Interview with Mrs. Rufaro Mutsau: A “Stubborn Woman”

Mrs. Rufaro Mutsau, the director of one of Firelight’s grantee organizations, Ingalo Zomusa Orphan Care Trust of Gwanda, Zimbabwe, visited Firelight earlier this month. (See Santa Cruz Sentinel article "Firelight Foundation offers grassroots support to those orphaned by AIDS," for more information on Ingalo Zomusa, Rufaro Mutsau, and Firelight.)

During her stay, Mrs. Mutsau sat for an interview with Firelight staff, talking about how she started her group and how they do the amazing work that they do:

FF:    Why did you decide to start your organization, Ingalo Zomusa (IZ)?

RM:    Twenty women [from my community] came to me to say: ‘We need to do something for the children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. We need to make their lives better.”

It is a passion, a driving force. I was brought up in a family of six [related by blood], though we had more than 15 to 20 members at any given time. My mother embraced everyone, and it influenced us—the 20 ‘ladies of Ingalo Zomusa’.

These ‘20 ladies of IZ’ came from different churches, different communities, different sectors, but they were all women I knew from before.

They have so much love—an abundance of love—for children. Some of them are highly skilled, but most of them simply wanted to give vulnerable children the gift of acting as their mothers. At IZ, we’re just like one big family—our own children and the children of Ingalo Zomusa together, with no distinction.

I’m not all of the brains behind IZ. I invited the women for tea. The ideas came from the women, a combined effort between myself and the women.

‘Ingalo Zomusa’ means ‘arms of mercy’ or ‘arms of love’. We build with our hands. The greatest gift we have, has been given to us by God: our hands to be able to embrace these children in our community.

FF:    How does Ingalo Zomusa support and help improve the lives of vulnerable children and families?

RM:    There are so many different ways one can and must support children. Money is needed, but is not enough. Love and a shoulder to cry on—that is priceless to a child. Children want to tell us about their lives. We have an individual connection with each child.

It’s all about holistic care: what’s happening in school, what’s happening in their homes—all of it is important. Children’s needs are multiple: school, clothing, shelter, love, and someone always pushing them and giving them confidence and self-esteem.

FF:     Tell us a story about one of the vulnerable children that you have worked with.

RM:    His name is Ousile. Today, he’s a trained nurse in a hospital.

His sister was raped and IZ was alerted about the case. This was not the first time—unfortunately, this was a repeated rape offender, and we 20 mothers became very concerned and wanted to do something about it.

So we started working with the government. We also went out to the churches, disseminating information and gathering evidence. The perpetrator was a relative of the girl's and someone in the community who was generally looked up to. It was a very complex case, but at the end of the day, we were very fortunate to see justice served.

Then we went to work with the family to deal with the trauma. The girl’s brother, Ousile, was in form 4 at that time, in Guanda secondary school. He was doing very well, but had not registered for his exams. So we started looking for funds to help him with his exams. He passed with distinction!

He told me he wanted to proceed with his education and go to form 5. He did extremely well, again. When he finished his A-level exams, he really wanted to go for journalism. But bureaucracy in Zimbabwe is a big issue. We tried to raise funds to pay for university, but were not successful, so Ousile opted for nursing.

He studied nursing for four years and working in rural communities. Once again, he succeeded in what he had set out to do. We, the mothers of IZ, were at his graduation and we were so excited for him.

Today, he specializes in treating diseases that attack our children. He has accompanied us on our rounds to visit vulnerable and HIV-positive children. He seems to be very content with what he’s doing on the ground.

And his sister is now pursuing African art. We need to encourage our children to do what they want to do and what they are strong at—to empower them.

FF:    What are some of the most rewarding aspects of leading Ingalo Zomusa?

RM:    Life is not all about leading. It’s about being part of the community. Being there for a call. Being there to empower a woman. We are there to inspire and mobilize women and to support children.

I like being in the background, though it is a challenge when you’re supposed to be leading people. I’ve learned that we need to listen to our people and to our communities; to use the talents God has given us; and to discover the hidden talents of other women.

We have success stories—vibrant strategies that are coming from the women. Go to a legislator; lobby; strategize—all for the benefit of the child. Even when we are so tired, we get energy, power, and vision from our work with children.

FF:     What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your work?

RM:    We are stubborn women! Even is it’s the highest mountain, we will climb it.

We have had breakthroughs—the kind you wouldn’t even imagine. For example, talking to the governor of my province and telling her how valuable it is that she is a woman. We use our womanhood to get to those in power, to influence them, and to tell them our stories. We are changing policies at the same time that we are changing lives.

But we still face significant obstacles: too little funding to meet the needs of all of the vulnerable children in our communities. As just one example, because we don’t have enough funding, we cannot buy a vehicle, which would allow us to travel the long distances to some of the poorest and most vulnerable children who live in very remote areas.

But despite all of the challenges, we go for it! And trust that money will find us along the way. When there is no money for children to go to school, we start income-generating projects to make quality products we can sell on the market and use the money for the children.

FF:    What effect has Ingalo Zomusa, its staff, and the children and families with whom you work, had on you and your life?

RM:    I have great joy in what I do. It is wonderful working for communities. It has helped me listen to my own children in my own home—trying to impart to them that life is all about looking at your community and seeing what change you can make.

We use our time meaningfully. We are so content with what we’re doing. The message I carry is that life is a journey, an opportunity given by God, and we should use it meaningfully. I would like to say that “I have fought a good war” like Paul said in the Holy Bible. Women should ‘take up arms’ and work for their communities.

FF:    How many children benefit from your work?

RM:    Through donations from Firelight and other sources such as churches, income-generating projects, and other initiatives, more than 1,000 children have passed through our hands. And still more are coming in. I hope and believe we can even spread out, to serve children in the whole district as well as regionally, and share our experiences with other women, in order to benefit even more children.

I’m a mother. I will not be satisfied with what I’m doing. I will always think “I could have done more.” We need to look beyond our ‘borders’ and learn from the experiences of other women elsewhere.

FF:    How does Ingalo Zomusa compare to other local, perhaps better-funded, larger organizations?

RM:    Well, Ingalo Zomusa doesn’t have the resources that those organizations do, like computers and transport vehicles. All of the women of Ingalo Zomusa should be commended for continuing their excellent work, even in the face of often scarce resources.

FF:    Why has Ingalo Zomusa been so successful?

RM:    We have different strategies. We are community-based. We listen to the communities, and we work with the communities to make life easier. We don’t design programs—the communities design the programs for themselves. We are there to facilitate and advise. It’s a learning process. There is transparency. There is trust.

We work with the communities as one. Nothing about the communities happens without the communities. That is why we are successful.

FF:    Can you tell our readers a little bit about your relationship with Firelight?

RM:    We heard about Firelight through a Roman Catholic nun working in the rural communities in Guanda (Zimbabwe). She was comparing figures, and seeing the impact of Ingalo Zomusa’s programs, and was fascinated by it, so much so that she became a part of our community, and told us Firelight.

She promised that Firelight would really listen to us. We were not successful in securing funding the first and second times we applied, but we kept at it.

Without Firelight, we would not be where we are today. Life is not the same—Firelight has given us a new life.

FF:    Do you have any advice or recommendations for how Firelight could improve its work? RM:    Firelight is working in Zimbabwe in different provinces. Help should come in regionally. For example, we don’t own a camera, but if another Firelight-funded group had one, we could share and communicate with each other.

Funding is scarce—there are no big grants out there for organizations like ours, but Firelight has the advantage of seeing what’s happening on the ground. Video cameras are important, regular cameras are important, and access to the Internet is important, but they are very expensive.

We need to be in constant touch with each other so that we can access and relay information. We would love to share Internet access, equipment, resources, workshops, and trainings with other Firelight grantees.

FF:    Apart from funding, what have been some of the benefits of working with Firelight?

RM:    We have benefitted greatly from all of our communications with Firelight staff.

We are actually quite alarmed by the trust that Firelight has given CBOs working on the ground like us. Some larger funders might call it “throwing money away”. So we are both honored and humbled by the trust, and feel that we need to use Firelight funding meaningfully because they have put their trust in us.

You know, it gives you that big push. It pushed us to do what we’re supposed to do, and to strive to do even more. FF:    What is life like in Zimbabwe these days?

RM:    The health system has collapsed and the education system is on its knees. Inflation is out of control; there is no money anywhere. People are really struggling.

The situation is not conducive, but as women, we are very watchful and forceful. We must make sure that women and children know about their rights and empower them.

FF:    If you could send one message to those who are in a position to help grassroots groups like yours support vulnerable children, what would it be?

RM:    We are the people on the ground, working with communities on the ground. They should assist Firelight to help organizations like ours realize change in the community. They should not worry about ‘risk’—their funds are very secure at Firelight. And Firelight’s vision is our vision: to bring positive changes to the lives of vulnerable women and children.