Lighting a Candle
In 2005, in the midst of a government-led destruction of urban communities in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare, I found myself leading an empowerment workshop for an organization called Shingirirai. As I settled myself in my chair to listen to what the women wanted to share, I found myself quickly drawn into the intensity surrounding me. I looked over to see my co-facilitator shaking as she reflected the trauma of the women around me.
Everyone was sitting like wooden statues, traumatized and grieving. I was inspired to light a candle and talked about the pain that everyone was feeling. The community had been ravaged by HIV/AIDS and economic collapse, and almost every woman had faced tremendously difficult circumstances.
One by one, the candle was passed around so each woman could share her experience of seeing families and businesses destroyed. As each one shared her pain, her healing started. By the time we finished passing the candle, the light had come back into every lovely face. The program, and the women themselves, could go on.
The workshop is only one of several critical programs Shingirirai provides for these women and families. Ten years ago, a group of women got together in a church yard to talk about doing something for orphans. Today these women run a pre-school program that has transformed the lives of thousands of children and is 70 percent self-sustaining. The Early Childhood Development (ECD) program is run by Shingirirai Trust inside six centers in three high-density communities on the outskirts of Harare.
The ECD program now takes in over 430 children between the ages of three and six years old every year. The children come from many backgrounds: over 50 percent are orphans and other vulnerable children, and some are disabled. Many are traumatized. Through this program, the children learn to be loved and to love others, and this foundation stays with them for the rest of their lives.
Children often begin the program showing all the typical yet traumatic signs of abuse and lack of care. By the time they leave the program, they have not only learned about their own uniqueness and the value of their lives; they also have the beginnings of real education. Their caregivers learn about the sacredness of the task of bringing up children, and they learn, too, about their own inner wounds. Every ECD program supervisor works with caregivers to assess each child three times per year, continually monitoring progress to ensure excellent, sustainable care.
Staff and select volunteers participate in service training workshops three times per year. Shingirirai administration has developed a personal empowerment model that is changing lives. This model, called STEP (Shingirirai Trust Empowerment Process), is based on the premise that true development happens in transformational moments when hearts are opened and light and love flow in.
The leaders in Shingirirai hope to share this model with women in other communities to give them a head start into fulfilling lives. It will take investments of time, effort and financial support from caring people to make that happen. Through the many challenges these women and children face, we have the ability to help them find their own path. All it takes is kindness and the willingness to light a candle in the dark.
Mel O’ Gorman