too much and go home, often hurting their wives.”
But her biggest current challenge is promoting self-sufficiency.
“I have worked in international aid agencies and travelled far and wide and I know that you can give aid to a country and then return ten years later and things are as if they’d never had any aid at all.
“But his time I want to start at the grass roots level and work with the community so that in I can go back to organisations and say, this is what we can achieve, with only “this” amount of money.”
Shand admits the pilot project is a huge undertaking and that much of the past year has felt like an “uphill” battle, but she is determined to stay.
“I get my inspiration from the women I work with in the village.
“I may have Western education but I am lacking in their wisdom and their experience.”
Dr Sekai Shand is also a board member of ActionAid Australia, a non-for-profit organisation currently working on a project that aims to empower women suffering from violence in Afghanistan.
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