Mrs Maureen Kuchocha is a College Lecturer at Marymount Teacher College.
Owing to the harsh economic environment emanating from the 2008 economic meltdown, Mrs Kuchocha had been struggling to survive on her salary, which was below the poverty datum line.
In her endeavors to source alternative avenues to supplement her meager salary, Mrs Kuchocha was introduced to the Zimbabwe China Friendship association in 2011 by Mrs Victoria Chimonyo.
At that time most civil servants, teachers and college lecturers included were earning an average of US$300, which fell below their monthly financial demands.
Hence, the Zim-China Friendship Association came at the right time as it was established to offer the lowly paid civil servants a platform to purchase goods in the Asian country for resale.
Mrs Kuchocha immediately jumped on the opportunity.
“I joined the Association program in August 2012, as a member I would attend meetings and briefings. Our first trip to China was due in December so we worked with the Executive who helped us to acquire loans of US$3 000 from Metropolitan Bank which was meant to be our starting package. We were 49 altogether from all provinces in our first trip,” she said.
Before going to China, Mrs Kuchocha used to supply different wares to her clientele in Zimbabwe, which she purchased from South Africa: “I used to supply children’s clothes and whatever I could get my hands on. I would bring consignments for shops from South Africa. So before I left for China I looked for orders and when I got to China I had an idea of where to start.”
Seeing the progress she has made, Mrs Kuchocha shared how she has managed to be successful since her engagement in the program in 2012: “I go to China about four times a year. After the first trip I would get a salary of one hundred and something dollars after the loan deduction from the bank which was less than what could sustain me and my family. But since I had bought some goods for resale I managed to survive.”
“I get orders for different staff like tablets, ipads, laptops, phones, suits, suitcases, which I then buy for resale. I believe my payment plan helps me to stay in business, every month I have something because we make arrangements on how one can pay up.”
The project has since become popular – not only among civil servants but the generality of Zimbabweans with over 2 000 members having been beneficiaries of the programme.
Initially, the programme targeted government workers under the Zimbabwe China Civil Servants Partnership Program.
It was established in 2011 by the Chinese and Zimbabweans in order to empower the Zimbabwe Civil Servants through a business exchange program in China.
It is one of the empowerment programs offered by the Chinese Government to the people of Zimbabwe ever since the Zimbabwe adopted the “Look East Policy” as a mechanism to burst the `economic embargoes` imposed by the Western countries. Since then, China became Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner.
Under this program Zimbabwean Civil Servants received a US$3 000 loan, which will be supported by their salary as a collateral.
In Zimbabwe, some struggling banks are not offering loans due to the economic crisis and the Chinese Government has come at an opportune time when Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet due to the harsh economic environment.
The civil servants who constitute the bulk of country`s workforce following the closure of companies have the opportunity to fly to China where they procure goods for resale back in Zimbabwe at affordable rates through the Zimbabwe China Friendship Association.
The advantages of the program is that the members are advanced a loan to buy air tickets to China, settle accommodation, meals and other necessities while the money will be deducted from their salary every month.
Instead of waiting to receive their monthly salaries, they get income anytime through different income generating projects they might have ventured in as a result of the ZimChina Association project.
ZimChina Friendship Association National Chairperson Mrs Victoria Chimonyo was appointed to recruit people for a planned trip to China by Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister Mandi Chimene, then Senator.
In an interview, Mrs Chimonyo – a school teacher by profession said the recruitment program started in Manicaland and spread to other Provinces and districts, which include Rusape, Harare and Bulawayo.
“The major aim of the program was to empower civil servants and at the same time to create exchange visits with the people of the Republic of China, she said.”
Mrs Chimonyo highlighted that the ZimChina Project needs a business minded person with entrepreneurial skills.
“It about knows the market and knowing what is on demand, it is no longer a trial and error but a benefit for job creation and self-employment.”
“Most factories have closed down, but one can buy a machine from China which manufactures pampers and venture into that project, already that is self-employment and at the same time employment creation because someone is going to benefit from you, the owner of the machine,” she said.
Mrs Kuchocha who is one of the exemplary beneficiaries of the initiative did not hide her secret of success which she believes is a result of discipline.
She also said the idea that people are able to buy machinery that manufacture different products shows that somehow people are contributing to the development of the economy.
“We need to spread the message to the jobless that there is ZimChina Friendship Association, it can help you be someone in the society as long as you know what you are good at because whatever you want, you can find it in China.”
Although some have benefited through the program, some feel they did a trial and error therefore did not succeed.
One member who declined to be named said to him the project came as a rescue but failed because he had no business skills.
“I think I made a mistake by not looking for orders when I was travelling to China, I just bought products I thought were on demand. I did sell my staff on credit but unfortunately some people did not honour on payments. I made a loss and ended up struggling to pay back the bank loan.”
However the program still has future plans of importing cars for its members, acquiring stands, building schools and hospitals.