Students Help Zimbabwe AIDS Orphans

Posted: April 10, 2007

Mufaro Kanyangarara '07 and Getrude Chimhungwe '08 have won a $10,000 grant from the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program to help a community organization in Zimbabwe treat and support AIDS orphans. They received an additional $7,000 in funding from the Dorothy Ann Foundation.

With the grant money, the students will work with Tsungirirai, a nonprofit organization outside of the capital city Harare, to build a chicken farm that will help generate long-term income for its on-site health clinic. Tsungirirai was founded in 1997 by a group of Mount Holyoke alumnae.

Kanyangarara and Chimhungwe grew up in Zimbabwe, where they experienced firsthand the devastation that the AIDS epidemic has caused in their country. With an adult HIV prevalence rate of 25 percent, Zimbabwe has one of the most severe epidemics in the world. As the students wrote in their grant proposal, HIV/AIDS has increased poverty levels and put orphans at greater risk of physical, mental, and social problems, and exorbitant medication costs have denied orphans their right to access healthcare.

"The greatest population that's affected by AIDS in Zimbabwe is children," Kanyangarara said. "When a mother becomes infected, the first person that's affected is the child. Money that was set aside for education goes to medicine, and the child can no longer go to school."

The students chose to work with Tsungirirai because, unlike many other institutions, it tries to keep orphans with their extended family when possible. They also focused on a health-care provider, since both are interested in working in that field. Kanyangarara, a statistics major, will be pursuing a master's in biostatistics and infectious disease epidemiology at Harvard after graduation. She has a strong interest in HIV/AIDS and in the design and implementation of effective prevention and treatment programs.

Chimhungwe is majoring in chemical engineering and chemistry and hopes to work in the pharmaceutical industry manufacturing drugs and vaccinations.

Kanyangarara and Chimhungwe have always known they wanted to do something to give back to their country, and both have already worked with various community organizations in Zimbabwe. In December 2006, Chimhungwe raised more than $900 to buy and distribute Christmas baskets for families at Chiedza Child Care Center and Tariro in Harare.

Kanyangarara, who lost both her mother and father to AIDS, has worked with several community-based organizations as a volunteer and Web designer. She also has ample experience working on her grandfather's chicken farm. "This is my way of giving back to my parents," she said. "It's just what I'm drawn to do."

The two chose to focus on chicken and egg production since there is an increased demand for eggs and poultry meat in Zimbabwe due to high prices of beef and other meats. The project will raise 250 chickens to maturity every 16 weeks, and chickens and eggs will be sold to supermarkets and the local community. Profits will then be used to expand and sustain health services at Tsungirirai.

This summer, Kanyangarara and Chimhungwe will travel to Zimbabwe to oversee construction of the chicken runs, purchase chickens, and plan health education workshops. They will also develop a manual so other organizations can implement the same program.

"This has changed my perspective on how best to help people and orphans in Zimbabwe," Kanyangarara said. "I used to think that it was best to give food, clothing, education…but in coming up with this idea for helping them sustain themselves, we're giving them the power to provide for themselves."

"We have learned so much in this process," Chimhungwe said, "especially with the help of Eva Paus [professor of economics and director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives] and Jale Okay [CGI's director of international experiential learning]. I'm just looking forward to having the project up and running and seeing the profits actually helping the clinic."

The Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program awarded $10,000 to 100 student projects at 65 colleges and universities. The program was established by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis on her hundredth birthday to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world.

On behalf of the College, the CGI had solicited proposals from students for the program. The selection committee (Lois Brown, director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, Eva Paus, and Jale Okay) chose Kanyangarara and Chimhungwe's project among 12 submissions. "Their project stood out," Paus said, "because it is so simple and powerful: create an income-generating project that will provide sustained health-care services to AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. Mufaro and Getrude's selflessness, initiative, creativity, and determination are an inspiration to us all."

Among the other Projects for Peace being funded this summer is one submitted by Kanyangarara's sister, Takudzwa, who is attending Bryn Mawr. She will be holding a photography workshop in Zimbabwe for orphaned girls ages 13 to 18 who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. The girls will be taught basic skills in order to use photography as a form of self-expression, and they will learn about ways to achieve personal and academic success and the alternatives they need to make positive choices about their education and future.

Related Links:

McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives

Weissman Center for Leadership

The Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace