My first full year at Silveira House implementing the Sustainable Peace and Development in Zimbabwe project has been quite interesting. I got to meet some people who were trained by Silveira House as back as the 1960s who gave testimonies of their encounters with the likes of Brothers, Mukonori and Bvukumbwe. For them, to see the work of Father Dove in continuation and how it has evolved with our team more than 50 years later is testimony of God’s presence in it. There was also good reception of our projects among the new beneficiaries and appreciation of the impact they have made which goes beyond making resources available to of the accompaniment of people in our interventions.
This year we pushed for a strong presence at the national level in order to capture the nature of Silveira House’s peace and development agenda. This we did mainly through national dialogue, such as the pre-election multi-party interface and workshops for the police and the media. We reached out to the politicians encouraging them to see beyond their political differences. We also noticed that the bridge between the politicians and the community is the media, the vehicle of ideas and information. Reporting is an advocacy and community building activity, hence, our collaboration with some media houses. One sad lesson we learnt through our workshops with journalists is that, it is not entirely in their power to guarantee that information reaches the people. The editors and powers beyond are the ones who decide what is relevant, hence, what goes to print based on the some vested interests. Regardless we continue to insist on professional ethics. The Jesuit pedagogy emphasizes holistic formation of individuals, thus, the importance of values we preach in our work.
Another interesting dynamic is the difference between my former work with migrants and refugees under Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Silveira House. The work of JRS involved accompanying people in transit. At Silveira House, the people we work with are mostly in stable communities. Nonetheless, they are vulnerable in their own way and they derive hope from our accompaniment.
The collaboration aspect also adds excitement to the work. I joined teams from other departments for field work in Zvishavane and Matobo for instance. These experiences helped me to feel involved in a bigger mission than myself. The shifting focus aspect of collaboration immensely helps to one to avoid stagnation. In addition, coherence between our director’s vision and that of the Provincial Superior is evident in the latter’s remarks at the installation ceremony, a breath of fresh air for us members of staff. The trickle down effects of this cohesion are amazing. There is also a healthy evolution that preserves the founding spirit of Silveira House, at the same time orienting the organization to respond effectively to the context.
Change is not easy but, for me, the need for personal conversion, listening and learning stand out as attitudes that contribute to successful integration. Settling in had its challenges. Training manuals could be developed to orient new staff into the tradition, values, identity, strategy, and methodology. Training for Transformation for instance, should be taught from the onset in order to facilitate the induction of new members of staff like myself.
The socio-economic and political environment in the country poses a lot of threats to our work. One wonders where we are headed to. The hope for transformation continues to diminish. For instance, in response to our expression of interest to the House of Assembly, we received a circular from the government to the effect that no non-governmental organization has the mandate to train elected leaders, inclusive of councilors and legislators, without special permission and consultation with the government. There is no indication of the situation stabilizing any time soon. The impact of the prevailing situation is evident among the poor who are struggling to get by.
Looking ahead, more staff development and emphasis on cohesion at all levels of strategic planning, implementation and team building will ensure swift responses, hence more positive impact. Deepening the level of our collaboration, communication and reflection can also go a long way towards strengthen Silveira House’s engagement with the people of Zimbabwe. The nature of our work is not only physical but also mental/ spiritual, hence a more robust “software” will make the “hardware” more effective.