The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
Pamela Jiri never met her father. He died on 12 November 1982, only eight days after she had been born.
The death of a parent is always a hammer blow but as an infant, Pamela never felt the pain of her father’s passing. While her heartbroken older siblings cried their eyes out, she sought the warmth and comfort of a grieving mother’s arms.
It was through no fault of her own that she could not yet process or mourn her father’s passing. But because grieving can be therapeutic, because it is a big part of the healing process, it perhaps would have been better if she was able to mourn, to be in pain alongside her kith and kin at the time of her father’s passing.
Because she did not grieve, she has spent the next 38 years making up for the tears she never shed on 12 November.
“I have been dreaming about my father. A man I didn’t meet,” she tells Sunday Life.
After spending a decade in South Africa, Pamela is back in Zimbabwe, trying to walk in the footsteps of a giant and follow the philanthropic path that her father set on when he arrived in Bulawayo from Masvingo on foot back in 1939. She believes the dreams are a sign and the man she only ever met through black and white pictures and newspaper cuttings really wants her to emulate him.
“I know he wanted me to do this. We as a family want to continue with what our father was doing. It’s so sad to see disabled people on the streets. It’s sad to see blind people begging, kids and deaf people in the streets. When I’m going on the streets, I ask myself if all these people would be on the streets if my father was alive. I just wish to help those people. I wish to help those people but it’s not easy. But very soon I know everything is going to be fine.”
On the streets, Pamela only sees pain. There are too many begging bowls on the country’s city streets, too many outstretched arms hoping to make contact with a helping hand. The sight of street children, whose bodies pave the sidewalks, is not shocking anymore. They walk around the streets, without masks in a year in which respiratory illness is only a cough away and a sneeze can deliver one to the graveyard.
As compassionate as she might be for those children, Pamela did not grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her father might not have lived long enough to have a significant impact in her life but she felt the weight of his death. Life after Jairos Jiri was hard.
“A situation in which you grow up without a father is not easy. It really affected me a lot. You see your mother struggling to make ends meet and I would be asking my mother questions like ‘why are we in this situation when my dad was a great man?’ So, there are unanswered questions on why the situation was like that. As I was growing up my mother sat us down and she explained what really happened. These are family issues,” she says.
While she might not have felt the impact of her father’s death at the time it happened, she was to feel the pain of losing a parent in 2001 when her mother passed away from throat cancer. After growing up in hardship, things were about to worsen for Pamela.
“My mum passed away in 2001 from cancer. When she passed away life wasn’t easy as well and that’s when I decided to go to Cape Town to work so I could take care of my kids. God is awesome and I managed to survive until I decided that I had to go back to Zimbabwe,” she says.
Back in her country, Pamela has decided that it is her destiny to live up to the Jiri name. The kind hearted compassion mixed with great organisational sense is what she now wants to bring to a modern Zimbabwe.
“My father died when I was so young and as I was growing up my mum was telling me a lot about my father and I really wanted to do what he was doing. So, when I came back from Cape Town, I started looking for people in need. So, I started helping a few and whatever small thing I would get I would help people. Even until now if I see someone in need, I help them. I’m just trying to revive what my father was doing before. As it is now, things like that are not happening within the association,” she says.
The death of her father has meant that Pamela was not as close as she would have liked with all of her 17 siblings. Five have since passed away.
“On my father’s side we were 18. We are 13 now. We all have a good relationship. As I was growing up, I didn’t know much about them so I decided to look for them just to be in good books and get everyone together. We are all okay and we are trying to make this work. We are trying to revive my father’s legacy. On my own I was looking at the centres and you can see that there is a great difference between what they used to be and what they are now. I don’t want to lie to you, some of the things are sad. Knowing that this was started by my father and looking at how they are now, it is not pleasing at all,” she says.
The Jairos Jiri Association is a jewel her father gave birth to in Bulawayo 70 years ago. It might have been unearthed in Bulawayo but, with 21 centres currently running, it is a generous diamond whose nuggets now shine across the country. However, Pamela is not happy with the state of the association. Of his 18 children, none are still involved in the running of the association. When she approached the association this year on her return, doors were shut in her face.
“Unfortunately, we don’t run the association. That’s why we want to find out what exactly is going on because not even one of our family members is involved in that. I guess there are some things that happened that we as a family don’t know about. I approached the head office because of the state the Masvingo centre was in. I even approached the director and asked to work as a volunteer so we can revive what was there before because in Masvingo disabled people were involved in agriculture but now it’s not happening anymore.
“They have rented out the place to individual people which isn’t good. So, I approached them and said can I be a volunteer and I even wanted to donate something. They said no there’s a channel to follow before you can donate. I just had to give up because they didn’t want me there.
I came back to the director and he said you shouldn’t have come to me but instead I should go through the committee. The committee then said they would call me and they didn’t. They were passing me from person to person until I gave up. That’s why I did my own thing,” she says.
The Jairos Jiri Association has come a long way since Stephen Kwenda (Secretary), Fabian Dururu (Treasurer), and members Job Mapfinya and Jacob Mufute were constituted as members of its first committee back in 1950. Those men are gone and the world that they left behind keeps changing. What Pamela does not want to see change however, is the compassion in people’s hearts, the desire to help the poor, disadvantaged guy without expecting a dime in return.
“My father took people from the streets. No one paid a single cent to be in the Jairos Jiri Association because he wouldn’t allow that.
“He took kids from the streets but not from their houses. Now what’s happening is that they enrol disabled kids and make them pay school fees. Why do they have to do that? There are donors that donate for those kids, why do kids personally have to pay? Those are the questions that we need to ask them. My father never did that.
“This journey I’m trying to take is my own initiative. I haven’t approached any other person to donate or help but I’m just doing it on my own and together with my other siblings we are trying to do what my father was doing.”