Beyond The Ordinary Levels

We recently shared a #TBT (Throwback Thursday) picture with our first ever CLUBHOUSE Scholars in 2012. Having been in 6th grade then, it dawned on us that they had now just finished their O-levels! For those not acquainted with the Cambridge high school model employed in Zimbabwe (and other places), “O-Levels” stands for the “Ordinary Level” high school education- the first pivotal moment before you do two more years known as the Advanced- or A-Levels. Although increasingly losing luster as the academic world gets more competitive and accessible, O-Levels have traditionally been a critical watershed: a coming-of-age moment. For a long time, “they’re done with school” meant finishing your O-levels, with everything that came thereafter being extra. Because they often coincided with the height of adolescence, finishing O-levels has also been proxy to transition into adulthood- albeit young. I belabor this point to say: Finishing O-Levels is somewhat of a big deal.

The students’ growth is, of course, the story here- and we look forward to featuring updates from them on here as we get them. It is not, however, just the children who’ve been growing over the years though! The CLUBHOUSE team has grown from an unregistered collective of individuals with nothing but a passion for their communities. And by nothing, we mean nothing. Of the eight original board members, only two had formal jobs, one or two had a car, and zero had any experience administering an organization.

So how did all this happen? How did a rag-tag team with little to no experience build something that has lasted a little while? What have we learnt over the years?

  1. Be Faithful With Little

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”- Luke 16 v.10

“Say Matavire, do you remember when…?” 

We have shared, in different posts, the various stories surrounding CLUBHOUSE’s founding. About a year or two ago- my first trip back to Zimbabwe since we were founded- I met with co-founder and CLUBHOUSE Zim president, Nyasha Matavire, and we began to reminisce about the early days: and we bore some never-before-shared experiences; and they went thus:

In 2012, I graduated with a Master’s Degree and, to my debilitating dismay, had returned ‘home’ to Michigan to zero job prospects. I was crushing on my stepmother’s couch and occasionally going door-to-door to register voters and helping edit school papers for some change. I was broke and sad. The year before, however, we had started CLUBHOUSE with the promise that 2012 would be our take-off year, but my personal tribulations were making fundraising- let alone personally contributing- near impossible. We were getting $5 and $10 donations from well-wishers here and there. Then one day, a friend of my mother decided to donate the $400 she had saved up for another cause that had fallen through to us.

Now; imagine the temptation. A broke young man handed $400 by a strange woman in a foreign land for an organization that hardly anyone recognized as existing at the time…

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, Mr. Matavire was in a situation of his own. He was in his final year at college and struggling to pay his tuition. The University did not allow students who had tuition arrears to attend lectures, so for every lecture he would go and wait outside for notes from his peers, that way he wouldn’t fall behind. With him on this endevour was his friend Benson who was in a similar predicament. One day, as they were waiting for their classmates to finish one lecture so they could get notes, Nyasha received a text from Shingi notifying him of money he had sent to kick-start the CLUBHOUSE scholarship program. Promptly showing Ben the text. his friend responded, “Good for you bro, now you can go pay your tuition and start attending lectures.”  The thought was very tempting, all of a sudden it was a dilemma. “Should I just use the money for tuition and then send the kids fees later, when my folks back home find the money? Shingi will most definitely understand, he has been my friend since childhood.” But somehow it did not feel right to him. He got into town, took the money from Western Union and then went straight to the bank to send the money to Mutare so that the fees for the kids would be paid immediately. Ben could not believe it the next day when he saw his friend joining him for their routine procedure of waiting for notes outside lectures. That semester Ben would be the first to pay for tuition and register just before exams, Nyasha could still not find money to register in time for exams but by God’s grace, he managed to write the exams, unregistered(story for another day), registering later on during the holidays for a semester that had long been over.

No doubt that money may have provided temporary relief (immoral and possibly illegal, but relief no less), but we’ve been around long enough to know how the universe works: not only would all the blessings that have been brought about by CLUBHOUSE not exist, but we’d have also found ourselves in direr straits the moment that money left our pockets.

 2. Get Going

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”– Victor Hugo

We were young. We were broke. We had, across the board, not held our first salaried jobs. As stated earlier, the majority of us were still in school.

We should have waited. We could have waited. For a more opportune time.

But here’s the thing: there is generally no such things as a more opportune time to get started on your passion and calling. Had we waited, we may have been caught up in our jobs to spare time, we may have become individually jaded with the hopelessness of the world, family responsibilities may have taken over etc. Besides, what does me waiting any longer do for the person needing my help right then?

So yea, get going- the world depends on you.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”– Dr. Seuss

 3. Get you a team

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”- Unknown

This is critical. I had had the idea for CLUBHOUSE for a few years. Okay- maybe more than a few. My penchant for philanthropy goes back to my childhood. But cometh the hour, I discovered that a dream may indeed be the engine that keeps the car moving; but you still need a car to keep moving. I had/have no idea how to put together a website; I have no human way of regularly meeting with the families in Zimbabwe while residing (and fundraising)in the USA; I had never handled a personal checkbook, let alone an organization’s accounts- to mention but a few things.

I needed a team. And not just any team. The people had to bring some skill essential to our mission while sharing the values thereof. So what did I do? I spoke to dozens of people in my life: family and teachers; childhood friends and graduate school colleague; fraternity brothers and former paramours- anyone who either had the skill, inkling of the values, or both. Based on how those conversations went, if at all, I settled on a team that would get CLUBHOUSE off the ground.

PS. It is also important to realize that the team will, and almost certainly should, change with time. Life happens, people get busy or move away, values change etc. Sometimes, the change is necessitated by the work at hand: in some seasons you may need team members savvy with paperwork and, in others, you’ll need expert fundraisers. Take these changes in stride, keep a mental note of potential team members should the need arise, and never forget or diminish the role played by even the team members who have since left.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” Margaret Mead

4. Shoulder to The Plow

“Work Work Work Work”– Rihanna

When the excitement of seeing your dream come somewhat alive fades, you are faced with the mounds of unglamorous work. The humbling tediousness of asking unsuccessfully repeatedly asking for $5 on social media; the immaculacy of keeping your accounts up-to-date, the staying up til midnight for a conference call with people on the other side of the world (thus, different time zone). And bear in mind that everyone on our team is a volunteer!

But as we say in hip-hop, “ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”  The race must be run; the work must be done.

“Ateya mariva murutsva haachatyi kusviba magaro”– Shona proverb (“They who set the mousetraps among the ashes cannot then be afraid to get their backsides dirtied by ash).

 5. Never Forget The Why

 “When you feel like quitting, remember why you started”- Author Unknown

Look: it’s gonna get heavy. Whatever worthwhile endeavor you embark on is going to take the best of you. Over the past five years, I’ve spent way more money than my meagre pockets can afford to; I have sat on the phone with my mother telling her that I was about to email the team and let them know we were done; I have been let down by those I had put all my trust in, and had to rebuild exhausted.

Then I remember the CLUBHOUSE Festival.  I remember my grandfather saying he “felt like the president” when he was introduced at the 2015 festival. I remember the mother who ran up to Nyasha to thank him with tears in her eyes for the mentorship and scholarship her son had received.  I remember the sea of smiles and puffed chests from children whose larger community had betrayed the promise of their future. I also remember the intelligent classmates I had at Sheni who couldn’t afford extra lessons and watched their dreams fade away.

I remember the why and, suddenly, my “why not” becomes pedantic.

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