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Bringing hope

Updated: 2013-05-24 11:40
By Sun Yuanqing ( China Daily)

 Bringing hope

Elfas Zadzagomo, founder and chairman of the New Hope Foundation, has been fighting for children and women's rights in Zimbabwe for decades. Photos provided to China Daily

Bringing hope

New Hope Foundation uses public campaigns to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in local communities.

One man has dedicated himself to helping women and children in Zimbabwe, and he is looking to Chinese NGOs and enterprises to join the struggle

It is hard not to be touched by the sympathy and power in Elfas Zadzagomo's voice when he talks about the plight of women and children in Zimbabwe.

Founder and chairman of the New Hope Foundation, Zadzagomo has been battling for their rights for decades. Now he is drawing Chinese NGOs and enterprises to the country to join his fight.

"If they come in now, they will be able to put roots on the ground. Right now is a good time as we have a new constitution and we are going to have elections. Investment was bad in the past two years, but is now picking up," says Zadzagomo during his fifth visit to China.

His organization has already worked with China Family Planning Association in 2009 on HIV/AIDS prevention and he says he hopes to continue this work.

"Since our work in 2009, things have changed. And people have opened their eyes. Now they are looking forward to it," he says.

Zimbabwe has some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world with around 15 percent of the population (1.2 million people) infected. Around half of them are women aged 15 and above, and about one-sixth are children aged between 1 and 14, according to UNAIDS, a United Nations program aimed at tackling HIV/AIDS.

The plight of these women and children is made worse by poverty and a lack of information. Without money for basic necessities, children in Zimbabwe are often especially vulnerable, according to Zadzagomo.

"When older men come and give money to young girls, they can't refuse because they want to survive," he says.

"In the end, the girls are pregnant, infected with HIV and left alone. They not only have to drop out of school, but also have to face social discrimination against unmarried pregnancy. It's like taking a girl to jail."

The foundation has set up about 100 community youth clubs in three big cities in Zimbabwe. While attracting girls by offering sports training and cultural dance activities, it teaches them about life skills and their future, explaining to them the dangers of HIV and AIDS.

However, its work can only be sustained if staff members receive more training. That is where NGOs in China like CFPA can help.

The association has been training people in China about life skills and sexual knowledge for many years, Zadzagomo says.

"We have volunteers who are so passionate but don't have any skills. Once we send them out, they don't know what to do. Only if the staff members are trained will they be able to train other people," he adds.

Last December, three children who had been raped, impregnated and infected with HIV, came to NHF for help, but little could be done for them.

"When you hear these stories, you cry," says Zadzagomo.

"They don't have anybody to support them. And once they come to you, what can you do? You don't have skills, but people keep coming."

Chinese companies can also play an important role in improving the situation, Zadzagomo says.

For example, there is a lack of maternity pads in the country with most that are available imported from South Africa and expensive. Because of this, many women use newspapers as an alternative and this can lead to infections, he says. A way to tackle this would be if NHF was able to partner with a Chinese company to produce maternity pads locally in Zimbabwe.

The foundation currently owns a fruit wholesale business, which it uses to support its work, and a mine. It's looking for partner companies for both businesses - a juice maker to work with the fruit wholesaler and a mining company to operate the mine.

"There are so many Chinese companies that want to go to Africa but they don't know how. If we work together, on one hand, it can support NHF, and it can also ensure more safety for the Chinese enterprises in the local community," says Zadzagomo.

Zadzagomo visits China every year for NGO exchanges and now calls the country his second home.

"I know I have someone to fall back on. If I cry, you will hear my voice," he says.

However, this trust didn't come easily. He recalls that in 2009, when the NHF first started working with CFPA, many Zimbabweans didn't like the idea.

"I was alone. When I told them I was working with the Chinese, they were against me," he says.

However, things have changed since those early days.

"People have come to realize the importance of partnering with China," Zadzagomo says. "With the Chinese, you won't lose them when there is pressure, they will always be there for you."

While Zadzagomo is working hard to drive further cooperation, he says the language barrier makes it difficult.

"It's like climbing the Great Wall of China," he says.

"They do not respond to letters of invitation. Maybe it is because of the language barrier and yet this should be used as a platform to teach each other our indigenous languages."

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