Thursday, July 9, 2009

Highlights from TWM's Spotlight on Zimbabwe

On Tuesday, June 23, a diverse group of men and women met at Xai Xai South African Wine Bar in Hell's Kitchen for the TWM event, Spotlight on Zimbabwe: Crisis, Cuisine & Crafts.

The evening began with some mingling, where we learned that many attendees had lived in an African country at some point in their lives. For those not familiar with the culture and crisis in Zimbabwe, we were unsure of what to expect. Thankfully, TWM provided a pamphlet with a country profile, which listed demographics, highlights about travel and tourism, and its history and politics. A table was set up with beautiful crafts sold by Eco Africa Social Ventures, whose mission it is to empower women by creating jobs for them based on their skills. Conversations continued over South African wines and hors d'oeuvres, until we settled down to hear from the speakers. The panelists were Tanya Nomaziko, a Zimbabwean actress and activist, Rory Kugler, a Peace Corps volunteer who served in Zimbabwe from 1996-1998, Jane Madembo, a Zimbabwean writer currently living in New York, and Janice Ashby, co-founder of Eco Africa Social Ventures, which received a portion of the event's proceeds in order to continue its great work.

Just as the backgrounds of these women are different, so were the experiences they shared about their time in Zimbabwe and reflections on the current situation. Tanya was the first to give some background about Zimbabwe, and answered questions from the audience about her time as an actress there and the importance of pan-African unity. Rory spoke about her time in the Peace Corps, including a story about how she struggled to learn how to carry a bucket of water on her head and how she enjoyed more freedoms than the average Zimbabwean woman during her stay. Jane expressed her gratitude for being in the U.S. at the moment, but also voiced hope for a better future in Zimbabwe, letting us know that race relations there have improved greatly. Janice told the story of how she founded Eco Africa after importing papers from Zimbabwe for her crafts and designs, and the challenges she has encountered to help her women artisans with their basic needs, especially in recent years.

Together, they started to weave together a story of a country of generous and happy people, who have struggled over political turmoil, human rights violations, health problems, and economic collapse, particularly in the past decade. It was a humbling moment to hear about Tanya's loss of many family members as a result of the crisis there. Janice told us that she knew of girls who were prostituting themselves just to obtain a crust of bread or a cookie. One woman in attendance became emotional when she expressed anger and sadness about the death toll in the country that she's left behind physically, but is still in her heart and mind. Jane, however, continued to remain optimistic and said that it's important to start by doing just what we were doing: talking openly and honestly, sharing information through personal accounts, and supporting the people in Zimbabwe through organizations like Eco Africa.

Attendees were inspired and enlightened by the event, and were motivated to support Zimbabwean women by offering to volunteer for Eco Africa Social Ventures and enthusiastically purchasing their handmade products. These women reminded us of how interconnected we are, and how much we can all help each other no matter the geographic distance between us. For those who attended, what did you get out of the event? For those who didn't, is there something you'd like to know more about? Share it all in the comments.

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