The 7th of May 2019 was a day on which love and fellowship were abounding as Africa University visited Rusitu Valley in Chimanimani that was one the communities that were affected by Cyclone Idai that made landfall in parts of the countries Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving in its wake massive destruction of homes, infrastructure and the livelihoods of those who were unfortunately in the path of the storm.
Africa University together with the nation of Zimbabwe pulled together to offer assistance where it was most needed through constant engagement with the Disaster Response Unit based in Mutare that was charged with coordinating all relief efforts and to stay abreast of developments and pressing needs areas where the university might be able to assist. The key objective of all interventions was to develop home grown solutions as a province and nation that would alleviate the tenuous situation that had gripped the Chimanimani and Chipinge areas of Manicaland and to also return to those who had so much taken away from them during the events of the cyclone, dignity and hope.
The efforts of the university came to fruition when AU, with the blessing of the Minister of State of the Manicaland Province Honourable Dr. Ellen Gwardzimba, sent a delegation of experts in the fields of engineering, health, environment and agriculture to go to Chimanimani to develop means through which the affected communities can gain their livelihoods back and to also make donations in a showing of short –term support with the aim of laying the foundation for a long standing relationship for future development of the community in conjunction with the university.
During a courtesy call to the offices of the Minister of State led by Vice Chancellor Professor Furusa, Hon. Dr. Gwaradzimba welcomed the AU delegation warmly speaking highly of the continued outreach and community engagement efforts of the university especially during the early stages of the Cyclone. She said,
“Africa University was my home for over 15 years where I was the Dean of Students. I am very excited to have you here today and I know that it is within AU’s DNA to go to the grassroots and give to the community. I have always known you to be such. Where you intend on going (Chimanimani) was the epicentre of the of the storm. 171 people lost their lives. Some lost entire families. You can only imagine the amount of grief that this would bring. They need hope, spiritual and emotional support which is very necessary. AU is big in this area and Dr. Mazvita Machinga (AU Chair of Pastoral Care) has been working with us on this.”
“This intervention is timely and very welcome. We must not forget that there is more to be done and we must continue to offer assistance until these communities are in a position to return to self- sufficiency.”
Prof Furusa explained AU’s commitment to enhancing this collective vision saying,
“As a Pan African institution with vast networks, we want to extend this network to the work that is currently underway to capacitate and embolden others to do more for the cause. There are so many institutions within Africa that want to help and together we can reach our common goal of not only empowering these communities but also leaving them in a better position than they were before the disaster took hold.”
The university went on to formally register the items that were to be donated that included cooking oil, soya protein, mealie meal, salt and clothing. Reverend Kufazvinei the head United Methodist Pastor of Rusitu Valley, Kopa Circuit and Community Headman Hlabiso received the AU delegation upon their arrival in Rusitu Valley where a welcome reception was held. Headman Hlabiso welcomed the team saying,
“I want to thank you for coming all this way, you are indeed our friends. You have come to us in our time of need.”
He went on to narrate the events that led up to the disaster.
“It began on a Thursday. The sky looked to be promising plenty of rain but this time we noticed it was different. The sky grew increasingly darker and darker and the winds were untenably strong. All the signs were pointing to a storm that was not like one any of us had witnessed before. It began to rain and it went on for hours. The water began to rise and homes were being swept away before our eyes. We survived only by the grace of God. With our homes our livelihoods were swept away by those waters. The crops we had planted, those we had stored, they were all gone. 18 bridges were destroyed in this area alone. Before the storm we sold Avocados, Bananas, Natjies and now those are gone. We are at a point where we are beginning again.”
After hearing these and other harrowing accounts, AU made a commitment to stand by the community with Prof. Furusa adding,
“This is only the beginning! What we are doing here today is the first in many more support initiatives that we have lined up for you. We are with you and you are not alone.”
Members of the Executive Cabinet, students and senior staff went on to distribute the donated food and clothing items after which the AU team took time to fellowship and be with the Rusitu community who were immensely grateful to the team for taking the time to share in their lives and their experiences post Cyclone Idai.
Africa University stands strong as a university that is fully immersed and in tune with the community that it serves. This philosophy has led to the intuitions’ recognition by organizations such as the Corporate Social Responsibility Network and the Megafest Awards for its continued support of community building initiatives that live up to its mantra of creating impactful, transformative and empowering projects that ultimately feed into and contribute to continental and global development initiatives such as the African Unions’ Agenda 2063 and the Millennium Development Goals.