INFAMOUS for being a hub of prostitution, drug abuse and a place where women’s dignity was not respected, paBooster in the sprawling settlement of Epworth assumed a new role yesterday, thanks to First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.
From dusk to dawn, the place was always teeming with ladies of the night and consumers of their services.
Despite this, Amai Mnangagwa yesterday defied odds and used the place as the venue where she met women, among them, those intending to quit the oldest profession on a life-changing mission.
Some of the Epworth women will today begin their short courses studies under a partnership between First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa’s Angel of Hope Foundation and Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) to empower them through open learning.
This comes as more women from Epworth particularly those from paBooster area yesterday showed eagerness to register and take part in the programme.
A number of young girls and women who failed to complete their studies owing to various challenges, including being orphans and poverty, are keen to complete their education and earn a certificate thus Amai Mnangagwa is giving them a chance to do so.
The programme reinforces the First Lady’s drive to ensure no one is left behind in her multi-pronged empowerment initiatives.
She launched the programme in Epworth on September 13 which will see vulnerable women countrywide benefiting free of charge.
On that day, over 3 000 women were registered and are starting lessons today.
Beneficiaries include former ladies of the night, orphans, child head of families and people living with disabilities among many other disadvantaged groups.
The First Lady together with the university’s leadership and deans of faculties yesterday met with the second group of beneficiaries “paBooster” previously known as the hub of prostitution and criminal activities.
Amai Mnangagwa wants the women to shun criminal life and prostitution which exposed them to diseases and equip them with life skills to earn a decent living through the use of their hands.
ZOU pro-vice chancellor academic affairs Professor Nyakatau, representing ZOU Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Gundani said lectures from three of the university’s eight faculties would start in earnest from 9am to noon today.
“On September 13, 2021 Angel of Hope Foundation and ZOU started a national development partnership to uplift people in communities and to teach women and young girls through short courses free of charge.
“Amai, ZOU has committed itself to uplifting the dignity of the girl child. Today 30 September 2021 we are boosting relations between Angel of Hope and ZOU for community empowerment through open learning. At the initial meeting on September 13, more than 3000 people who are assisted by Angel of Hope Foundation registered to do short courses across all ZOU faculties,” he said.
The work to uplift the people’s standard of life through humanitarian and developmental programmes that are being led by the First Lady through her Angel of Hope Foundation, Prof Nyakatau said, helped the people of Zimbabwe to “work together removing challenges that may stop us from reaching national Vision 2030 as some of us could be left behind”.
He paid tribute to the leadership of Epworth Local Board for the assistance through the Epworth Board hall and their grounds for community empowerment through open learning.
“Amai, I want to inform those who are here and those who are listening that on October 1 2021 — three of ZOU’s eight faculties — Faculty of Applied Social Sciences, Faculty of Education and Faculty of Law are starting to offer courses in community engagement.
“Those who registered for disability-focused lessons, Early Childhood Development (ECD) and legal education are encouraged to commence their studies tomorrow (today) at the Epworth local board tomorrow from 9am to 12 noon.
“Amai, I want to notify those who are assisted by Angel of Hope foundation here present that through the community empowerment through open learning programme, ZOU will give short courses in the faculties of agriculture, applied social sciences, arts, culture and heritage studies, commerce, education, law, science and technology free of charge in 10 provinces of the country. Do not be left behind. A mother helps all her children,” he said.
Addressing the women yesterday, the First Lady implored the women to quit the world’s oldest profession and use the opportunity to study to change their lives.
“I am happy to come here at the Booster which is infamous for bad deeds. All that happened in the past happened, but must end today. Even God deplores these deeds. I’m happy you heeded my call to go to school which I launched on September 13. Because of Covid-19, we did not manage to meet at once and today I am here to meet you the second group.
“Epworth you are blessed because this programme started here. I have faith that if we study hard there will be change in our lives and even in our homes things will change.
“You will neither be found gossiping nor at the booster because you would have been empowered. After seeing my programmes at Angel of Hope of empowering communities, ZOU saw it fit to work together to mould the woman we want in Zimbabwe, the man we want, the daughter we want and the son we want. These courses would be given to us free of charge. The fact that we have this second group shows you are welcoming this programme we have. Would you not be happy to have a ZOU certificate?”
The First Lady said a number of people failed to complete their education because of various challenges while some were orphaned and they were lucky to have the ZOU programme on their doorstep.
“Some of you worked at night doing work of the darkness. Which works am I referring to here?” the First Lady asked.
In response, one of the women said; “I am one of the ladies who operate from here at the booster. This work is not easy Amai. The whole night you can work for a paltry US$2.
“A man may give you a dollar, but after the act he demands his money back. At times we are beaten up. Yesterday night we were here but were beaten up by some men saying prostitution was bad. At times if you bed a married man from our community, all the married women will team up to beat us up daily.”
The First Lady said such an account drove her close to tears.
“I feel like crying seeing a woman suffering like this, but is it worth it madzimai. Women, from today let us leave this life and start a new life. We have rejected the spirit of prostitution. We can end our challenges on our own as women. Booster has brought us diseases and children of different totems. May God hear us and cleanse this place.
“Let us work and those who do not want to go to school can engage in self-help projects using their hands. Grandmothers let us encourage our daughters and grandchildren to study and stay away from mischief. Children are being ruined by drugs and prostitution.
“Let’s go to school and uplift ourselves. Let’s work for our country which is worked for by you and me. Education knows no age and as I stand here I am also going to school,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa said projects fostered unity and encouraged women to unite.
“Are there some who were not on talking terms,” she asked.
A woman who was part of the gathering confirmed that she was not in talking terms with some ladies from her area.
“Amai we live near the booster and we politely asked the ladies of the night not to wait close to our houses in the nude because our children were seeing them. This did not go well with these women who then looked for thugs to break into our homes just to fix us for reprimanding them. Our neighbour was beaten and injured by these thugs,” she said.
Another woman said: “I am not talking to my neighbour because she took my 15-year-old daughter and got her married somewhere I don’t even know, up to now I don’t know where my daughter is. We are not even related to this neighbour.”
In response, the mother of the nation implored the police to look into these cases and advised the women to approach police officers at the venue and present their cases.
She said some people feared reporting yet such platforms enabled people to open up.
She told the gathering about her 575 national call centre and urged them to utilise it.
Elated beneficiaries of the programme said they were keen to start a new life and end their wicked ways.
Fortunate Chisero (35) said she was thankful to the First Lady for her rehabilitation programme which would change their lives for the better.
“I thank the First Lady for bringing this programme here at the Booster. She is giving us education. I ended my education in Form 3 so I am grateful with her decision to uplift us here in Epworth. Most women were doing bad things at the Booster, but Amai has come to encourage us to leave this and its now over. We also thank the university that she collaborated with so that we get certificates,” she said.
The same sentiments were echoed by Tsitsi Masunda (35).
“I feel elated beyond measure because of this programme that has been unveiled by the First Lady here in Epworth. Today we have been given ZOU courses so from today we are leaving this business and learning to fend for our families using our hands. We promise to leave our bad behaviour.
Alice Pitara (59) said she would hit the ground running through a farming project.
“I am interested in a farming project. I am happy for this programme, especially for us the elderly we want to continuously learn about farming because we draw food from the soil. That is where we will get money to fend for our families.”
Gogo Pitara said the First Lady’s intervention would help ease some of the challenges that were being encountered at the Booster.
“At the Booster young women engaged in prostitution so we are happy that Amai has helped us to counsel our children. They should listen to the word of God and quit prostitution,” she said.
Councillor for Ward 3 Gift July promised the First Lady that he would engage the police to enhance patrols at the booster.