By Margret Masanga-John
Media and Communications Coordinator, Zimbabwe
Mavis Mandevana doesn’t have much, yet every day she approaches her work as a low-input garden facilitator and cash committee member with renewed enthusiasm and resolve. It is evident in the way this 43-year-old volunteer speaks. “I feel the need to do for others who could do with a little help. I may need their help too someday,” she tells us.
I am with Oxfam gender coordinator Sheila Kapungu and Joint Initiative urban programme manager Kudzai Nhongo. We are sitting on the stoep of Mavis’s home, overlooking crops of spinach, lettuce, carrots, groundnuts and round nuts in the front yard. They are at their greenest, just about ripe and ready for the picking.
Mavis lives in Harare’s famous high-density suburb of Mbare. She occupies a single curtain-partitioned room with 10 other people whom she provides for. Three are her children and the rest are those of siblings who have passed away. The house is small, but clearly Mavis makes an effort to keep it clean and tidy.
Sheila is there to pass on a donation to Mavis and hands her an envelope containing US$70 – a gift from two Oxfam volunteers in Britain. A smile gently breaks across Mavis’s face. “Please tell them I said thank you for thinking of me,” she says humbly as she accepts the money.
In November 2010, Sheila toured the United Kingdom and spoke extensively about the Oxfam Zimbabwe programme, including the Joint Initiative, which is an urban livelihoods programme that supports home-based care initiatives in Mbare. The Joint Initiative focuses on four main activities:
• Home-based care, in which facilitators are trained to provide basic nursing care to members of the community;
• Low-input gardens (LIG), with the aim of supporting household food diversity and improving nutrition. Trained facilitators provide support to households through information exchange, training and demonstration of the LIG concept;
• Cash transfers in which households are given a monthly transfer of $20. Households receiving the transfers are supported by cash committee members who provide follow-up and household level financial management training; and
• Youth Friendly Centres, which equip young people with information about HIV and AIDS.
Sheila told Mavis’s story through a single photograph. It resonated with two female British volunteers who wished to remain anonymous. They wanted to give Mavis a little something, a show of kindness and solidarity from one volunteer to another. “They were touched by the fact that someone who has very little nonetheless finds time and compassion to help others,” Sheila recounts to Mavis. They reached into their pockets and donated £45 to help Mavis keep doing the work she does for others.
Mavis is not only a low-input garden facilitator and cash committee member but also an entrepreneur, growing and selling vegetables to make an income to feed, clothe and educate her children. She tells us that she plans to use the money to expand her garden. “I want to grow more spinach and lettuce; they are very popular.”
Of her volunteer work, Mavis says: “I look at myself and see that even in my state of material poverty I have much more than someone else. I have good health, knowledge and skills that I can share. I enjoy the interaction more than anything else.”