LIFE will never be the same again for Mt Hampden women in the wake of a cancer screening initiative and empowerment programmes rolled out by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Angel of Hope Foundation in the area yesterday.
Mt Hampden is popular for its red clay soils and brickfields which provide work for hundreds of men.
Life in this community is centred on the brickfields and people live in compounds where they mould bricks for sale to individuals and businesses in the construction industry.
Though there are a few women in the brick business, a good number of them have to be content with being housewives while some venture into commercial sex work to escape poverty and high unemployment rates.
Drug, alcohol abuse and petty crimes are also common in these compounds.
However, thanks to First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and her foundation’s mobile clinic, a cancer screening programme was held in Mt Hampden yesterday to ensure women there have better health care and are treated early for cervical and breast cancer.
Among those who were screened was a 35-year-old woman who was diagnosed with early cervical cancer making the community appreciate the importance of the First Lady’s intervention. The woman has since been put on treatment.
The First Lady is the country’s health ambassador and has spared no effort to ensure everyone is screened and introduced early to treatment.
Among those screened was Mbuya Tendai Munashe (71), who said it was her first time to get screened.
Her story is a reflection of how illness can cause many to suffer in silence owing to a number of factors including barriers to accessing the screening services in vulnerable communities.
Thanks to outreach programmes under which the First Lady is scaling up advocacy and awareness to protect women against these silent killers.
“I have come here after hearing there is a screening session for cancer brought by the First Lady. I have come to be screened because this disease knows no age. I am so happy because this is being done for free. I urge everyone to follow suit,” she said.
Another resident, Mrs Vhunzai Juwa, echoed similar sentiments and said it was her second time to be screened for cervical cancer.
“This disease is dangerous because late diagnosis leads to complications. The First Lady has shown love and her desire for us to live,” said Mrs Juwa.
“When I heard about this last night, I did not sleep with happiness and joy that our mother has remembered us. This is because with cancers, when at home you feel no pain, but when it is advanced you fall sick. I thank God and pray that he gives the First Lady more years because of what she has done for us and what she is doing for the whole country.”
Addressing the gathering, The First Lady said it was essential to fight cervical cancer so that women can raise their families.
“I am happy to be here with you, especially women. I have come as a woman just like you so that we work together in fighting cancer and be able to raise our families. I have brought a mobile clinic so that all women can be screened for breast and cervical cancer. This disease is blind to age, church and political persuasion. There is also prostate cancer which affects men.”
When Amai Mnangagwa asked the gathering what caused cervical cancer, one woman rose from the crowd and blamed everything on “magical potions that we use as women to enhance love with our husbands”.
The First Lady responded; “So do you realise that such practices and magical potions are causing health challenges? I urge all who are still doing the same to stop forthwith and protect their health.”
Some of the food we eat, the First Lady said, also caused cervical cancer.
“Have constant health checks and be checked even for HIV. If your husband refuses to get tested, what do you do?” she asked, and the crowd said they should practice safe sex.
“But will the husband agree to use protection?” and the crowd shouted, “No, he will look for another wife.”
However, the First Lady said it was important for couples to always get tested for HIV.
She said as health ambassador, it was her wish to have every woman screened since a stitch in time saves nine.
She further urged the women to select committee members for a collective banking club where members put their money together, which is popularly known as “mukando.”
“I want us to have our banks. NTT is our motto ‘Ndine Twunhu Twangu (I have my assets)”, she said, sending the crowd into laughter.
A hands-on person who always leads from the front, the First Lady organised the women into 16-member groups with seven committee members each. She made her contribution to all the clubs as a club member depending on the amount the groups agreed to contribute individually.
She did this as a way of motivating the women and fostering transparency in their financial management.
The groups presented their business proposals to her and in turn she gave them business ideas which they could start using the small amounts of money they would have contributed.
Mrs Pamhidzai Mbimbi described mukando as a woman’s weapon against poverty. But she noted similar arrangements in the past had failed to yield success because of greedy individuals and expressed faith that the involvement of the First Lady would strengthen the clubs and yield results.
“Mukando empowers women and does not make us always look up to men for support. My children will be getting enough to eat, while I carry forward with my business. This compound is full of women who are into prostitution and men who abandon their families.
“I urge them all to leave prostitution which leads to health challenges like HIV and venture into business because such acts are not good at all. We are grateful to the First Lady for remembering us. This is a first of its kind to see a whole First Lady coming to us,” she said.
Mukando was popularised by Amai Mnangagwa during her tenure as Chirumanzu-Zibagwe legislator where women in the area started running shops, building houses and sending their children to school.
Mrs Ronica Moyo quipped: “At least we have been set on a development path and the ball is now in our court to deliver.
“Amai has given us the means to succeed and we can only look forward to following the rules she gave us so that our schemes do not collapse. I am truly thankful to the First Lady for her vision and quest to empower the womenfolk.”
The elderly and the disabled who were part of yesterday’s interactive session with the First Lady walked home happier with food hampers, while expecting women were given baby preparation sets.
All the women sang, “Ichava nhoroondo kana tasimudzwa naAmai kubva muguruva”, as they bade Amai farewell.
Mashonaland Provincial Affairs Minister Mary Mliswa-Chikoka praised the First Lady for remembering the people of her province.
“We are happy to welcome you on your visit here today. We want to thank you for always remembering our province and whenever we raise alarm you come as our mother to rescue us. You offer life-changing experiences and have great love.
“We never anticipated that you would visit Mt Hampden with your cervical cancer screening programme so that whoever is diagnosed is introduced early to treatment. We are grateful you brought your mobile clinic from Angel of Hope Foundation.
“If the country does not enjoy good health, it does not succeed. Vision 2030 can only be a reality through the various programmes you have rolled out,” said Minister Mliswa-Chikoka.
Mrs Barbra Muyengwa from the Women’s Bank encouraged women in Mt Hampden to start income generating projects.
“This bank represents the interests of every woman. This is your bank so come and open accounts and unlock loans to start income-generating projects. Women should be empowered and nothing stops you from working with us. We assist all businesses no matter how small. Even on chicken rearing we can give you the necessary knowledge,” she said.
Mrs Muyengwa said gone are the days when women would wait for their spouses to return from the brickfields with money for bread and relish.
“Every woman must work so that we remove the dependency syndrome. Zimbabwe needs you and me to succeed. Our hard work brings about national development. To school girls who have just finished school, rushing to get married is not the solution to problems. Come to the bank so that you become businesswomen,” she said.
Provincial medical director Dr Gift Masocha and National Aids Council Chief executive Dr Bernard Madzima thanked the First Lady for her outreach programmes which they said will “achieve our goal in the fight against cervical and breast cancer.”