NEWS

THE LATEST FROM JACKSON AND AYSHA IN ZIMBABWE2008-03-19

Trustee Aysha Barker arrived safely yesterday, armed with lots of FOREX cash! She will join Jackson in his final ten days of staff training, networking, and planning for the next stage of SEED's work. They return on Thursday 27th March.

Crazy economics

On 11th March a loaf of bread was ZW$5m (that's million!); the next day it was ZW$10m. Doubled in a day!

Public transport prices can change during the course of a day; on 18th March it was ZW$15m into town, but $20m on the way out, on the same day! That's half a gardener's monthly wages just to take one bus. Many people get stranded in town because they only had enough to get back if the fare stayed still: they then have to walk many hours to get home.

Under the radar

Through meetings with bankers, the team have discovered that only one (German-funded) organisation is still offering microfinance. They plan to meet with them to find out how they are coping, when all others have failed. The economic and legislative environment is stacked against the success of microfinance. It is illegal to charge interest rates higher than 100% despite inflation way above 100,000%. It is also illegal to peg loans against external more stable currencies.

The information at hand suggests that there is no way a formal business can make profit unless it is somehow involved in illegal operations. Breaking the law has become the norm, in all spheres of life, because the law is just so restrictive, oppressive, inconsistent, unrealistic and unclear.

However, street vendors seem to have it sussed, using mobile phones to check prices in various places before setting their own. It seems you need to take great risks, and go under the radar, in order to have any chance of survival.

The team continue to investigate the possibilities for microfinance. They are sourcing successful entrepreneurs and people with various skills to offer initial advice as well as (hopefully) continuous input on the viability of proposals put to SEED's microfinance project in the future.

Nervous politics

The team are surreptitiously attending a few political rallies and gatherings. Those for opposition candidates (MDC, or new independent Simba Makoni) have not been impressive in terms of numbers (many genuine supporters prefer to stay away), and those who have attended have been very fearful. Makoni does seem to have been able to advertise a little in the local press, posters etc, but MDC less so. Media coverage is tightly controlled. One rally was dispersed by the police, and people wandered around aimlessly trying not to dwell in groups of more than five - above which you need police permission to meet. (That means no birthday parties, no prayer meetings and, for many, not even family meals without specific police clearance...)

Many brave people are taking their lives into their hands and standing as MPs. Jackson met with a respected vicar who has decided to stand for his local high-density Hararean constituency. He is meeting many challenges (not least how to just get his message out) but is determined to continue for the sake of his people.

People seem to be pinning all their hopes on the 29th March elections - general feelings show that people in Zimbabwe really want a change this time around, almost no matter who wins between the two main opposition political parties, but it's difficult to tell as yet what really is going to transpire. Early indications do not inspire great confidence in a free and fair process.

Education suffers

Teachers have been on a nationwide strike since January, which has had a massive impact on children's education, especially those preparing for exams. Teachers are just not being paid enough and so would rather take up other temporary trades than continue. Similarly, many children have been pulled out of school; some to contribute to family earnings by trading, and others because their families cannot afford the frequent 'top-up fees'. Attendance fluctuates with the fees: one month they are low so children attend, next month a top-up is charged and classrooms empty.

In order to keep the night school for the Greendale gardeners and cleaners going SEED proposes to subsidise the teachers' wages. This will be linked to performance - of both teachers and students. The students are already sharing the benefits of their learning with their football networks in neighbouring communities.

A Greendale primary school has had to open a foundation class in keeping with national requirements, but the only classroom available is condemned and therefore not fit for use. Therefore a whole class has not been able to start school this year (from Jan). We have said we will rally some people from the local community to regenerate the room so that these children can start asap. We will also advise the school with regards to their fundraising activities, at their request.

Community health

We are looking to get involved in a community health initiative in eastern border town, Mutare. We would facilitate the training of nurse aids and community health workers - not as fully or specially trained as doctors, but trained with special attention to the most common local issues and in the most locally effective and relevant preventative and curative methods. A consultant paediatrician is very keen to partner with us in this project. He also aims to revive a mission training and practice hospital and school in the area, and we will help with advice relating to the sustainability of this project, and the involvement of the local community.

Thank you!

Thanks again for your interest, prayers and support. We are most grateful: please keep it up!

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