Established in 2010, Vanavevhu is a charitable organisation that aims to nurture orphans into responsible and capable family heads by training them on how to run sustainable income generating projects (IGPs).
Besides facilitating training on financial self sufficiency, Vanavevhu enables young people to become responsible adults by teaching them sustainable ways to provide food, healthcare and education for themselves and their dependents.
Based in Douglasdale, in Bulawayo, the organisation currently has an enrollment of 30 young people who have lost either one or both their parents to AIDS and have been left responsible for their siblings and/or surviving parent. Most of the surviving parents are also infected with HIV.
Elizabeth Mhangami, Director at Vanavevhu, says that it was her background in political science that motivated her to start a project as she thought it would encourage self reliance among marginalised youth.
“The idea of working with a marginalised youth community came from my experience working with marginalised black youth in America, who face very different challenges from youth who are heads of household in Zimbabwe but have had to tap into internal resources to survive,” she says
“The programme that I was running used teaching and developing entrepreneurship in these youth as a tactic to keep them off the street.”
Three years after establishment, the organisation has managed to create a model that ensures that its limited funds are always circulating towards the sustainability of existing projects and enrollment of more participants. During the training, participants are entitled to a monthly stipend of between US$100 and US$150 to cater for their water and electricity bills, as well as medical expenses. Participants graduate after completing the training. Post-graduation the youth are offered employment in the social enterprise, V2 (V Squared), that they own shares in as part of a youth co-operative.
V2 makes and grows products for the youth’s own use, as well as to sell. These include candles, lip balm, honey and different types of vegetables. Because the project is currently depending only on donations, it has adopted strict accounting procedures that make the participants aware of the profits and losses they are making in their projects. This is to ensure that they are running sustainably.
“Out of the thirty youth that we have, ten are based here in Burnside and are responsible for the manufacturing of candles and lip balm as well as gardening,” says Thenjiwe Nyoni who is the organisation’s Executive Officer. “Since we are also responsible for the retail of our own products, the other twenty are responsible for the marketing of the goods and produce within the communities.”
One of the participants, Siphamandla Nyoni, explains that through their projects they have managed to benefit from both gardening and manufacturing by selling their products and using any waste material to make items for their own use.
“Being able to get some things from the organisation has helped me save because I do not have to buy everything we need at home,”she says.
Besides the participants learning ways of conserving resources, the recycling of candles has made it easier for the participants to endure the lengthy blackouts that are currently a common feature across the country.
Participants are also taught to preserve the environment by practising permaculture in their agricultural projects. Gugulethu Moyo, one of the participants, states that the use of compost and water harvesting methods are some of the techniques the participants have been taught to implement in their gardening methods.
“Strip cropping is cheap and environment friendly because we do not have to buy harmful pesticides to control pests,” says Moyo.
The youth make use of both strip cropping and inter-cropping which involve growing of two or more crops, one after the other. The rationale behind this practice is that the different crops planted are unlikely to share the same pests. These methods are also said to conserve soil.
Apart from life and entrepreneurial skills, Vanavevhu offers psychosocial support to the participants as losing one or both parents, and immediately becoming a bread-winner, can be particularly traumatising for a young person. To help these youth cope with their emotional burdens, the organisation has come up with creative ways through which participants share their life stories.
“We came up with the idea of using images to make it easier for the youths to know each other better,” says Nyoni. “They use images of trees that we call a tree of life where they include their families’ life history to show whom they have lost and who they love.”
Nyoni pointed out that among the participants, some may be introverts and have challenges in verbally expressing themselves. Coming up with these ways of story telling was a way of making it possible for all participants to know each other better without having to re-live traumatising moments. A memory box has been placed in the classroom for each participant to keep pictures of people they remember the most.
Vanavevhu has, however, faced challenges of participants dropping out of the project. Out of the 20 that were part of the initial intake, only five managed to complete the three-year programme and graduate. Nyoni attributes the high drop-out rate to lack of funding which has resulted in some of their projects taking long to flourish.
Mhangami alludes to the same challenge and says they have learnt to accept that not all youths are willing to complete the training programme.
“It is very hard to practice what we preach about youth being decision-makers and capable when they choose something different and dangerous from what Vanavevhu offers,” she says.
“But you learn to let go and console yourself with the idea that they will have learned something that will make their lives better from Vanavevhu.”
Clever Sibanda (21), who has been a participant for three years, highlighted that had it not been for Vanavenhu he would not have been able to take his younger brother and two cousins to school; a responsibility he took over since his parents died.
“I am very fortunate to have been selected to be part of this programme, and I wish that everywhere in the country, people will help orphans like me to achieve their dreams,” he said. “I am very proud of myself.”
It is such benefits that Mhangami ascribes to the organisation’s endurance.
“I used to think about myself – as part of the generation born in the 1980s – as the future of Zimbabwe,” she says. “But the Zimbabwe I grew up in is gone and being nostalgic for pre-1997 Zimbabwe is an exercise in futility. A citizen who can survive without the state will be in a better position to enter and negotiate the social contract with the state.”