So you’re back – then what?

It’s been a month since we came home, and in the aftermath of this mission the time has been spent on writing reports and formulating what we’ve seen, and how to go about addressing the challenges that we’ve seen. Needless to say, we have seen numerous possibilities for projects we could start up, so there is more than enough to keep us busy. For the projects to have a chance to be successful, it’s important that the paperwork is in order, and that the right steps are taken at the right time.

It may not sound as fun as spending the days in rural areas experiencing completely different cultures, and meeting wonderful people every day – but it’s just as important! It’s actually the best way to ensure that we do as much as we possibly can to assist in these development projects, and help build a better future.

What drought looks like

During our two-day drive we passed through areas qualified as Region 5, meaning the most dry and hottest areas, and it saddened me to see the effects of a drought. Along the way we would cross bridges where you could tell there had been a stream or a river, and all of them were completely dried up. Out of the at least 30-40 we passed, only one of them still had water. Around us there were endless areas with thousands of trees, but they all looked dry, gray and sad. It is one thing to be out in a community where you, also, clearly can see the lack of water and the effects it has on that community, but to be driving for two days, for hundreds of kilometers, and everything you see around you is dry, dry and more dry…it just doesn’t seem right.

As we have only been driving the last few days, and haven’t been out on field visits or anything more ‘exciting’ to share, I’d like to just try to give you an impression of what it looks like. These are photos from the different places we have been, and although it doesn’t nearly capture the extent of this drought and the challenges it gives, it can still somewhat give an impression of the conditions.

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This area in Makoni is intended for production, but without water nothing will grow.

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Some areas have more ground water than others (as you can see by the trees), but even there it is drying up.

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On our way north this was mostly all we saw.

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Matopos national park after the wildfire. When we were there, smoke was still coming from a few spots.
 

Into the wild

It’s been a few days. We’ve been out in the rural areas, and right now I can’t even remember half the things we’ve done. They days go really fast, but really slow. We have had such busy and long days that it’s hard to keep track or even remember which day it is today. We haven’t had internet where we stayed, and every now and then we also didn’t have any power. There have power cuts in all places we have stayed lately, so unfortunately writing here has been on the way bottom of my priority list.

During the days of field visits, there isn’t much time for anything else. We get up at six when the sun rises, have breakfast (lately we’ve been eating fresh fruit we have gotten or bought!) and get in the car. We have been driving so much, my ears still have the sound of the wind ringing when I go to sleep. As there were no accommodation possibilities any closer, it has taken us between 1,5 and 2 hours to get to the villages. Here we have our meetings, and then this, then that, then a little more of this, and oh also that, and time flies and we’re home after dark.

I have to admit, some of the days have been quite challenging. Sometimes it’s hard to cope with the heat, the language, the constant changes in our schedule, and not knowing when the day is going to be over. We had one really long day in the lowest part of Honde Valley, and it was the hardest day so far. All day it was hothothot, and we kept squeezing as many people into all the places we were – offices, benches, the car, which made every part of the day more sweaty. The warmth really strikes you, and the wind feels like when you open the oven and let the heat straight in your face. It’s sometimes hard to handle, or know how to handle, and I’ve had a few moments where I was ready to give up. But somehow you manage to push through, and find motivation in the things and the people around you. And the next day you’re off to see the most beautiful mountain scenery with tea plantations covering the earth with a bright green carpet as far as you can possibly see, and everything is forgotten.

Regarding the projects I would say we are making great progress. We are meeting some highly motivated people, and structured and functioning groups which will be able to implement things easily. We have visited communities, district councils, village chiefs, schools, school leaders, counselors, project groups, and more. The need for water definitely stands out as the most urgent and highly important issue, as this is the starting point for so many other things. Access to water will allow firstly domestic use, but otherwise it provides opportunities. Everything starts with access to water, and from there on there are possibilities for  better living conditions, increased incomes and hope for the future. People are grateful, happy and excited to meet us, but at the same time they show motivation, commitment and skills. We have been met with entertainment as much as well-preparedness, and have had interesting discussion revealing that the proposals have been taken seriously and undergone thorough examination. I think we’ll be able to start some good projects in the areas we’ve seen.

Today we have been driving all day and are now halfway to Bulawayo, where the second (or perhaps third) part of this mission will start. The roads are not amazing, and travelling takes time. But we’ll get there tomorrow, and all of sudden there aren’t that many days left! As slow as I felt the days we’re going in the beginning, as fast are they going now. At the same time, when I look back on everything we’ve done the last 9 days, it’s actually hard to believe we haven’t been here longer.

First field visits

It’s sunday morning, and although it’s only seven (six in Denmark now i guess), the sun is already high up. Although the evenings are dark, the days are so bright. I’m slowly adjusting to the heat of the sun in the rural areas, but there is no denying that it’s really warm, and the sun is very strong.

We have spent the last few days out in the Makoni district. Here we have met with two communities, and the need for water is urgent. All around you can see that everything is dry, it’s warm, and there has been no rain for a very long time. The opportunity of working alongside someone experienced is very valuable, as she sees a lot more than me. It’s definitely something else to be an intern during field visits, than at the office! I think also it would have been easier if I had a technical background, but nevertheless I learn so much every day. Visiting these places, and looking at the project possibilities has definitely had an impact on me, and there are many thoughts and feelings when we come back in the afternoon/evening.

We are now in the mountains by Juliasdale, and it’s a completely different view than the last few days. It’s greener, cooler, and mountains all around. We have somehow ended up with nothing on the agenda for today, which means we can spend the day writing and discussing what the last few days have given us (and re-energize before the next part).

There isn’t much time to sort through pictures in between everything else, but here are a few snapshots for now, to show the different landscapes we’ve seen the past days.

 

So what are we actually doing?

Weather is a curious thing, and comes in many variants. Zimbabwe has been strongly affected by the phenomenon called El Niño, which may have given Europe warmer summers, but has caused far more challenging weather conditions south of the equator. Zimbabwe, among other countries, has been severely affected by droughts induced by El Niño, and as a consequence crop productions have failed, water sources are drying up, and living conditions are rough. It is estimated that around 4 million people in the rural areas will be in need of humanitarian food assistance in the months to come.

It is in relation to these rising needs, that Engineers without Borders Denmark now wants to go in to Zimbabwe, and why we are here now. This morning we finalised our program together with our partner, and I thought it was time to let you in on what we more specifically will be doing during our stay here. Tomorrow morning we will set course for Rusape, and go in to the Makoni District where we will look at and for projects within WASH, food security, environmental management and energy, to see if there are projects or challenges EWB-DK can help address. We will spend a few days in this district before travelling further to the Mutasa District, where we will go on field visits and have meetings for the same reasons, but also in relation to a food security project EWB-DK has been working on developing for a little while. It is hoped that by the end of these visits, it will be more clear how the project development will continue.

After these visits, we will travel to the west of Zimbabwe, where we will meet in Bulawayo with our Danish partner Care4People and our WASH representative from EWB-DK, and all together go to Lupane. The purpose for this is to evaluate and identify the needs for renovations and constructions of school buildings, development of an educational product we’re working on together with our partner, and keeping our eyes and ears open for other issues, challenges and possibilities. This will be the last part of our mission, and afterwards we’ll head back north and tell you all about it! The days are already going by so fast (I started writing this after our morning meeting, it is now 9pm), but for now Denmark feels surprisingly far away.

We’ve already had some interesting and fruitful meetings here in Harare, and 7am tomorrow we’ll be on our way for what will probably be the most intense part of our trip. I’m excited to see more of this country, and will try my best to share it with you as we go!

– Christine