ACCORDING to a very brief, but incisive synopsis on the web-based free content encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, in 1950 a Zimbabwean philanthropist by the name Jairos Jiri set up an organisation in his name in the City of Bulawayo. The association he formed was meant to support and train disadvantaged people mainly people living with disabilities (PWDs).
“Jairos Jiri, using Christian principles, wanted to help individuals who previously had been marginalised and rejected. Initially the association supported arts endeavours and training and set up craft outlets selling tourist souvenirs, such as carvings, paintings, tiles and furniture. In the 1970s legal representation and affiliate support groups were founded in the United Kindgom. Jairos Jiri Association now houses the disadvantaged, support music and dance groups, and is a powerful advocacy for those who would otherwise have no voice in Zimbabwe,” writes Wikipedia.
However, 70 years down the line, Jiri’s legacy largely lies in tatters with every institution set up in his name facing collapse due to neglect and obviously poor management and lack of appreciation of what the visionary philanthropist bequeathed nation Zimbabwe. When Jiri died in 1982 he left behind 16 centres across the country catering for the disadvantaged, especially PWDs. But today the man Jairos Jiri must be turning in his grave as those institutions, which were all developing into self-sustaining organisations through income-generating projects, are turning into empty shells with the latest being Jairos Jiri Masvingo which closed down a few weeks back due to lack of water.
While the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country has obviously not spared the institutions Jiri bestowed to the country, it is, however, sad that centres which had stood the test of time are being run down to the point that they can no longer sustain themselves. All Jairos Jiri Masvingo centre needed was adequate and constant supply of water to sustain its agricultural programme. And given the food situation in the country with enough supply of water it is difficult to even imagine how the centre could not have managed to flourish through growing and selling farm produce or even rearing livestock.
It is quite disturbing that when asked about the centre’s predicament, Jairos Jiri Association national director Wilson Ruvere initially said all was well at the centre before admitting that the institution had shut down. Trying to hide the truth tells a lot about what could be happening at Jairos Jiri because if the association is still operating along Christian principles then all those working there, especially the directors, must be honest people who are never evasive. In fact, Ruvere should have been the first one to contact the Press or beam an appeal via the media after problems visited Jairos Jiri Masvingo. But alas he and his colleagues just shut their mouths and even tried to lie that everything was fine when it was not.
What has happened to Jairos Jiri Masvingo could just be a tip of the iceberg to what is taking place at one of Zimbabwe’s biggest privately-owned institutions that has for 70 years done sterling work, looking after PWDs. There could be more happening to Jairos Jiri’s legacy which is escaping public scrutiny and it would be quite sad if one day we wake up to hear that the association is no more. And predictably, those who will be in charge when the institution collapses will blame donor fatigue. But some of us will always remember that most of the institutions Jiri left behind were almost self-sustaining. Many of us will also remember that those running Jairos Jiri after the death of its founder have been acting dubiously and at one time in 2010 sought to evict Jiri’s window, Betty, from a house in Bulawayo’s Nguboyeja. It took the late former President Robert Mugabe’s intervention to stop the eviction. We also know that Jiri’s son fought those who were left running the association. So it would be prudent for those running Jairos Jiri Association to pose a little and go back to basic founding principles of the association if it is to last a little longer.