Rice, chicken in sauce and coleslaw is a much loved meal combination in Zimbabwe. In the past, it was the food that was served at weddings, parties, Christmas meals and any special occasion one can think of. This much loved meal and all the nostalgia it brings found its place at our much awaited end of term Girl Child lunch and what an occasion it was!
The winters here are biting at night, and in the early hours, but one can be forgiven for thinking they are the height of summer during the day. The day we held our lunch was no exception. When the mentors started arriving with their groups of mentees, Makomborero staff had arrived at least a few hours before and they and the chickens they were about to cook were thawing in the kitchen. The interns were busy organising seating and arranging tables for the different activities. Our male intern, Milton, insisted on being the photographer for the day (oh, the power of rice, chicken and coleslaw!). There was relief and celebration as each group of girls arrived. Travelling to the Resource Centre can easily take two hours from the areas where our girls were coming from and it was impressive that they all made it on time. Upon arrival, the mentors quickly got into position, the register was done, temperatures were taken, hands were sanitised and a bright red mask was presented to each girl before they sat down. Rocket and Skyler, our much loved Resource Centre dogs got more and more excited each time the gate opened. Some girls took to them straight away, stroking them and playing with them. Others were more sceptical, a little fearful even, and took some convincing that Rocket and Skyler just wanted to play.
Our female intern Yeukai started by welcoming everyone. If she was nervous, no one could tell. She led us through a hilarious game of ‘Simon says’ which most girls were playing for the first time. It was the first event she had taken a huge part in planning and running and staff were beaming under their masks as they watched this past student come into her own. She introduced the speaker for the day, Mrs A, with much fondness and Mrs A spoke from the heart. She brought an honest message that spoke not only into early marriage but into thinking marriage in itself was the end point. ‘Woman, you are enough as you are,’ she reiterated. She told stories that the girls could relate to and got them thinking about the reasons why girls feel that they have to get married. This was important for the girls to hear in a society that often operates on dos and don’ts without much of an explanation. ‘The only time you should marry is when you are in a loving relationship with a man who supports you.’ And knowingly or unknowingly, she spoke not only to the girls but to their mentors and the staff.
We then took time to go through the previous term and see what worked and what didn’t. Each girl did their own written evaluation. This part not only helps us to make Girl Child better, it tells the mentees that their opinion is wanted and valued. A message that is not conveyed enough to the female child.
Next up was the session on menstrual hygiene. Makomborero Zimbabwe previously won a grant that enabled us to buy reusable menstrual cups and reusable menstrual pants to distribute to girls who struggle to afford hygienic sanitary wear. Our Girl Child mentees were perfect candidates and on this day they had no idea that they would be walking away with a menstrual cup and three re-usable pants each. When the trainer started to talk about menstruation, the mentees were engaging and telling stories and laughing but I would put money on that they were thinking how on earth they too could get these re-usable materials the trainer was talking about. The trainer asked the girls what they had done when they had their very first period. It may seem a silly question until you learn that most girls feel they do not have the kind of relationship with their parents that allows them to talk about menstruation. The first time some speak to their mothers about their periods is when they have one and even then that takes a lot of guts. Some speak through a relative, particularly the father’s sister(s). Others would sooner tell a teacher if they are lucky enough to be attending school or they will get advice from friends. One girl said she had worn all the underwear she owned everyday of her period before she could tell anyone she had begun menstruating. Another had used socks as some sort of a pad/tampon. Some had used bits of fabric and another girl’s method of using just her normal pair of underwear had finally failed her and her grandmother found she had spotted around the house. She pretended this was her first period, despite having had one for the past six months and not being able to say. It became clear that not only were we fighting to equip our girls with hygienic menstrual solutions, we had a whole society that needed educating about how normal menstruation is and how this needed to be part of normal conversation.
There was a round of applause when we told the girls that they were each going home with a menstrual cup and three re-usable menstrual pants. Grown women who have tried the cup will tell you what a daunting experience that can be and looking at these 14-15 year olds you would forgive them for not even trying. But as the trainer said, it is having options that stops people from trying the cup and she was right. I am so happy to report that just two weeks after the lunch, we are already getting reports of girls who persevered and are now using just the cup for their menstrual hygiene. That is a good ten years of them going through a very natural process, worry free!
As the day went by, it became harder to ignore the delicious smells that were wafting from the kitchen. The task of lining up, washing hands and allowing a few girls at a time to go and collect their lunch was the easiest of the day! Girls sat around in groups of eight and ate and chatted with each other. It wasn’t just what they were eating that put huge smiles on their faces. It was also the fact that for once, most were eating a meal they hadn’t had to prepare, most were eating a hot meal for the first time in a long time, they were eating with their friends or simply, they were eating. The sun shone brightly as if to smile on the day, Rocket and Skyler weaved between the different groups hoping for a piece of meat here or a bone there unaware strict instructions had been given not to feed them. Mentors and staff needn’t ask anyone if everything was ok. In that moment, all was as wonderful as could be!
As staff were preparing a dessert of ice-cream and cupcakes, one girl jokingly shouted for more meat and we all laughed. The dessert soon disappeared and it was ‘Art Therapy’ time, the last event of the day. Girls were given a white t-shirt each and asked to paint something that they had learnt in the last few sessions. The excitement was too much for some though and they took no note of the instruction and began trying to re-create famous labels and sayings. We looked back during the week and had a laugh about it. Well, it can’t all be perfect! It goes without saying that there were also some lovely, meaningful creations that came out of the group.
The girls would have stayed all day and all night if we had let them. It took time to convince them that it was time to go home. They said a million good-byes to each other. They were each given 8 packets of porridge and another mask to add to their gifts of sanitary wear and self- painted t-shirts. ‘I look like I’m coming from work and taking goodies for the family!’ One girl shouted with pride as she modelled down the driveway. ‘Expensive shopping at that!’ Said another.
There was no doubt the day had been made for these girls. We are so grateful for donations of masks, chicken, rice, porridge and funds that enabled us to make the day a success! We are grateful for mentors who give their time week in and week out to sow into these precious girls. We are grateful for our amazing interns who just get going with stuff when it is needed. We are grateful for staff and we are grateful for those who lead us all so well!
Until the next lunch….
The main purpose of our Girl Child lunches is to bring the mentees from different schools together, give them a treat and celebrate what has been learnt and achieved during the course of the term. Asked what the heart behind the Girl Child lunches was, the author of the programme Mrs Laura Albertyn says:
“The Girl Mentorship Lunches are an opportunity for all the groups of girls from different schools to come together and celebrate what they are learning. Time to mix with different girls, facing similar challenges on a smililar journey. It is also a wonderful opportunity for the Mentors to lead together and mix with each other.
I love the teaching sessions that we dedicate to this time – it is always a broad topic that roughly touches on what they have been learning through the term but from a slightly different perspective. We also have time for them to be creative, share a beautiful meal together and have a skill taught. It is a coming together, a celebration of young ladies! It is an opportunity for us to continue to shout out their worth and say – this is all for you – you are highly valued!
An area that always touches my heart is how the girls always want to take something from the meal home to share with their family – wanting their families to have a small taste of the wonderful time they have had together! As the year goes on the lunches become more relaxed and interactive! They are beautiful confirmations of what we are building in these girls, slowly each week. We get to see these flowers come slowly into bloom.”
By Mercy Mutandwa
Mercy Mutandwa is the Operations Manager for Makomborero Zimbabwe.