By Shamiso Winnet Mupara, Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe Trust
My life began in the dusty streets of Marange communal area where I was born over three decades ago to two United Methodist Church Pastors. Both my parents were parishioners in rural communities for the longest time. I watched them serve the community by preaching, teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick and performing send-off services at funerals. Back then there were no cars, and we used to do a lot of walking accompanying my parents from church to church. In my young mind, I told myself I was never going to take the route my parents took. I never understood why they even opted to be pastors when they could be something else. I vowed to do well in school and be a primary school teacher, and be as elegant and beautiful like Miss Mandikutse, my Grade 1 teacher. Stay in one place, wear heels to work every day and speak fluent English.
But that all changed when I became a young adult. Having grown up in a rural setting where our life was centered on forests, I witnessed the negative impacts of land degradation with limited effort for restoration. I remember as a child going to forests to get wild fruits, herd livestock, and gather medicinal herbs. By the time I was 25, the village was void of trees, water was scarce, our animals didn’t have any grass to graze, there were gullies slicing through the terrains, and average temperatures kept going up. The situation was made worse by persistent climate induced droughts since 1991 throwing the community into abject poverty and chronic food insecurity.
I knew I had to do something about the situation facing rural communities. I just didn’t know how. My dream of becoming a teacher was surpassed by a keen interest in taking care of nature and communities that relied on them for livelihood. I went to Africa University where I studied Environmental Science, then University of Botswana where I did a Master of Science in Environmental Sciences funded by GBGM. Although initially blurry, the link between environmental degradation, Christianity, and poverty issues has always been disturbingly unsettling for me ever since I was younger. The two degrees finally clarified these issues for me and opened my eyes to the need for creation care to serve God and communities, and to end poverty, hunger and other injustices brought about by environmental degradation.
Equipped with the two Environmental Science degrees, my childhood experiences in a rural community and a life of watching my parents serve the church, my friends and I co-founded Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe Trust (EBZ). EBZ is a non-governmental organisation that promotes climate justice, poverty eradication, forestry-based entrepreneurship, and reforestation in Zimbabwe. My late father advocated for environmental protection in the 1970s and 1980s in the Marange District and decades later I found myself drawn to the same calling. My quest to protect the earth for all of God’s children began then and I was to continue where my father had ended.
The Book of Discipline 2016, Par. 160 says, “All creation is the Lord’s…and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. … God has granted us stewardship of creation…Let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.” The story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 affirmed what I needed on this spiritual journey.
Was it easy? No. But it was joyful and fulfilling. Gaining traction was a slow process as Climate justice and creation care were not yet popular topics in the UMC in Zimbabwe. Issues such as food aid and borehole installation for clean water were at the forefront of most missionary work. You almost never heard of the church doing large scale tree planting activities or education and awareness workshops on climate change, global warming, and climate justice.
I started raising tree nurseries in Marange and Domboshava, distributing them to schools and community members who wished to have greener spaces. Tree planting became a lifestyle for me and those around me. I spearheaded a reforestation project in my village that has since spread to four provinces in Zimbabwe. The project has seen over 10,000 tree seedlings raised in our two nurseries. Over 5,000 community members have participated in our Environmental Education and awareness campaigns since 2013. 1n 2018 we expanded our activities to equipping community members, especially women, with livelihood skills that enables them to earn an income. Trainings were on construction and use of Energy Efficient Stove (EES), apiculture, handcrafts, wild fruits harvesting and processing. This has seen more women being empowered to sustain themselves economically, thereby creating female independence and reducing poverty.
In 2018, the organisation donated 200 trees to Harare East District, 50 trees to the Ruwadzano Rwemadzimai (RRW) UM women and 50 trees to UM Men at St Timothy’s UMC in Mabvuku. September 2018, we upped our game and made tree planting more interesting when we facilitated the planting of 47 trees at Mutsago UMC in Marage to celebrate Rev Stanely Hwindingwi’s 47th birthday. From then on, we started working with more churches and individual members who wished to plant trees.
I also conducted education and awareness campaigns for local in Murehwa, Mutare, and Harare covering topics such as sustainable management of domestic solid waste, water pollution, riverbed sand mining, deforestation, climate change and green businesses. My sphere of influence expanded to include ministering on climate justice in USA in 2020 in various churches in Oregon, North Carolina, Washington DC, Maryland, California, and Michigan. This gave me an opportunity to share the climate justice story with fellow UMC members and help find global solutions to climate change.
The journey so far has been rewarding and I hope to continue serving the church as one of the thousands of caretakers of God’s creation.