When Giving Becomes a Doorway to Receiving: My Journey With Munhu Inc
I joined Munhu as a volunteer in 2008. At that time, I was thinking of Munhu as a place that would allow me to give a little of my money and a few hours of my time to help others in need. I had no idea that Munhu would become the conduit for receiving the many blessings that continue to pour into my life.
I’ve learned many lessons from my time at Munhu over the past decade. From Munhu volunteers I’ve learned the true meaning of genuine friendships; the kind that arise from a shared passion for giving to others. Through the years, I’ve witnessed the inherent power that we have—as individuals or in teams of two, three, or more—to make a positive impact in the lives of others. From Munhu donors, I’ve come to know the true meaning of practicing compassion in our day-to-day living; the kind of compassion that leads us to share what we have—whether that is a little or a lot—in the hope that what we share will ease the hardships of others. However, most of the lessons have come from the children and villagers in Zimbabwe who benefit from Munhu programs. From them, I’ve learned to genuinely appreciate what is given to me, I’ve learned the meaning of resilience, and I’ve learned the power of holding on to your dreams: no matter how impossible they may seem in the midst of difficult circumstances.
| “One way to bring happiness in your life is to find a place that allows you to give to others.”
My Journey to Munhu
I joined Munhu after meeting the organization’s founder Sipho Gumbo, a fellow Zimbabwean, at the ZimExpo USA event in Dallas, Texas. ZimExpo USA is held annually to foster relationships among Zimbabweans living in the diaspora. I attended one of the sessions where Zimbabwean executives showcased businesses they had built in the diaspora, to raise investment dollars or expand their customer base. The businesses ranged from travel and safari enterprises, software companies, mobile phone operations, retail stores, tax preparation outfits, health and fitness clubs. I was impressed by the talent displayed by my fellow country men and women who were models of success in their adopted countries. Then this soft spoken woman rose up to talk about Munhu Inc., an organization she had founded to support orphans in rural areas across Zimbabwe. The woman was Sipho Gumbo.
Sipho described her network of volunteers in the US who worked to raise funds for school tuition and to collect donated items such as clothing, blankets, and toys. She went on to describe a second network of volunteers in Zimbabwe who worked to ensure that the donations reached the children enrolled in the program. Sipho appealed to the audience for money to send a shipment of donated items to Zimbabwe. Tears streamed down her face as she described the conditions that some of the children that her organization supported lived through. A wave of compassion rose in me as I listened to her. Of all the presentations that I listened to on the day, Sipho’s presentation is the only one that I remember and the only one that changed me.
To give some context, the period between 2002 and 2008 marked what I, and most fellow Zimbabweans, consider to be the height of hardships in Zimbabwe. High HIV/AIDS infection rates, rampant corruption, ineffective government policies, a near-collapsed economy, and successive years of drought had reduced a large proportion of Zimbabwe’s rural population to near destitution. As mothers and fathers who were the breadwinners of the families were dying from HIV/AIDS, they left behind children to be cared for by elderly grandparents, poor relatives, neighbors, or community well-wishers.
The people who took the orphans in were struggling to survive, and couldn’t afford the few dollars required to keep their own children in school—let alone keep the orphans in their care in school. Other children had no one to take them in when their parents died; older siblings found themselves having to take care of their younger siblings, giving rise to child-headed households.
Scores of children in rural areas left school because no one could pay their tuition. These children were unable to receive the education that had the potential to turn their lives away from poverty. These were the children that Sipho and her network of volunteers were helping. These were the children on whose behalf Sipho made her appeal on that day in 2008.
But 2008 was a difficult time for US economy as well. The crash of the housing market and the virtual collapse of the banking system had crippled most individuals and households. Most of us were focused on holding on to our jobs and our houses; we were trying to take care of our own needs and the needs of our families. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to even think of helping others. But Sipho had turned her focus back home to help the most vulnerable—and perhaps forgotten—population of our country, the HIV/AIDS orphans. Sipho spoke from the depth of her genuine concern for those children whom she had never met, but knew needed someone to speak for their cause.
When the session ended, I walked to Sipho and volunteered to help. In the weeks and months that followed, I learned more about Sipho and about Munhu.
The Founding of Munhu
Sipho Gumbo lost her parents when she was a teenager. Not surprisingly, her passion for helping orphaned children stems from her personal experience of losing her parents at a young age. Sipho was fortunate to have older siblings who funded her education, and she worked hard in school as she believed that an education can significantly improve anyone’s life. It is this belief that led her to found Munhu in 2004, starting by paying school tuition for 15 orphans from 10 villages to attend primary school. Since 2004, Munhu has grown to support over 3000 students over the years.
Sipho has seen her vision of helping one child at a time grow and expand with the assistance of an all-volunteer staff. All administrative costs for Munhu are paid from the minimum $500-annual fee each board member is required to contribute. As a result, 100% of all proceeds from donations and grants to Munhu go toward helping the intended beneficiaries.
The Meaning of Munhu, Our Organization’s Name
“Munhu” means a person—a human being—in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, spoken by over 75% of the population. In Ndebele, the other major local language spoken in Zimbabwe, Munhu translates to umuntu. Munhu/Umuntu points to the Bantu people’s spirit of ubuntu, a concept that speaks to the essence of what it is to be a human being and to live one’s life in recognition and acknowledgment of the oneness of all humanity. Ubuntu calls us to live our lives practicing generosity, hospitality, respect, friendliness, kindness, and compassion.
Most African languages have one or more sayings that capture the spirit of ubuntu. In Shona we say “munhu munhu nekuda kwevanhu” and in Zulu it’s “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”––the English translation is “a person is a person through other people.” The Honorable Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, not only embodied the spirit of ubuntu, but also taught it to millions of people across the world through the example of how he lived his life.
Munhu started as a way to help a few orphans in the spirit of ubuntu. Munhu acts as a bridge to connect those with means to those in need. Munhu connects donors (who give of their money) and volunteers (who give of their time, energy, and skills) to the children across rural areas of Zimbabwe who need the help. Ultimately, Munhu provides support to children by paying their school tuition and provides help to villagers by giving them grants to start sustainable income-generating projects.
“Each person who joins Munhu knows that it is not about them but for those whom we serve. I have been humbled by people’s belief in and willingness to support the cause. The tireless volunteers in Zimbabwe, have been selfless, they have given their time and have been remarkable in making sure the donations reach the intended students and villagers. To do all this at the height of an economic downturn and not once ask for payment can only be the ultimate act of ubuntu. I am forever grateful to all the supporters, donors and volunteers at Munhu. Thank you for humbling me each day you show up to serve. I will forever be grateful and will never be able to express my gratitude in words.” Sipho Gumbo, Founder of Munhu
| ““Each person who joins Munhu knows that it is not about them but for those whom we serve. I have been humbled by people’s belief in and willingness to support the cause. The tireless volunteers in Zimbabwe, have been selfless, they have given their time and have been remarkable in making sure the donations reach the intended students and villagers. To do all this at the height of an economic downturn and not once ask for payment can only be the ultimate act of ubuntu. I am forever grateful to all the supporters, donors and volunteers at Munhu. Thank you for humbling me each day you show up to serve. I will forever be grateful and will never be able to express my gratitude in words.””
—Sipho Gumbo, Munhu Founder
The Education Program
Munhu started in 2004 by supporting the education of 15 children in about 10 villages, and today we support students who come from over 60 villages located across 5 of Zimbabwe’s 8 provinces. In 2017, we supported 300 primary school students and 190 secondary school students across 62 schools.
In addition to supporting students in primary and secondary schools, we also have students pursuing higher education. Four 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 graduated in 2013. Two graduated from the University of Zimbabwe, both earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree; Tapiwanashe graduated in 2015 and Edmore graduated in 2016. Debra graduated with a Diploma in Education from Belvedere Technical Teachers’ College in 2017. Currently, we have five students enrolled for degree courses at universities across Zimbabwe. Florence is in her second year studying for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Resource Management at Bindura University. Two students are at Great Zimbabwe University: Mandi is in his second year studying for a Bachelor of Education Honors Degree in History and Brian G is in his first year of a Bachelor of Commerce Honours Degree in Information Systems. Another student Prisca is completing her fourth and final year in a human resources management course at Mutare Polytec. Yet another student Brian D is completing a law degree through a long distance learning with university in South Africa.
| “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Munhu Friends of Orphans for the financial assistance they handed down to me, God bless. My dream is to develop as a communication specialist and also excel as an academic. I owe all this to your selfless deeds and your commitment to empowering the disadvantaged in the communities. The experiences I have gone through have also made me resolve that I will make it my primary objective to also help.”
—Nkosilathi to Munhu
Recognizing that, as is the custom in Zimbabwe, most of the orphans were taken in by poor relatives who could not afford to pay tuition for their own children to attend school, Munhu expanded the program to include children of the relatives in the program. Because every child deserves an opportunity to receive a good education.
Also, Munhu matches donors in the US with students in Zimbabwe. The annual donations from these donors are used to pay school tuition and buy uniforms and school supplies for the students they support. Donors have supported students from the primary school level, through secondary school, and all the way to university or vocational training. In return, the donors receive letters from the students they support and periodic updates on the students’ school performance from Munhu.
By choosing to donate to Munhu, donors give a gift of a good education to children who might otherwise not have this opportunity. The donations allow these children to dream big dreams—as all children should.
The Community Grant Program
While visiting my family in Zimbabwe in 2009, I had the opportunity to meet some of the children Munhu supports. The children expressed their gratitude for the assistance from Munhu; however, as I listened to their stories, I heard something that tugged at my heart. They all talked about the many days they went without food. And a thought came to my mind. How could we expect these children to excel in their school work when they were going to school hungry?
The question prompted me to start conversations with the families who were looking after the children in our program, and then with my family, school teachers, village elders, and community leaders. A common theme surfaced during each conversation: if someone lent money, this could be used to kick start income-generating projects in the communities.
Within a year of my visit to Zimbabwe, we launched the Munhu Community Grant Program: a new model for micro lending where by villagers who take care of orphans are offered financial assistance to start income-generating projects.
The program works as follows:
1) Munhu uses some of its donated money to award grants to local communities where our students live.
2) Within each community, the seed money is lent to villagers caring for the orphans.
3) The villagers start income-generating projects with the seed money.
Grant amounts vary from about $100/project to $1500/project depending on the project type and the number of people in each group. Grant recipients agree to pay back the money within 2 to 3 years, depending on the project. The repaid money is then recycled within each community to fund new income-generating projects.
Villagers have started projects such as raising and selling chickens, goats, pigs, and rabbits; running grocery stores; making fencing wire used to fence schools, hospitals and homesteads; sewing school uniforms and bags; making and selling peanut butter; and cross-border trading where group members travel to South Africa, Zambia and Botswana to buy household goods to sell in Zimbabwe. In our experience, these types of income-generating projects become profitable within 6 months to 1 year, enabling participants to support their families, including the orphans in their care.
Since inception of the program in 2010, 66 groups have received community grants to start income generating projects, with 3 of these projects based at schools. Of these, 22 groups were funded with $25,582 donated to the community grant program to date. Of the $25,582 , $15,597 has been repaid and used to start new projects. This repaid money has been recycled several times to fund a total of 44 new groups, essentially increasing the value of the $15,597 to $24,400. To date, 23 groups have paid off their grants in full and 43 groups continue to pay in installments. What this means in practical terms is that the $25,582 in donations ploughed into Munhu’s community grant program has had an economic benefit equivalent to $49,982; i.e., $25,582 + $24,400. And this economic benefit willkeeps increasing as the money continues to be recycled in the communities.
Munhu’s community grant program provides a viable opportunity for entrepreneurial and hardworking villagers to start income generating projects, which reduces their dependency on subsistence farming as a sole source of survival. Additionally, by engaging the beneficiaries at the grassroots level and making them a part of the solution, Munhu’s approach promotes accountability, fosters trust and respect, and empowers villagers to exit poverty using their own creativity and hard work. We are discovering that some of the villagers are astute business people who turn the few grant dollars they receive into sustainable businesses that create employment, provide markets for local produce, and supply goods and services in the communities.
|Thank You Letter From A Munhu Beneficiary
In October 2014, Munhu board member Sungmi Um donated $1,500 that was used to start a convenience store (tuck shop) at a school in the Matebeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. In January 2015, Sungmi received the following letter:
Dear Ms. Sungmi Um
Compliments of the new year miss Sungmi Um, our blessed helping hand, on behalf of the school, I the headmistress indeed find it a great pleasure to express our sincere gratitude in relation to the donation we received from your blessed helping hand.
Madam you have made us noticeable by donating US $1,500, which we had requested for the tuck shop project. We bought a chest freezer DEFY for the sales of frozen drinks and sausages for relish. We then got the tuck shop stocked with all goods needed by both secondary and primary school pupils. The prices are very affordable. We are also providing for the local community members. The tuck shop has since been the fundamental tool in generating funds for the orphaned children.
We are now working on getting the loans money deposited at a new and separate bank account. We are really grateful for such a generous hand. Thank you very much you are very special, truly no words can express this heart felt gratitude, once again thank you. We indeed appreciate the selfless offer that has transformed the learning of the orphans at our school. We hope that this revolving fund will help other orphans as well.
We will keep you posted on the developments of the project.
Keep well and God richly bless you.
(The school head)
And Sungmi had this to say, “For me, in volunteering for Munhu, I learn from the students we support how they are able to overcome the challenges they face and make the most of their lives at such young ages. I’ve witnessed and love to watch the recipients blossoming because of the donations. When I learned from a board member who had visited one of the schools supported by Munhu that she saw a student who was sharing her lunch––a jar of corn––with other hungry students, I was touched and wanted to help these beautiful hearts. I’m happy to know my donation goes a long way, benefiting 40 orphans attending this school and over 600 villagers in the community.”
Looking Ahead for Munhu
There are over a million orphans in Zimbabwe. More than half will not complete primary school due to lack of financial support. Munhu’s focus is assisting some of these underprivileged children to access the education that can potentially change their lives for the better. Our vision is to ensure that the children we support complete primary school so that they gain basic skills in reading and writing. Beyond that, we provide the children with an opportunity to pursue further education, to give them a better chance to improve their lives. Our ambition is to increase the number of children we support; and we aim to achieve this by adding at least 100 children per year to the education program. We want to continue helping one child at a time. And we are very grateful for the generosity of donors and volunteers who believe in our mission.
(Update of my story first published in the 2015 inaugural issue of Poetic Lenz – A Storyteller’s Magazine for Photographers and Writers at lionseyephotography.org)