Family of Strangers
We went on this trip fully aware that we were leaving the comfort of our homes to live completely different lives for two weeks. Yet we arrived in Gwanda feeling overwhelmed and experiencing a bit of culture shock. They say change is never easy but our friends at Edu Foundation debunked that belief. They went above and beyond to make sure we felt as comfortable in Gwanda as we did in our own homes by making us a part of their everyday lives. We never felt alone, we were always prioritized. We shared spaces and stories and created bonds that will last a lifetime.
Connections in Times of Grief
Emely was the last to join the class on the first day of training. She was shy and quiet and sat in the very back of the room. Her voice was so soft we could barely hear her speak even if we were up close and personal. I wasn’t sure if she felt comfortable being in the space so I assumed Emely would drop from the program after the first day. But she attended every session and despite her being the quietest in the room, we tried our best to make sure she felt included. As sessions went on, Emely began to get more comfortable. She was smiling, mingling with other CHWs, and participating during class Q&As. At graduation, Emely opened up to me and Madeleine. We learned that her husband passed away just the week before the program started and she initially felt uncomfortable coming into sessions because she was visibly the eldest in the class. She was thankful that IHELP created a safe space for her to connect with others in times of grief while teaching her how to keep her community healthy. She shared her newfound excitement to be a part of a group of women who could not only improve the health of their community but also act as a support group for her.
Life as Locals
Salibonani! After spending time in Gwanda and getting acclimated, we were over being foreigners and were ready to live like locals! The process was a bit bumpy, but our Edu Foundation friends made it easy and enjoyable. They taught us a few phrases in Ndebele, one of the local languages, and introduced us to local foods. We absolutely fell in love.
Madeleine even learned to make Sadza, a dough-like side dish made from maize and served with most meals. We often went grocery shopping and ran errands around town with the crew. People around the town were aware of our visit and as Madeleine would say, “It’s like being a celebrity.” Our favorite part of the trip was our trip to Mosi-Oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a great introduction to the realities of living in Zimbabwe. We had a personal driver (And friend!) take us to the falls and back from Bulawayo, but we opted to take public transportation from Bulawayo to Gwanda and it was the best decision ever! Not only did we learn more about local life, but we also formed tighter bonds with our Edu Foundation friends. They became family!
Smiles and Goodbyes
Nomusa was one of the most active CHWs in class. She was engaged throughout sessions and easily understood the material being presented. She would make jokes and smile often and made sure Madeleine and I felt comfortable and welcomed. During breaks, she would ask us about our lives, how we felt about Gwanda, offer life advice, and share about women empowerment, as an aunt or mother would. She told us about her family and introduced us to her only son. Having her around was always a breath of fresh air. Despite attending all of the sessions, Nomsa was not able to attend graduation because she was going through the process of purchasing land in Bulawayo. We wanted to make sure she became certified as a CHW because of her hard work and dedication during the program. Luckily, we were able to meet up with Nomusa the day before we left Zimbabwe. She took the exam, passed with one of the highest scores, and became certified! Nomusa was one of the last CHWs we saw on our trip, little did we know that would also be our final goodbye with her. Upon our return to the States, we learned that Nomusa passed away during a trip to Bulawayo. Thank you, Nomusa, for your warmth and pleasant memories. You’ll forever live in our hearts.
Graduations were one of the best parts of the trip. Graduates were always filled with gratitude and excitement. They appreciated us coming all the way from America to work and bond with them. “That’s a very long journey,” was a phrase we heard often. Most of the people were shocked when we arrived because they had doubts about the program taking place. They couldn’t believe that there were people in America that were willing to come to Gwanda to ignite change and make their communities healthy. Not only were they thankful for the program but they appreciated our humility throughout the process. Many of the locals were sad to see us go and hoped that IHELP will come back for more training and opportunities.
“I, Anaberth Ncube from Garanyemba Gwanda, [am] so grateful and feel greatly honored by this workshop and all the supplies that we will use to help our community. It’s such a great privilege to have people who have people in the remote areas in their hearts. We are so thankful. May God continue to bless you abundantly. It was such a nice experience.”
The training in Garanyemba was a bit of a challenge due to language barriers. English is not the main language spoken in this rural area and many of the participants were not comfortable speaking it during the training. But with the help of our friends from Edu Foundation, IHELP was able to overcome this obstacle. Jerry, one of the staff members from Edu Foundation, was able to translate sessions in Ndebele and worked one-on-one with some members to help them better understand the material. The staff members even started participating in the training and assisted participants with topics such as using blood pressure cuffs and conducting CPR. Towards the end of the training, some CHWs were more confident in speaking English and even started asking us questions directly instead of having Jerry translate.
Gwanda is Young and Creative
Even though we did not see much of it until the very end of our trip, there’s so much talent in Gwanda! Before going to Zimbabwe, Edu Foundation invited us to the annual TESMA (The Eminent in Sports, Music, and Academic) Award Show, which would be held towards the end of our trip. They told us how big the event would be and how we’d get to see Gwanda celebrate and recognize its top scholars, athletes, and musicians. We were so excited and honored to be invited, that as a matter of fact, ‘Pack an outfit for TESMA awards’ was on our travel prep list.
We arrived in Gwanda towards the beginning of summer (In December, so cool!), so most of the youth were out of school and back home from college but only a few participated in the IHELP training. We would mainly see the younger crowd after training, towards the end of the day. We would see them hang around Chicken Inn, a local fast food restaurant, in their mining workwear after a long day of working at the mines, as local cab drivers, and as employees at local retail stores…. But it wasn’t until the TESMA award show that we saw them as talented and passionate artists! Gwanda is young, alive, and talented and the event showcased it perfectly. It was big! Everyone was dressed in their best outfits on the red carpet. Madeleine and I were severely underdressed despite our preparation, but that did not stop us from enjoying the show.
We got to see local musicians perform their best hits. We listened to poetry in Ndebele that strongly moved us even though we did not understand the words. We saw dancers move their bodies in ways you could never imagine. And the best part, we got to see Gwanda’s youth support and celebrate their most talented with thunder-like cheers and applauses. We were in awe. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Before coming back to the US, we showed our appreciation by purchasing art from a local artist (@zietheartist) and adding songs, heard at the TESMA awards, to our playlists as a way to support and always remember Gwanda’s youth and their talent. The song in our Zimbabwe Summary Video is also by a local artist, Zagoe Radge. Be sure to check out the video to see even more stories and pictures.
Bonding Through the Experience
Meeting Madeleine was one of the best parts of the trip. I finally got to meet IHELP’s very first fellow (a legend, if you ask me)! We’ve had several virtual meetings prior to the trip but meeting in person was like getting to know each other for the first time. I was a bit overwhelmed about going on a 2-week trip, to a different continent, with a complete stranger. But as soon as I met Madeleine at the Newark airport, all of my worries were out the window.
While we waited for our flight to South Africa, Madeleine shared advice and tips that made me feel less anxious about our trip. It was at this point that I realized I’m going on this journey with a friend, not a stranger.
Implementing the CHW program in a foreign country is not the easiest but we love what we do! And as passionate public health professionals, Madeleine and I bonded through the experience. Madeleine served as my mentor for the trip and she did a phenomenal job at teaching me how to run the trainings, overcome obstacles and navigate through culture shock. Throughout the trip, we shared our stories, learned about each other’s passions, and our shared love for cats! And most importantly, we created a safe space where we could be open and vulnerable with each other when things were a bit overwhelming. By the end of our trip, Madeleine and I became family (I mean, we did share a bed for two weeks, after all)
The end of our trip was bittersweet. I missed home but I also knew I would be saying goodbye to Madeleine. We spent our last days together flying back home and lounging around airports during long layovers and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I absolutely miss Madeleine but I know sooner than later we’ll be going on our next IHELP adventure! Thank you IHELP for recruiting such a passionate and amazing human being and thank you Madeleine for all that you do for the world and for being my friend. <3
-Fatou Cisse, IHELP Intern