As a widow with four school-age children of her own, and three others left in her care by family members, Kusena faced a daunting task as the family’s sole financial provider. Although she owned six cows – three heifers and three female calves – she could not afford to care for them all while supporting her seven children, so she sought assistance from IDE-Zimbabwe to form a co-operative and establish the heifer pass-on scheme.
She said: “I decided to keep two of the cows and give the other four to women in our cooperative. The members agreed that when the cows began having calves, they would each keep one female and give any others that were born back to me.” The cooperative would raise and sell the male calves, but would give the females to other women in the group, so as to continue the cycle.
The cooperative idea has proved to be a huge success. It not only provides an income for other women in the group to enable them to pay for their children’s education, it also provides the community with a much needed access to a local dairy. And over the years, Kusena’s own seven children have completed secondary school, two have graduated from college and another two are currently enrolled in tertiary education courses.
Kusena recalled many instances where she faced gender-based discrimination. “Soon after I founded Kwayedza Women’s Cooperative a donor presented us with a car to facilitate our milk deliveries to the nearest town Rusape. But, the men in the community openly mocked the donation,” she explained.
“In their minds, they thought that as women we were incapable of managing a business without a man’s help, let alone run a vehicle. But, as a cooperative we proved them wrong,” she said.
Just two years after its inception, the cooperative was doing so well that members were able to use their profits to build an office at Chiware business Centre. “Gradually, the men began to respect me and the members of the cooperative and they were forced to admit that we were not only successfully running our cooperative, but, we were actually prospering,” she said.
Despite being told that she would never succeed in business 18 years ago, Kusena knew she had a greater calling. “If there is one thing that I have learned from my experience, it is that every woman should trust in herself; a woman can be a leader wherever she is,” she said.
Although the cooperative was very successful, the women faced many stumbling blocks along the way. Without a cooling tank, their milk would often spoil, which would diminish their income. IDE Zimbabwe provided the women with a 1,300-liter cooling tank. Not only did this prevent their milk from spoiling, but it also allowed them to collect milk twice a day, which enabled them to double their daily milk collections from 50 to 100 liters per day.
The co-operative members are currently planning to open their own processing plant in Bomang’ombe later this year.
Theresa Gonde, the administrator, said they were chipping away at entrenched gender constraints. “As women, we receive direct payments for the milk we sell, which is a huge step forward in a culture where men are responsible for household financial assets,” she explained. “We derive an incredible sense of self-worth and pride from earning an income from our labour.”
The way forward
In an interview with The Zimbabwean recently, the IDE- Zimbabwe programmes director Grace Ndebele said since the organisation began providing development assistance, it has been capitalising on the experience and relationships with women’s cooperatives like the 12-member Kwayedza Women’s Cooperative to improve commercial milk production and processing, so that women can support themselves and enjoy an improved quality of life.
Ndebele strongly believes in the power of the cooperatives as a way to empower women, and she is particularly proud to know that her organisation has encouraged and inspired other women to take control of their economic future and rethink traditional gender roles.
She stressed: “Women should be examples of success. We are not here to receive help, but to help others. We are an organisation seeking to address the needs of communities by working alongside them to identify the root causes of poverty.”
Ndebele said their community development projects aim to produce benefits that are sustainable, that is, benefits that will continue after assistance has ended.
“We provide the tools for sustainable projects, to train people and to enable them to achieve their full potential, beyond the project completion,” she explained. “We act as builders for communities to work to their strengths, and develop their own solutions to specific problems they face.”Post published in: Analysis