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US community raising money to send Zimbabwe 'agent of change' home

by Kayla Henson Forum News Service
11 Aug 2019 at 21:48hrs | Views
Williamson Chitiyo was over 9,000 miles from home when he died in July.

A nurturer, educator and member of his country's main political opposition party, Chitiyo came to the US from his native Zimbabwe after retiring in 2013, fleeing a major economic downturn that left his retirement all but worthless. Now that he has passed, his family wants to send him home, but the expense is so great they cannot shoulder it alone.

Chitiyo's story begins in Mutare, Zimbabwe, where he was born. He was the eldest son, the second of 10 children. His father passed away when he was in his early 20's.

"He had to take up the mantle of taking care of the younger siblings because my grandma was a stay at home wife," said Tariro Chitiyo, his daughter. "He went into teacher training, and he became a teacher. It was one of the professions that would enable him to take care of his mom financially. He put his younger siblings through school."

He met his wife, Tariro's mother, in training.

He taught geography and history in high school, then became a principal, and later an administration at the University of Zimbabwe in the capital city, Harare, where their four children were born.

At the university, he worked directly with students as the go-between between them and the school.

"They seemed to love him, because they all just ended up converging in his office," Tariro said. "I'd sometimes go there on Friday afternoons, and my dad would be sitting there with a bunch of students and they'd be talking. They were so comfortable with him."

She describes her father as a nurturer, a problem-solver.

"He was a nurturer. You could always go to him, regardless of who you were. You could always go to him with whatever problems you had, and he always would find a way to come up with a solution for that," Tariro said.

She recalled a particular instance with her father that she thinks of when she gets into trouble.

"My dad always told me, whatever the boys can do, you can do, too. That meant I would go climbing trees. We used to play on the roof of our garage. We had this huge tree that was right next to the roof of the garage. … It was a really sturdy tree, and the branches went on top of the garage. We would climb it ... I would play for hours with my brothers up there" she said.

One day, when she was about 5 years old, she got stuck up there. Her brothers had climbed down the tree and left her.

"I couldn't get down, and I started crying … My dad came out and he was like ‘I'm not going to tell you to jump. I could tell you to jump and I'll catch you, but … you need to figure it out' ... He told me ‘If you remember how you got up there, you'll know how to get down.'"

When she gets into trouble now, she remembers his words.

"Whenever (I) get into trouble, I always try to retrace my steps. How did I get myself into this, and if I got myself into this, I can get myself out of it," she said.

Life in the Chitiyo family - and in families all across Zimbabwe - got harder after 2008.

"Zimbabwe went through a really tumultuous economic slump around 2007, 2008. (It) wiped out everyone's retirement plans, so all the retirement money went down the drain. It went from being worth a whole lot to being worth nothing," Tariro said.

Her father was set to retire in 2013, but was worried the family wouldn't be able to live off his retirement package, now worth little to nothing.

One of Tariro's brothers, who had moved to London because of the collapsing economy and large unemployment rate, called their father one day to tell him about a potential way out of Zimbabwe.

"He called one day and was like 'You know, one of my friends forwarded a green card lottery system thing, so just send me your pictures and you never know,'" Tariro recalled. "It's like a draw, put your name in a hat and whoever's name gets picked, and my dad's name got picked."

At first, she said, her father didn't know what it meant.

"He just didn't get it. 'What's the excitement about it? What am I going to go to America and do in my old age?'" Tariro remembered him saying.

Her brother, however, was excited.

"My brother explained this is a green card," Tariro said. "(He told him) 'You could go and work if you wanted to. At the same time, you could go visit your family (because he's got a cousin that lives in Minnesota). Visit with him and see whether you like it or not, and if you don't, you can always come back home, and we'll pick it up from there.'"

So when he retired, he left Zimbabwe for the US.

"As painful as it is, it's either you stay and you die, or you move and try to make it the best way you can," Tariro said. "For him to move after retiring … someone who's lived in a country for all their life, for them to then pick up and leave after they retired because they can't see how they were going to survive … it was heartbreaking. "

He couldn't get a job at a university, and he ended up working as a sales associate at Walmart.

"Although it was frustrating, he was always happy. He didn't let it get him down. He'd be like, 'Okay, yes I'm disappointed, but life goes on," Tariro said.

He found his way back to education, albeit not in the capacity he was used to, but as a substitute teacher.

Source - Forum News Service