Each year, the Thurman Award, established in honor of HOPE’s first CEO and his wife, recognizes a client who demonstrates HOPE’s values of perseverance, compassion, strength of character, and creativity. This year we are pleased to celebrate John Njerere, a client from HOPE’s savings program in Zimbabwe, where we have partnered with Acta Non Verba Zimbabwe and Central Baptist Church since 2011. Watch John describe how the holistic training he received helped him move from beggar to provider and read his full story below.
In the ‘80s, John Njerere worked as an undersecretary in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher Education. A promising up-and-comer, he quickly rose through the ranks, attaining in only nine months a position normally reserved for those with over a decade’s experience. But his success came at great cost: As the pressures mounted, John had a breakdown and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Because of the stigma attached to psychiatric problems in Africa, he lost all formal employment, and a man accustomed to high rank and great responsibility was forced to beg for his income. Although his wife traveled to South Africa seeking work, their family hovered on the brink of starvation.
One day John came to Central Baptist Church in Harare—the local partner of HOPE International and Acta Non Verba Zimbabwe—to beg, but there he found more than a day’s provision. He learned of upcoming trainings to initiate savings and credit associations (SCAs) and eagerly attended. In his attentiveness and insightful questions, staff saw John’s intelligence and acute desire to provide for his family. He says, “The training was inspirational to me; it was holistic in nature, teaching me to look to Christ while encouraging me to work hard as opposed to begging.” He gathered 10 people in his community and started an SCA, introducing the idea of charging interest in order to grow the group’s funds more quickly.
John lives in a burgeoning suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital city, where many people are still building their homes, so he used the $10 a week he saved in the SCA to buy equipment to mold the bricks so widely used in new construction. But his entrepreneurial mind didn’t stop there. He has become a service provider for his community, renting his equipment to others. He bought a solar panel and battery and charges a small fee for community members to charge their cell phones. He and his wife have expanded their business into South Africa. John also tutors students from a nearby college in bookkeeping and shorthand.
With these opportunities, John has begun to eradicate poverty in his family. Before, he struggled to buy food and clothes, and it was nearly impossible to afford school fees for his three children and three grandchildren. Now, he can pay the fees and buy uniforms and stationery. John has also helped his 18-year-old daughter start a vegetable stall to provide for her own daughter. His family’s dream is to build a house, and in only a few months it will be completed. John says, “Before, I was a pauper whereby I used to beg for existence, but these days I am running after my welfare with my wife.”
The savings program has had such an impact on John’s life that he wants to share it. He gives to others in need, presently supporting three widows in his community with basic necessities. He also speaks to people interested in SCAs and spearheads the formation of new savings groups. The program coordinator for Zimbabwe describes him as proactive, intelligent, and a man of his word. John now works as an ambassador for HOPE and recently facilitated the formation of another group in his area.
Perhaps the most notable change in John’s life is in his relationship with God. Before, he went to church on Sundays as a custom but had little personal faith. Now, he has learned to trust in God instead of money, and his faith is alive and active. John says the fellowship in group meetings helped him grow spiritually; as he puts it, “The SCA program is a Christ-centered program which heals.”
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