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Influential Zimbabwean women working for social good
Thandi Mpofu,
November 05, 2010

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This article gives insight into the lives and careers of three inspiring women working in humanitarianism in Zimbabwe. Let's get to know Joan Mtukwa, Charlene Hewat and Lindiwe Chaza-Jangira . . .

From refugee to advocate for refugees and internally displaced persons, Joan Mtukwa is the Country Director for the Jesuit Refugee Service Zimbabwe (JRS).

Joan MtukweMutare is a long way from Free Town but that is the journey Joan Mtukwa took early in her life. The reality of pre-independent Zimbabwe forced her family to leave their hometown of Mutare for the safety of neighbouring Botswana. Joan spent nine months in a refugee camp there, where she experienced the difficulties of being in a foreign land, without resources and dependent on strangers. Listen

Joan did not allow these hard circumstances to dictate what she could accomplish. She got a scholarship, graduated with two qualifications from the University of Sierra Leone, and on return to Zimbabwe soon took up her first management position in the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture.

Joan recognises that her career was influenced by her experience as a refugee. When she joined JRS, she was able to work with empathy leading to the successful implementation of the organisation's projects. Recently for instance, they built fifteen houses during a three month period for elderly people in Caledonia. Joan cites this project as one in which she felt especially successful because she knows the dignity that having a roof over one's head gives to displaced people. Listen

Small accomplishments that make a big difference in the lives of refugees and the displaced, keep Joan motivated in her work. This is how she derives much of her job-satisfaction. When asked what her proudest career achievement has been, Joan mentions a project involving vulnerable children in Chishawasha and Checheche. She's proud the children are enrolled in school, dressed in full school uniform and that they're getting a chance at a better future.

Outside of work Joan can be found doing charity work through her church because she believes that there is always something that she can do "to help others who need assistance".

To find out more about Joan Mtukwa read her Inside/Out interview here

With vision to sustain the planet, Charlene Hewat, the Chief Executive Officer of Environment Africa is inspiration in action.

More than twenty years after her trans-continental bicycle ride, Charlene Hewat is still recognised as one of the famous "Rhino Girls". The two-year journey, done with colleague Julie Edwards, took her from the United Kingdom through Europe, Africa and finally to Harare. Although they encountered numerous difficulties along the way, in the end they managed to raise awareness and £250 000 for the conservation of the rhino population in Zimbabwe, Kenya and other parts of Africa. Listen

Charlene describes herself as a visionary being guided towards a specific purpose by the universe. It was Charlene's vision that motivated the "ride for the rhino", the subsequent establishment of Environment Africa and the organisation's expansion into three other countries in Southern Africa. Charlene has also been inspired to work on another initiative called "Tree Africa" through which she's met Nelson Mandela, something that she describes as a career highlight. Listen

Charlene views her career milestones as being important strides in attaining the ideal of sustainable utilisation. Drawing on the old adage "give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for life", she believes that it is necessary to also "teach a man to breed fish to feed generations to come". This way of thinking is based on an underlying respect for nature, central to sustainable utilisation, which was ingrained in Charlene by her father. Listen

Over the years Charlene has recognised that sustainable development can also contribute to Africa's commercial and economic success. With the same passion with which she pursued her previous projects, Charlene is working towards a new vision called the Green Zambezi Alliance - Moving from Aid to Trade. She is extremely excited about this initiative believing it will preserve the environment as well as enhance the lives of individuals and the communities in which they live. Listen

Describing herself as proud to be a "white African," Charlene looks forward to a time when, through the success of similar homegrown initiatives, Africans will be able to demonstrate to the rest of the world our unique way of uplifting ourselves.

Hear more from Charlene Hewat - read her Inside/Out interview here

The sky is the limit for Lindiwe Chaza-Jangira the National Director of the Zimbabwe AIDS Network (ZAN).

Lindiwe Chaza-JangiraLindiwe is a very accomplished woman. She is a graduate of prestigious American Universities, a well-travelled and vastly experienced human development professional and member of several boards, including the Developing Countries NGO Delegation to the Global Fund. She can also plough a field and grind peanut butter in the traditional way! Lindiwe puts her remarkable achievements down to her upbringing, which gave her "the best of both world's" and equipped her to thrive under any circumstance. Listen

Raised primarily by her father, his influences manifested in the kind of person that she became. He instilled in her the knowledge that she could do anything that a boy could do and that "the sky was the limit". This self-confidence spurred Lindiwe to reach great heights in her career. From the humble beginning of sorting letters at her college's post office, she has since occupied several influential posts in United Nations agencies, both in New York and across Africa. She retells a terrifying encounter with bandits on a particular mission to Hageza, Somaliland. After their small aircraft landed at airport in the bush, a bandit, heavily under the influence of drugs, approached Lindiwe demanding USD20. In her panicky state she could not find the money, which she knew she had. When she had resigned herself to certain death, her friend and colleague arrived at the airport to fetch her and nonchalantly assured her that the bandits could always be paid the following day! Listen

Having spent sixteen years abroad, Lindiwe returned to Zimbabwe and soon joined ZAN. She takes great pride in the culture that has been created within the organisation. Interaction between colleagues is uninhibited and occurs across all the different levels. This has made for an environment in which idea sharing happens freely and where individual efforts come together to create wonderful outcomes. Everybody's work is important and everybody is valuable. There is as much concern for achieving the goals of the organisation as there is for each individual in the organisation. Listen

On the advice of a friend, Lindiwe has promised that one day she'll make a list of her many 'firsts'. Among these are her appointment as Chairperson of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO), where she was the first civil society representative to hold the position and also the first female to do so. Lindiwe is appalled by this latter fact given that the organisation has been in existence since 1968/9! She would like to see women doing more about such sexist situations. She believes that women in positions of power will give young people role models to look up to. Listen

There is no magic or mystery in what Lindiwe has achieved. She wants young women in Zimbabwe to believe that they too can achieve what she has because the sky's the limit!

Learn more about Lindiwe Chaza-Jangira in her her Inside/Out interview here

Rounding up my conversation with these three fabulous women I asked them to share some advice for people thinking about a career in the humanitarian field.

Joan: Getting the correct skills you need for the job is fundamental. And once you get a job, be professional and show respect to the people with whom you work in order that they may treat you the same. Listen

Charlene: One's passion must guide career choice and direction. Ask yourself what it is that makes your heart sing? With specific regard to a vocation in sustainable development, this is not an easy career path to pursue. But it's exciting because you're dealing with real life issues and making a positive impact on the lives of individuals and whole communities. Working in sustainable development is a contribution to moving Zimbabwe to the next level and bringing back the pride in our nation's beautiful scenery and its people. Listen

Lindiwe: One's health is paramount. In order to become something in life, you need to be in good health. Set realistic goals and discipline yourself towards these, for both your academic and social life. The choices you make in daily living will affect who you become tomorrow and the opportunities that will open up for you. Thus, decisions concerning sex are paramount as engaging in sexual activity can change your whole life. One must ensure that they are ready and able to deal with the physical, emotional and spiritual consequences of sex. Listen

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