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STORY EIGHTEEN The People’s Program Zimbabwe, 1999 281 The community meeting starts off slowly. No one seems to want to say anything. It is getting harder and harder for Ben to sit on the ground. He kneels on one knee for a few minutes and then shifts to the other. But he is as comfortable under the circumstances as he could be. The shade under the trees is refreshing. Katerisa District is in the hills, and there’s a breeze too. No one speaks, but the meeting leader isn’t rushing things. No one is in any hurry. Neither is Ben. Thomas, a Zimbabwean man whom Ben had met the week before at a meeting in Harare, had asked Ben if he would like to come out to see “his NGO.” Since Ben’s other work was ending a bit sooner than planned and his plane reservation couldn’t be changed, he had two unexpected free days. It was nice just to be observing for a change, to be Thomas’s guest. The name of Thomas’s NGO is All Is Possible in Zimbabwe, or AIPZ. Ben liked the name, not despite its sappy religious-sounding faith but because of it. It had a catchiness, like the names painted on buses and taxis in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean. They conveyed both deep-seated hope as well as the other side of things—the tongue-incheek , slightly self-mocking fatalism that many people use to keep their poverty at bay. AIPZ, Ben’s new friend had told him, is just five years old. It arose from the people themselves, from the communities, he had added. Of course, and Ben knew this before it was explained, it was Thomas who had really started it and who ran it, pretty much single-handedly. Thomas had brochures in his worn briefcase and had handed several to Ben. Right at the top the community role was given prominence: “AIPZ Equals Participatory Community Development—a Self-Help Assistance Program—Development That Works.” This was followed by: “our goal: AIPZ is a small charitable organization with the goal to assist and build the capacity of communities in their efforts to solve their own problems by addressing a varied and broad spectrum of needs that are identified by the community. If given access and ownership of the needed resources, people within the community are the only ones in a position to work together to develop and improve their community in a sustainable way.” Ben couldn’t help but notice how many subtextual threads Thomas had woven into those few words, as if he had wanted to assure his readers that all possible ideological and rhetorical bases were covered. “Participation”: Very “in” these days. No development agency can be credible if it does not promise the involvement of the community, of the people themselves, as the starting point of all development effort. “SelfHelp Assistance”: Well, that one, Ben smiled to himself, that one was either clever or naïve, or maybe both. It was not as pompous as “helping others to help themselves.” What Ben liked was that it left the contradiction intact but allowed for the reality that the more neutral word “assistance ” conveyed. But what tickled Ben most was “Development That Works.” For here was a tacit reference to the fact that it is 1999 and we now know that much of development doesn’t. Could AIPZ, with its gofor -broke name, do things differently? Thomas appeared to think so. Finally, a man in the back of the circle raises his hand. There are about 35 people sitting under the tree, almost all men and boys. Thomas acknowledges him and nods. The man stands up to speak. He hesitates for a second and then loudly and clearly tells Thomas that AIPZ has promised him a sewing machine and it hasn’t arrived yet. When can he expect it, he asks. 282 Story Eighteen Thomas had told Ben about the “Tools for Self-Reliance” component of the program. Ben turns to the second page of the brochure: “Tools for Self-Reliance distributes refurbished hand tools and sewing machines to rural entrepreneurs throughout Zimbabwe. These reconditioned tools are of high quality and have many years of service remaining. Since tools are just not affordable for many rural artisans, a few hand tools can have a major impact on their ability to eke out a living.” Thomas, unembarrassed by the delay in providing the sewing...


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