A Retrospect on COVID-19 and Its Impact on the Women of Zubo Trust, Binga, Zimbabwe

By Tandi Pilani

As we enter the third week of 2021, we can finally turn the page on the challenging chapter in most of our lives that was 2020. As we put the pandemic-riddled year behind us, I thought it would be necessary to take this time to pause and reflect on the lessons learnt in 2020. It has been one of the most difficult 12 months, but we have persevered through it all. I feel that it is crucial to acknowledge everything we have achieved despite all the setbacks due to COVID-19.

We adapted and pivoted to meet our goals through unprecedented circumstances.

The women of Zubo Trust have always inspired me for all the challenges they face each day with their heads held high. Let’s take a look at how they did in the last quarter of 2020 so I can try and convey why they’re a constant source of inspiration for me and many others.

Basket Weaving

Ilala palm baskets (Known as Nsangwa in ChiTonga)
Photocredit@ Joseph Mugande

One cannot help but notice the connection between singing and working together. There is this innate sense of connectivity, camaraderie, and an overall sense of unity. It inspires hope in oneself and among everyone working together, bringing them closer. When the times get tough, singing and working in unison has this ability to show you that you have strength that you didn’t necessarily realize was there.

The footage below shows the women weaving and singing in Chi Tonga about the positive impact of the projects on their livelihoods. Nimble fingers are at work under the protection of a shed which was constructed after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

The weaving process

Pivoting to adapt to the changing dynamics was critical, as was the case with many Small Market Enterprises (SMEs). They re-strategised and focussed on the national market to fulfil the existing demand for baskets. The women worked from home during the strictest period of the lockdown. It’s quite unfortunate that it meant they could not collaborate with each other like they would while working together. Regardless of the challenges that befell the weavers, they produced astounding figures. They were pleased to share that they sold 6,000 ilala baskets between August and November, 2020. Their remarkable efforts ensured that they were able to fully provide the necessary income for their families despite all the challenges.

Ilala palm baskets
Photocredit@ Joseph Mugande

Jatropha Soap Project

Welthaus Bielefeld supported the Jatropha Soap Project team in their monumental effort to play a part in curbing the spread of COVID-19. The Zubo team made sure that the best hygiene practice and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were followed throughout the process to protect everyone by distributing soap to the project beneficiaries, the weavers, Jatropha seed farmers, vulnerable members of the community, and the staff members.

The most drastic phase of lockdown restrictions affected the operations. European clients could place an order for a limited quantity during the peak of the pandemic. 2,500 soap pieces were produced for export to a German client in November for a price of $1.40 per unit. It is unfortunate that the economic situation paints quite a grim picture. A majority of the people live in a state of acute poverty. However, the women of Zubo remain resilient and continue to thrive through these challenging times.

Fishing Project

The Bhindawuko Banakazi Cooperative also felt the pandemic’s impact. The fishing rigs are presently in need of urgent repairs. It has been the most successful project in recent years. However, all fishing initiatives have unfortunately been stalled for several months. In a country that is experiencing stark economic and political challenges, financial support is essential for the women to resume the project in 2021. The economic strength of the women is illustrated by the way they have managed what was traditionally considered to be a man’s job in the region. The women are courageous and can withstand the storms of the Zambezi river, allowing them to catch lots of Kapenta fish.

Find out more about the fishing project here.

The brave and resilient women of Zubo play a crucial role in the country’s fishing sector as female pioneers. I am fully confident in their ability and resolve to do so much more with the right financial backing. Their self-motivated and driven nature has been monumental in keeping their entire communities afloat during these challenging times. With the right donations, these pioneering ladies will be able to realise their goals and achieve far more than they already have in these difficult circumstances. If you believe in the remarkable work that the women of Zubo are doing and you want to help their journey toward empowerment, you should consider becoming a part of it by contributing through this fundraising page.

Looking onto this year, I am confident that these inspiring ladies will maintain their work ethic, their collaborative spirits, and their vision for self-empowerment. There is immense potential in the creative sector. My hope is that we can make all the possible efforts to ensure that the women of Zubo can fully participate in the global trade sector.

SMEs such as Zubo can benefit from the AfCFTA agreement. From what they continue to exhibit on a consistent basis, there is no reason why they should be left behind when it comes to trading throughout the continent and internationally. The willingness is there, they possess the ability, the talent, and the work ethic. They are highly motivated and driven to self-empowerment. Improved access to financial facilities and strategic planning will be instrumental in achieving the UN SDGs.

Additionally, Binga is a hidden gem with so much natural beauty to offer. It is home to the only sandy beach in the landlocked country. Ecotourism opportunities are immense in the region and I am looking forward to see how 2021 has an impact on the entire situation.

The current lockdown that has been imposed since January 5, 2021, is a necessary measure to curb the spread of the second wave of infections we have seen worldwide. While the first lockdown created a lot of confusion, these resilient women displayed their tenacity, resolve, and industriousness to persevere through those challenging times. I am sure that they will not let this lockdown deter them in their mission to empower themselves and help their families and communities. Stay tuned for more updates!

#socioeconomicdevelopment #womensempowerment #sustainable development #livelihoods #naturalresources #artisansinafrica #socialimpact #traditionalcrafts #smallmarketenterprises


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