It’s hard to believe that more than 90 percent of the workforce in Zimbabwe are part of the informal sector. These workers do everything from selling bananas and playing music to selling stone carvings and other crafts. Unfortunately because they are not considered part of the formal economy, they are often the most exploited—or ignored—by the government. As a result, in 2002, they formed the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), an associate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), to help gain a voice for their members in government.
These workers, who traditionally competed against each other and with the formal sector —are now coordinated and working together to tackle pressing issues such as social security, disability benefits, improved infrastructure, working conditions, and many others.
The Informal Economy is being helped by ZCTU together with their elected leadership to lobby legislators to change the laws to that they become user friendly.
We were given the opportunity to visit two community projects coordinated by the informal workers association with President Beauty Mugijima and program coordinator Elijah Mutemeri.
The first project was a village where they are working with the local community to build a school in an area where hundreds of people were forced to relocate during "Operation Restore Order." As part of a de-urbanization program under Mugabe, the controversial leader of the country, nearly 2 million workers were forcibly removed from their homes in cities, stripped of their belongings, and forced to live in rural areas, without any agriculture skills or training. We met with this community who, despite having very few resources and little volunteer support, are trying to build a school to teach area children. They recently succeeded in getting accredited by the local government and the community is pushing public officials for additional resources to build the school. The visit was especially inspiring because the teachers working there endure long commutes because they believed in helping the community. Many families in the makeshift town are also raising orphans or abandoned children, as well their own.
The second project we visited is an orphanage for children that the union is helping support. As we arrived children were singing, clapping, and rushing to offer us hugs and high fives. Most of these hundreds of kids lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and the orphanage provides them not only with a place to go to learn and go to school, but also gives them a family.
The teachers and caretakers who work there are mostly volunteers and you can see that they share a deep commitment and passion for the future of these kids.
Stay tuned for a small-dollar donation drive to help this orphanage in the coming weeks.