Zimbabwe, Day 1

“What is your project?” asked a disabled war veteran.  He wore a very sharp-looking fedora and wanted to know how my trip to Zimbabwe would help him and the thousands of landmine survivors and persons disabled by conflict in his country.

“I am here to learn,” I responded, “To listen to you and communicate to others what you tell me.”

Yesterday I arrived in Zimbabwe, one of the most mine-affected countries in Africa.  I am here to document and share what I learn about landmines and the challenges faced by landmine survivors.  The encounter with the war veteran and five others was today’s highlight. The five men and one woman ranged in age from thirty to sixty and had come to the Department of Social Services to access rehabilitation services provided by the government.  One of the men had traveled 500 kilometers, another 400 and they would only be in Harare for one or two days. Out in the rural areas, specialized services for persons with disabilities are often unavailable so one must travel to the larger cities to get rehabilitation services or prosthetic devices.  I was not allowed to take photos in the government building; but had I done so you would have seen a handsome and pleasant group who were kind enough to give me their time.

They wanted to be empowered.  A person who uses crutches and travels 500 kilometers to seek out assistance on the third floor of a building whose elevators are out of order is already independent and self-reliant.  He can be a role model to others and, if the structures are in place, part of a group of empowered survivors.  The youngest of the group told me that there are maybe six or seven others in his home village and meeting other veterans is easier in this office in Harare; everyone who comes to this office is in a similar situation and if these six people had only just met, I could not tell.  There is an opportunity here for peer support and psycho-social support that would be empowering.  My host for the afternoon recognizes this opportunity and spoke about forming groups of veterans for this purpose.

I listen.  I share what I learn. That is my project.

More tomorrow.

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