Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Chengetai Mahomva ’11 and Ashia Troiano ’11 founded Project Shingayi this spring to bring a sustainable school to children in Epworth, Zimbabwe. “We knew we wanted to do something for Zimbabwe,” said Mahomva, who was born there. “My grandparents live one hour away from Epworth; they belong to a church that founded a children’s home there. It’s becoming really expensive to educate the children… [but] it’s not safe to send the children off-site because of the political situation,” she explained, referring to the political turmoil resulting from the recent Zimbabwean election. Economically, Zimbabweans have also been hit hard by the country’s inflation rate, which is currently well over 100,000 percent. “Bread is sold on the black market,” said Mahomva. “People can only eat what they’re able to grow.”
Mahomva and Troiano wanted to make a difference in Zimbabwe; they brainstormed ideas with the support of Dean Tim Sams at the Black Cultural Center and Pat James at the Lang Center. Troiano said, “Pat James pushed us to think really big: how could we actually solve the problem?” The duo hit upon “the idea of building a self-sustainable school” in Epworth. The school will draw as much as possible from resources available within the community. For example, the residents of the children’s home have no plumbing due to lack of water; Project Shingayi is raising money to install specially-designed latrines that convert human waste into fertilizer. These latrines, distributed by Mvuramanzi Trust (“UNICEF referred them to us,” said Mahomva), will serve a two-fold purpose by providing functional bathroom facilities, and by facilitating the growth of life-giving crops for the children to eat. The latrines normally cost just under $200 dollars apiece, but Mahomva and Troiano expect to have to pay $250 per latrine to compensate for inflation.
Because Project Shingayi is young, Mahomva and Troiano have focused most of the group’s work this semester on raising money for the latrines. “Over the summer,” said Mahomva, “we’re planning to do heavy-duty planning for the school.” Troiano explained that the next steps for the group involve meeting with the Environmental Studies Department to talk about building environmentally sustainable structures.
History Professor Tim Burke, who specializes in South African history and Zimbabwe in particular, said that Project Shingayi is “operating at the right scale.” Given the current political atmosphere, “a small school that stays as much under the radar as possible is more viable” than a large-scale aid effort. Ironically, “to succeed, [the Swarthmore students] will have to stay very far way from civil society organizations… Anything that gets associated with the opposition is a target,” and the Zimbabwean government perceives Westerners as “dangerous.”
Burke added, “All this [precaution] may turn out to be completely unimportant in six months” if the tumultuous political situation begins to settle. In that case, the Epworth school would be “just what Zimbabwe needs.” A further challenge he foresees is “to get ahold of resources. It’ll be very hard to come by brick or cinderblock or anything like that. … [They’ll] need a big network of people.” Mahomva and Troiano have begun to consider alternative building methods, including one that involves stacking bags of mortar to create walls, then pouring water through the structure to harden it. However, they are still in the early stages of planning.
According to Mahomva, “there have been a lot of groups on campus that have really helped” with fundraising efforts. The group is currently accepting both cash and clothing donations. Just last month, with help from Facilities, Project Shingayi members designed a successful, kid-oriented “Splash the Toilet Monster” game to raise money at the Swarthmore Charity Fun Fair.