when business was thriving.
image for larger version
2000, the Masiye Camp had been trying to come up with ways to provide
employment for girls and boys who were orphans and responsible for the
support of their families.
A group of camp counselors, volunteers and orphans hatched the idea of
the Splashgirls, a bicycle delivery service in Bulawayo. A business had
already been started to provide employment for orphaned boys, and they
were looking for something for the girls.
Becoming a Splashgirl meant learning a lot of new things for Faith —
the first being how to ride a bicycle. "I had to learn to ride a
bike when I was 19. When I was young I never thought that one day I would
ride a bike. Why? Because children who usually ride bikes this side are
regarded as children from rich families."
The Masiye Camp hired a man to come and teach the girls. Faith remembers
those early days, "It was scary riding for the first time, especially
in town where there is a lot of traffic. In the beginning, I used to push
the bike when I got into town.
"It took me about 3 weeks to be able to ride in town confidently,"
she says, "Though of course men never accepted it. They used to say
all sorts of things when we were passing by and it was a bit discouraging.
I mean, it's rare to see a lady on a bike this side." But not all
the men felt the same way, "At the same time, others thought it was
unique! We have walkie talkies, helmets, and racer bikes, so I think when
they see that, they go, 'Wooah!'"
Being unique is
important to Faith. "We came up with the name Splashgirls because
we thought it would be nice and modern and unique. You know how when there
is a splash of water, and the water goes up high? We thought that what
we were doing is just like the water."
Faith works from 8 AM till 4 PM, and she's very proud to be a Splashgirl.
"Many girls in the city envy us. I mean, it's a girls-only cycling
project and it's unique. It's a business of it's own kind in town.The
first-ever before in Zimbabwe. It's a great thing!"
But the Splashgirls have hit on hard times in the past year, and their
original staff of 10 has dwindled.
Faith describes the current situation, "Yes, it's true that 3 Splashgirls
(currently) are the ones that are on bikes full time. The rest were put
on standby recently... because the project was not generating sufficient
income to sustain the girls' monthly allowances. All the girls are still
Splashgirls but on a volunteer basis now, which is sad and a set-back."
The Splashgirls who are on standby come to visit, "But," Faith
says, "they don't come often. They come when they feel like, because
they are still part of us. But now that we don't have money, they just
come when they want to. And it's hard for them, they are not doing anything,
and most of them, they are the breadwinners for their families."
But they aren't giving up. "So what we have been working on, is trying
to find more business. But the hindrance has been finding resources to
advertise and market ourselves. Looking for business is the most hard
— I have to go there face-to-face or sometimes phone them. It's
hard, sometimes I get so tired that I can't even concentrate when I am
reading. Sometimes I get so discouraged and I feel like quitting. But
if I quit, there's nothing to do."
Stefan Germann explains more about the problems the Splashgirls face,
"They are running at a loss, [so] they have no marketing, [and] they
didn't have enough business. Quite a number of the girls were just sitting
in the office, not driving out in the street. They couldn't do any marketing,
like getting on billboards and newspaper adverts, [and therefore] they
just didn't have enough work."
Germann believes that the absence of a professional business manager is
at the root of the problem, "That's where the lack of management
comes in. Last year, in the church I was going to, there was the regional
manager of one of the biggest retail companies in Zimbabwe, and he was
willing to get them a job for one branch, which was about 3000 deliveries
of their club magazines, and because they didn't manage it well, they
had to stop it. There were late deliveries...you know, the girls who were
riding and managing the business, were coming out of disadvantaged population
groups, all of them have been orphaned due to HIV and AIDS, and in the
absence of a sound business manager, they just couldn't cope with that
large a job."
Germann goes on, "But it's a pity because the Splashgirls could easily
create the jobs for 40 young girls orphaned. And it's a critical age,
because that's the age they are very vulnerable to HIV infection."