IF looked after properly, wildlife can turn the fortunes of poor communities living adjacent to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries into stories of success and development. However, in most cases, communities around game reserves experience extreme poverty due to a myriad of factors chief among them being the lack of employment opportunities, lack of exposure among other factors. Some end up resorting poaching the wildlife from the parks just to make ends meet.
By Michael Gwarisa
Not only do communities living around game reserves, wildlife conservancies and national parks fail to tap into the economic benefits of wildlife. Because of their poverty, they also struggle to access basic health services such as essential medications, treatment and care, access to sanitary wear and other sexual reproductive health (SRH) services.
Whenever an economy is under-performing and poverty at its highest, it is usually the girl child, the woman or the mother who bears the biggest brunt. With more than 3 million girls in Zimbabwe menstruating, there is high demand for feminine products. Those most likely to experience period poverty in Zimbabwe are underprivileged girls whose parents or guardians cannot afford to buy tampons, pads or menstrual cups and these include from poor communities close to wildlife conservancies. Even though the government of Zimbabwe has removed the value-added tax on sanitary products leading to a reduction in the price of sanitary wear, a study by SNV Zimbabwe maintains that 72% of menstruating schoolgirls do not use sanitary pads because they cannot afford them.
However, to bridge this gap and address period poverty and other challenges facing young women and girls in communities around Imire Rhino and Wildlife conservancy in Mashonaland East province, the owners of Imire wildlife and conservancy have partnered with the community around Imire in setting up the Nhumwa Mothers Support Group where they now produce reusable sanitary pads for local girls and women and for sale.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Mai Matsika, the Deputy Head of Nhumwa Secondary School who was instrumental in the set of the Mothers Support Group at her school said the project has helped many girls and women achieve their dreams.
The women’s group is made up of 10 women, all of whom come from the surrounding community. I am a member of this group. Our main activity is fundraising through sewing school uniforms and washable sanitary pads.
“We use our proceeds to mainly support the education of the girl child, (school fees, uniforms and sometimes stationery for the disadvantaged pupils especially girls, providing Maheu for all pupils at our school and formal lunches for form 4 learners during final examination periods. The group was formed in 2003. The main activity then, was selling sweets,” said Mai Matsika.
In 2015, the group received a donation of sewing material through Mrs Judy Travers of Imire which boosted the standard of sewing for the Mothers Support Group. In August 2018, 1,500 packs were purchased by Padding Africa, and taken to the north of Zimbabwe, to Kariba and Chirundu, and then into Zambia to Lusaka and Livingstone, crossing into Botswana, onto Kasane and Maun and returning to Zimbabwe through Gweru and finally Harare.
“The introduction of the sanitary pads gave joy to all girls. We used to have cases where some girls would go back home after soiling their skirts but it’s now a thing of the past. Each of the packs that we give to the girls contains a pantie, a towel, 2 pads, 2 pad holders and a pair of soap. We call it ‘a bag of joy.’ For it brings joy to the disadvantaged. 1 bag, if properly used, lasts a year. It is also the responsibility of the women’s group to look into issues that may negatively affect the girls.”
She added that the women in the group work with commitment and unity as they also aim at eradicating poverty in their own homes.
“I am happy to say that Imire has done a lot to change the lives some pupils at our schools by facilitating the payment of fees for both Primary and Secondary schools. It has also provided the market for the sanitary pads, provided transport for the women’s group to go to the surrounding schools to distribute the bags of joy, sourced donations for the community and the women’s group, tree planting in the community, provided accommodation for pupils who live far away from the school (a boys dormitory at the school.”
Imire has since started setting up new groups and they are encouraging other women to come up and work in groups. Imire was founded in 1948 by Norman and Gilly Travers. Originally farmers, the Travers had a great passion for wildlife and conservation, which led to the establishment of Imire as a wildlife conservancy in 1972.
Speaking to Journalists during a visit that was organized by the African Wildlife Forum (AWF) to Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservancy, Reilly Travers said community interventions such as the Mothers Group were critical in building confidence and buy in from the communities.
“We have assisted people to pursue their internationally from within the community. We have got bee keeping groups, we have got women empowerment groups. It is critical to get the buy in from the communities and to understand that without the tourism and without the wildlife, these projects will not be able to exist,” said Travis.
Imire has quite an extraordinary game park convenient for interactions between the animals and people and has over 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of conservancy and farm land in a very diverse landscape where you will find rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, giraffe, zebra, hyena and more than ten different types of antelope and more than 150 different species of bird life here.