NKHAFI, MADISI, 10th MAY, 2014:
This year, Nkafi village head celebrates 52 years. He celebrates more than his birthday following a fortnight that has seen the completion of the first CHE seed project. His leadership efforts and training under CHE earlier this year enabled his village to come together and for the first time in many years build a ‘bridge’ across a 30m crossing of the river where one has traditionally span the river since before he was a boy. The bridge connects 5 sister villages that form the environs of Madisi with 10 others in the hinterland across the perennial river whose wrath is felt throughout summer although the off-peak season has little respite for the villagers.
Speaking at the completion of the project, the group village headman, Masamani, observed that the bridge is a vital link between the two communities on each side of the river. These communities live in a symbiotic co-existence and the bridge comes as a much needed infrastructure for the whole community. While Madisi business center is the hub of economic activity, the main health center in the 5km radius is across the river and it primarily serves the maternal and child welfare of the whole community. The bridge offers quick access as the established roads sometimes mean the difference especially when matters relate to pregnancy are at stake.
What makes the bridge unique is the fact that the CHE model has been widely and actively embraced by both the community and the traditional leadership. This follows a TOT that identifies 16 individuals from in and around Madisi, 4 of which are traditional leaders. These trained as community health evangelists and the bridge project is the first-fruits of the initiative. On the last day of the project, a total of 42 women and 40 men worked in a participatory framework that defied the food-for-work concept. Sadly, the food-for-work concept disenfranchised many a community and left dependency syndromes that will take long to cure. In short, they have eroded community will power in the developmental discourse, CHE represents a rebirth in this discourse. To further show that there is now a shift in the way the community views developmental work, each household supplied a 90kg polythene bag over and above their talents, skills and labour. The timber (logs) used to span the other part of the river were obtained through controlled cutting down of trees in the communal grave yard, this demonstrates the degree of unity and leadership all traits most pointed out had not been possible before CHE.
One prominent woman who spoke on behalf of the group noted that CHE instilled a sense of agency in the whole community and this is the motivation that led to the adoption of the bridge building as the first seed project. The women carried sand in buckets which the man bagged in 90 kg bag and used these to dam part of the channel before using logs to span across the remaining 3m of the river. The community demonstrated they have what it takes to harness local resources, both material and human towards achieving a common community goal.
Through the leadership and brainstorming led by the writer, the community now looks at their previous challenge through new developmental lenses. It was agreed that responsible people would find out what it would take to turn the small weir at this part of the river into an aquaculture project. The community welcomed the idea and run with it as they assigned roles and responsibilities towards realizing yet another seed project born out of the impediment presented by crossing the almost meter deep channel at the height of summer. One of the men said that the building of the fish pond on this particular stretch of the river would ensure that the wooden structure of the bridge that has between 2-3years will last longer if not indefinite as the construction of aquaculture ponds will redefine the environment.
It was an enthusiastic village head who in jubilation saw opportunity born out of the efforts of CHE as he said his life and that of his community will never be the same all thanks to CHE. Before this bridge the villagers travelled long distances to access bridges that would add more that 10km to the short distance of not more than 4km, this affected not only business and health but at times ate at the very core of Ubuntu as people helplessly stayed divided by a flooded river most summer days. Where the communities had seen challenges posed by a river not crossable, it is now part of history as the community explores economic opportunities where they have for the greater part of his lifetime seen threat!
Photos courtesy of TheHDi
By Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo