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Kevin Dispatch

The Bumpy Road from Training to Freedom

Chitungwiza is a suburb just 25 minutes outside of downtown Harare. To get there I had to take a long blue school bus that was packed with men and women who appeared to be visiting or returning home to this quiet semi-rural area. Sitting in the far back of the bus, I never really felt at ease. Every bump in the road caused a violent nervous chain reaction originating from my hips, up my spine, through my neck, inevitably ending with the crashing of my teeth. Carrying my computer and camera in my green backpack made me feel as though I was back in high school except that there was a noticeable absence of kids on the bus. What? No kids on a school bus?

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As you can imagine, school busses are used for everyday public transportation here in Zimbabwe, as was the case back in Latin America. However, every year there is a new group of kids that can no longer ride bumpy, blue school busses like these to school every morning. Although it may seem lucky not to have to wake up early and report to class, it is not by choice that they don't go to school. Many of them simply can not afford the school fees at the beginning of each new term. The Social Dimension Fund helps pay school fees for children whose parents earn less than $1000 Zimbabwean a month (under $30 US) or are disabled. But with school fees starting around $100 Zimbabwean per semester (sometimes as high as $600 Zimbabwean), it's extremely difficult even for families above the cut-off line to afford to send their kids to school. Other children must begin working to support the rest of the family when they reach their teen-age years.

How do these teenagers manage to earn a living without having finished high school? Well that's where the Chitungwiza Integrated Youth Survival Alternative Project (CHIYSAP) comes into action. This organization is just what young people who are not in school and unemployed need to get the training necessary to compete for jobs otherwise reserved for highly skilled individuals. Carpentry trainee Timothy Mabena, talking about the objectives of the organization, states, "CHIYSAP is like a technical college as it teaches skills like carpentry, welding, and dressmaking. " The second goal of the organization is to "enable and encourage youth in their own entrepreneurial ventures".

From Monday to Thursday the students all work in one of the three training departments. However, on Fridays all of the trainees gather together for a weekly forum to fulfill the third objective of CHIYSAP, which is to "create a sense of self-confidence and awareness among youths of their capacity to contribute to development and harmony in their society. " I have been able to personally observe and even participate in some of these Friday sessions led by Morgan Muchawaya, the Training Project Coordinator.

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Morgan (Training Project Coordinator, local Shona educator), Jeremy (American from Colorado) and Dorothy (Belgian volunteer helping at CHIYSAP)
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The first session, conducted with the assistance of an American, Jeremy Jones, involved a discussion of Brazilian dissident Paulo Freire's book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". This book is meant for people that may in fact consider themselves to be either "the oppressed" or "the oppressor". It encourages their mutual recognition of each other and the systems that keep them as such, as well as providing a "pedagogy" or teaching method meant to bring an end to this sort of harmful relationship. Enthusiastic hands were raised in answer to questions such as, "Why do the oppressor and the oppressed have a 'paternal' relationship? " or "Can either party do away with an oppressive situation without the efforts of the other party? " A 22 year-old student named Julius posed an even more interesting question when he asked, "If I ever manage to lift myself out of my state of poverty, or perhaps even become wealthy, would that automatically make me one of the oppressors? "

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Julius (white t-shirt) and others, brainstorming ways to improve the CHIYSAP programs.
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The second session I observed was heated with arguments, as one would expect from a discussion of gender issues among young Zimbabweans. Ten statements about males or females were printed on the blackboard and the students were required to give a show of hands as to whether they thought the statements were based on a conception of gender roles or on biological facts. Some of the statements were worded in a tricky way and there was some disagreement on nearly all of them, especially those regarding physical abilities, salary discrepancies, or intelligence and differences in potential between men and women.

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Some of the CHIYSAP students and I enjoyed the sunshine and came up with new and bright ideas!
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The Friday meeting is also a time when the trainees get to periodically evaluate the programs at CHIYSAP and brainstorm about problems and constructive solutions. The opportunity to make contributions to the structure and content of one's own education can be very valuable, especially when it's done as a group. Although they meet very early every Friday, the trainees possess alertness and genuine enthusiasm towards the education they are receiving and I've been captivated by the interesting thoughts and questions put forth by the group. They're all aware that it will take a lot of effort to complete their training, secure a good job, and elevate themselves from the "mental slavery" of their oppression. But for now, CHIYSAP is a full-time occupation they're committed to, and just may be their ticket to the future.

In the first chapter of Freire's book, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" he talks about the roles of the oppressor and the oppressed. Among other things he notes that "the oppressor" and "the oppressed" must both recognize injustices within their symbiotic relationship and work together to establish independence from each other. The following is a passage that you may find interesting.

"Discovery without action is useless. When s/he (the oppressor) discovers him/herself to be an oppressor, it may cause them some pain. But the realization itself will not change anything. It will not mean that they will work in solidarity with the oppressed to change the situation. It is not good enough for them to act paternally towards the oppressed in order to get rid of their bad feelings. This sort of action does not change the fact that the oppressor wants the oppressed to be dependent.

True solidarity means s/he must change positions, must take a 'radical posture.' The main characteristic of the oppressed is that they live underneath the consciousness of the oppressor. So, in order to really change things, the oppressor must choose to work side-by-side with the oppressed to change the situations which creates that sort of relationship. They must stop seeing the oppressed as an 'abstract category' (like "those poor people in that poor neighborhood over there"). Instead, they should see them as a group of people who have been denied justice, who have had their voice stolen, and who have been cheated out of fair treatment.

In other words, the oppressor must stop making pious, sentimental and individualistic comments and actions. In order to be in solidarity with the oppressed, they should risk an actual act of love."

- Paulo Freire


Kevin
 

Kavitha - Homeless Youth - From the Cold Streets to Caring Arms
Monica - The DP Foundation: Two Ladies who Make a Difference
Abeja - Rural Traditions and European Legacies
Monica - From Harare to Harvard: A Zimbabwean Student Comes to the United States
Making A Difference - What Rights Are Most Important to You?

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