By Maria Mache
From the dusty streets of ‘the ghetto’ rose a man, a visionary who would be a driving force in changing people’s lives. From a mere desire to touch lives, rose an organisation which has become a source of support for many students. So many lives have been touched all because one man was bold enough to believe and follow his dreams persevering even when the road seemed dull. Owing to his hard work, a legacy was born, one never to be forgotten… Shape Zimbabwe Trust.
Looking at the short, heavily built man, it is hard to believe that Shepstone Musiyarira is the Director and founder of Shape Zimbabwe. His humbleness and generosity owes itself to his simple and humble beginnings. Shepstone is the eldest in a family of seven. His mother had to work very hard to sustain the family. Sometimes, they would go for days without a decent meal.
When he was eighteen preparing to write his advanced level examinations, his mother went into a coma. This had a negative bearing on his education as he failed to attain enough points to proceed to the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). However, he never gave up even when things looked grim. Shepstone went to a teacher training college where he attained a diploma in teaching after which he was able to take up a degree in Food Sciences at UZ.
Starting an organisation was not an overnight idea. From his early days at the UZ, Shepstone was an avid volunteer in charity work. In 1994, together with other students at UZ, with the assistance of the first lady Amai Grace Mugabe, he spearheaded a walk from Bulawayo to Harare for Graciano Masauso who needed a kidney transplant. From this experience, he realized the importance of mankind and vowed to change lives.
Shape Zimbabwe was born on May 6 2000 by Shepstone and twenty former food sciences students who were keen to save lives. Although he held a degree in Food Sciences and a diploma in teaching, he did not seek formal employment deciding to help save student’s lives through HIV/AIDS and gender awareness.
At some point in its life cycle, the organisation faced major problems with funding. The question cynics asked was, how can a Zimbabwean albeit black man start a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO)? This led to most NGO’s refusing to fund the organisation and its activities. Shepstone moved from organisation to organisation, from office to office seeking assistance. They would even go for months without salaries. The 20 founding members left in search of greener pastures and all that was left was one lone man and his dream.
Through sheer hard work and outright determination, Shepstone kept his head above the water and refused to drown in failure. A visit to the Programmes Director of the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) marked a positive shift to good fortunes. At first the director was unsure of the organisation but he remembered Shepstone from the media reports on the Graciano Masauso walk. For this reason, he injected US$1000 into the organisation which was used to launch workshops and training seminars.
The joy that came from the funding was that, documentation of projects became possible and UNICEF helped source funds from Oxfam. It was not easy though, as doubt was lurking in the potential sponsors’ minds but still, they soldiered on and drove on even though the road was slippery.
Today, Shape Zimbabwe is funded by many organisations, among them, UNICEF, HIVOS, and Oxfam Australia, Germany and Great Britain. It has offices in 4 universities that is Midlands State University (MSU), Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT), Masvingo State University and the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and activities at Africa University and NUST.
The organisation’s main thrust is on promoting female assertiveness, reducing toxic masculinity and encouraging gender equity. Leo Wamwanduka is the project’s coordinator for Shape MSU which hosts workshops, seminars and talk shows. Through these activities, the organisation has been able to touch many students’ lives. More than 200 students are trained gender educators and it is hoped that the number will increase. Recently, almost 40 students were trained as peer counsellors. This was in conjunction with the Student Affairs Department.
Shape MSU has established satellite activities at high schools around Gweru one of them being Fletcher High School. Apart from touching university lives, it has a project where it visits Rosedale Children’s Home in Gweru under the Big Brother-Sister programme.
The organisation learnt the hard way that life is not all about begging and waiting for handouts but rather it is about being able to sustain yourself. With this in mind they have designed a clothing line known as Shape Gear, which has proved popular with a lot of university students. . It also sponsors students’ business projects, in the process getting a percentage of the profits. It should be noted that even in its business Shape Zimbabwe has students in mind; Shape Gear was designed by Pazorora Gwitima.
Asked to give a sneak preview on the future, the director stated that they intend to expand the organisation’s activities. The name Shape Zimbabwe will eventually be replaced by Shape International. Already plans are underway to establish the organisation in Botswana and Mozambique. At the moment, the director and his personnel are working on establishing Hands on Network Zimbabwe which will encourage professionals to do charity work in their respected fields.
A drastic change has been noted among the students on campus who now have a positive view on gender equity. A male student who has been touched by the organisation’s talk shows stated that he never knew the worth of a woman until he was enlightened by gender educators.
It is yet to be seen how far Shape Zimbabwe can go in the future but this far, they have made a difference. Shepstone’s achievements are a clear sign of how dreams can become reality if only one believes. In his last words to young people, he quoted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe saying, ‘Seize this every minute, what you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’