Our first stop in Zimbabwe was the capital city of Harare for the 6th edition of the Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel and Tourism Africa Fair.
Many key African tourism operators were in attendance but the biggest thing that set this exhibition apart from other travel shows we’ve attended was the opportunity to connect with small local Zimbabwean exhibitors.
We spoke with many of them over the three days of Sanganai but one of the stories that stood out came from Elias Mahunye of Legoh Arts, a community based project which gives skills to the less privileged in Zimbabwe.
Elias’ father died when he was three years old and he grew up in the care of his mother. As a child he was forced to sell cigarettes and potatoes to survive before deciding to go onto the streets of Harare to wash cars in an effort to support his family.
After doing this for several years, Elias met an Englishman named Ernie Sinclair in 2002 who said to him “I want to turn you into somebody. I can see that you’ve got potential, you just have to believe in yourself.”.
It was that conversation that prompted Elias to leave the streets and make an effort to change his life, departing Harare to undergo artist training under Sinclair’s watchful eye. This training is what led Elias to start believing.
His first achievement as an artist was to create unique cards (above) made from recycled materials such as bond paper found on the streets. Elias was the one who introduced these type of cards to Zimbabwe and it was this invention that allowed him to start working with street children in 2004.
The children he works with are often AIDS orphans who are on the streets as a result of their parents passing away. Others come from poor families in the ghetto and have left school in search of money to support themselves and their loved ones.
These children have no support or guidance and although Elias is no longer a street kid, he says that he will always represent them.
His message to them is simple: “We give you the skills so you start from there and make a better life”.
Elias currently has 10 kids at his workshop in Mbare who are there each and every day. The money he makes from the cards goes back to their development.
Sometimes he gives them the money directly for living essentials but often he instead chooses to help them further their education. “It pains me to see someone not going to school because it is a situation I faced before”, Elias tells us. “I’m also paying for two guys housing. $10 in Epworth. There are some rooms there. They have no electricity but the houses are cheap”.
His desire to change the lives of the less fortunate is admirable and Elias is approaching 10 years of working with the street children of Harare.
I just give praise to the Lord who keeps on telling me that you (will) reach your destiny. It might be long but never mind, that is why I am still going.
The biggest challenge faced by Elias is the marketing of his products and selling enough of them to actually make a difference. Zimbabwe Youth in Tourism is playing an active role in assisting him with this but unfortunately the market is still not big enough to achieve the results Elias desires.
We’re hoping that by sharing his story, it will bring some attention to the cause Elias Mahunye is fighting so strongly for – the hope and future of street kids in Harare.
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