A Promise To Keep
I met with Mandi, one of our Munhu students, during my recent trip to Zimbabwe in December 2015.
“Without the help I received from your organization, I would have no hope for a decent life. Now, I wake up each morning excited about my future.”
My heart soared when I heard those words from Mandi, who was sitting across the table from me.
“I am asking for more help so that I can attend a teachers’ training college. My dream is to become a teacher,” he said, with pleading eyes. “When I become a teacher, I will return to guide and support the children of our community, just as my teachers did for me, so that they too can get an education to better their lives. I will also help my mother to support the grandchildren left in her care.”
On hearing those next words, my heart sank.
When I heard Mandi’s plea for financial help with completing a 3-year teacher’s training program my heart sank because I knew I had to deliver disappointing news to him. I had to be the one to dash his dream, a task that no one would relish. This young man, and many boys and girls like him, is the reason why Munhu exists. At Munhu, we focus on working at the grassroots level to help young people like Mandi use their own strengths, talents, and creativity to turn the trajectory of their lives from poverty to self-sustenance. We focus on giving opportunities to those who are willing to work to change their circumstances for the better, and then are willing to give a helping hand to others in need. And this is exactly what Mandi was asking for—an opportunity to better his life so that he could help others in need.
I knew Mandi’s story. He was the last born child of a poor family in our community. His father, who had died a few years back, was disabled but managed to support his family by carving serving spoons for sale. I still have a few serving spoons that he gave me as a gift more than 20 years ago. Mandi’s mother was also disabled; she was born with one leg shorter that the other.
Mandi’s parents had raised their children by subsistence farming, scrapping as much as they could from the barren plot of land they farmed, and from the meager income that Mandi’s father earned from selling his carved spoons. With his father gone, Mandi’s mother had the burden of raising the family, which had kept growing. Mandi’s sisters had married and had had children of their own. Then their husbands died, leaving them destitute. Unable to support their own children, they brought them to their mother to raise. The widowed grandmother was now responsible for feeding 5 grandchildren and putting them through school, with no prospects of earning an income outside of subsistence farming.
Mandi had struggled through school and finally quit. He roamed the towns of Zimbabwe for a few years in search of employment, something that is elusive in the failing economy of our country. Eventually, he met a teacher who convinced him to return to school and continue his education. That is when Mandi joined the Munhu family.
Mandi started Form 3 at a local secondary day school in 2011. He wrote his Ordinary Level examinations in 2012, passing 7 subjects and wrote his Advanced Level examinations in 2014, passing with 7 points. Now he needed Munhu’s support to attend a teachers’ training college.
As Munhu’s representative, I was the one who would have to tell him that we did not have the budget to support him through college. I would be the one to dash his dream of becoming a school teacher so that he could help the children of our community and help his mother support the grandchildren left in her care.
In past years, we at Munhu had done our best to raise funding for our programs; but, with the challenging economic conditions globally and the belt-tightening in most families and at most organizations, we had come up short of our fundraising goals. As a result, we were forced to make deep cuts in our programs. We had decided to stop funding some schools that we had supported for many years and to discontinue support of students who were not meeting the required minimum academic standards. We had also decided to cut back on the number of students we supported at university and college level, as tuition at these higher institutions was too expensive for our limited resources. We had in fact decided not to add any more college students for the 2016 academic year.
We justified these cutbacks. We used phrases like realigning our programs with available resources, belt-tightening to ride the down economy, or rightsizing for long-term success. But as I looked into the earnest eyes of the young man sitting across from me, none of those phrases seemed to fit. All I saw was that our very reasonable decisions to downsize our programs would in fact dash the hopes of this young determined man. We had brought him so far to the brink of his dreams, and we were saying we could not take him all the way. And I knew he had no prospects of getting help from anywhere else at this time. I knew that without Munhu’s help, that would be the end of his dream.
In those few moments, I made the decision to revive the motivation and drive that I sensed in Mandi. Before I could think things through, I said, “We will help you.”
A beaming smile brightened Mandi’s face in that moment. He looked up at the sky, raised both his hands in a sign of victory, and murmured a prayer of thanksgiving. When he looked back at me, his eyes were filled with tears. He quickly got up, vigorously shook my hand, and left without saying anything else.
I had no idea how I was going to keep my promise to Mandi. I myself and everyone else I knew––our leadership, volunteers, and regular donors––we were already giving as much as we could to fulfil our Munhu mission of helping one child at a time to get a good education that would lead to a better life.
As I watched Mandi walk away, I started reflecting on what we had achieved so far at Munhu. Our founder, Sipho Gumbo, started Munhu in 2004 by supporting 15 AIDS orphans. The organization had grown over the last ten year, with many volunteers joining to support this noble cause. I had joined Munhu in 2008. Together as a team and supported by many donors, Munhu has provided direct assistance for the education of over 3000 children since 2004. That is a commendable achievement for a small organization like ours.
Our focus at Munhu has been to ensure that the children we support complete primary school so that they gain basic skills in reading and writing. But more and more, we are seeing some of our students excel at the primary and secondary school levels and continue to universities and colleges.
So far, 3 of our students have earned university degrees. Two graduated from Lupane University, both earning a Bachelor of Arts Honors Degree in Language and Communication Studies; Nkosilathi graduated in 2012 and Mthokozisi in 2013. In October of 2015, Tapiwanashe graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Zimbabwe.
We currently have 3 more students pursuing university degrees or college certificates. Edson is in his third and final year at the University of Zimbabwe, studying toward a Bachelor of Arts Degree. In January 2016, Prisca will be entering her third and final year of a human resources course at Mutare Polytechnic, and Debra will be entering her second year at Belvedere Teacher’s Training College.
We had kept our promises to these young men and women, offering them financial support to pursue their dreams and become contributing citizens of the world. And in the process, we had motivated others, like Mandi, who were now asking for a similar opportunity to pursue their dreams. Surely, this is a sign of the positive impact we are making on the students we support. We had to find a way to help them achieve their dreams.
Then the thought of another determined young man entered my mind–Devansh (Dev) Ranchod, who recently joined our team of volunteers at Munhu. This young man is far removed from Mandi in both geography and circumstances, but united in spirit by the love of giving back to help others. Dev is originally from Zimbabwe but had been educated abroad and, at 24 years of age, was now a financial professional in corporate America. Dev was introduced to Munhu through our weekly posts on the Munhu Facebook page where we share stories about Munhu’s impact on the students and villagers we help. He said he was moved by our mission and asked if there was anything he could do to help.
“I’m happy to help in any way that I can,” is what Dev said.
We were delighted to gain the interest of such an enterprising young man. The more Dev learned about our organization and the real impact we make in the lives of the students and villagers we help, the more interested he became in seeing us reach more people. And he brought grand and noble ideas, and a team of other young volunteers to revitalize our organization.
One of Dev’s ideas was to hold the “Share the Love” Gala scheduled for February 13, 2016 at the Courtyard by Marriott, Grapevine, Texas. This is a “black tie” event where we are promising a night of food, laughter, and fun in support of the orphaned children of Zimbabwe. We are grateful to Dev for being the driving force behind organizing, funding, and publicizing this event. We are hopeful that this event will help move us closer to our goal of raising enough funds to keep the promises we make to students like Mandi and others in the Munhu family. Our team of dedicated Munhu volunteers is rallying around Dev’s efforts to ensure that this event becomes as successful as we need it to be.
Fast forward to August 2016 and we sent a heartfelt “THANK YOU” to Holly Tomlin of Holly Tomlin Photography in New York City for supporting Mandi’s education as he pursues a 4-year Bachelor of Education Honors Degree at Great Zimbabwe University. Because of Holly’s support, Mandi was part of the group of students who registered for their first year at Great Zimbabwe the week of August 15, 2016.
Holly has been supporting Munhu’s programs since 2008. She supported the education of Edson, a Munhu student who just completed a 3-year Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Zimbabwe and who will be graduating this coming October. We are very grateful for Holly’s continued support and her generosity. Most of all, we are touched that she is continuing to join Munhu in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of those who need our support.
About her commitment to helping these students, Holly simply says, “I’m just happy to be in a position to help young people realize their educational goals and desire to grow their own communities.”
With young people like Dev joining Munhu and long term Munhu supporters like Holly stepping up to help young people like Mandi realize their dreams, I am inspired to think of the possibilities of changing lives that can come through our work at Munhu. I am inspired to imagine Munhu as a bridge that the people we support can use to cross the divide between poverty and prosperity, between helplessness and self-fulfillment.
Thank You! Tinotenda (Shona)! Siyabonga (Ndebele)!