Chidobe Chaya Center: Creating a Path to Sustainability

If you were anywhere near the small village of Chidobe outside of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, a couple of months ago you would have heard a dozen or more voices raised in joyful, exuberant singing. You probably would have stopped what you were doing to try and figure out what was going on. You would have known it was a celebration, but you would have been puzzled as to what exactly they were celebrating. A wedding? A birth? What in the world was going on in that usually sleepy community?

It wasn’t a wedding they were celebrating that day, but it was a birth of sorts. Not the birth of a baby, but the birth of hope – which is just as much worth singing about as the arrival of a new child.

Chidobe Chaya Center - Creating a Path to Sustainability
On hand to celebrate the grand opening was from left: Katie Johnson, Director of Global Health Initiatives, MATTER; Noah Elhardt, The Beer-Sheba Project; Silent Keseke, Shamwari Program Coordinator and Chaya Specialist; Chris Newhouse, Executive Director of Sustainability, MATTER; and Sandi Young, the Chaya Tree Project donor and visionary.

The hope that arrived that day was in the form of a newly constructed facility called the Chidobe Chaya Center. It’s the next exciting initiative in the years-long Chaya Tree Project that began back in 2020 when MATTER friend and donor, Sandi Young, learned about a tree called Chaya whose leaves are some of the most nutritious in the world. She became convinced Chaya was the answer to address the rising malnutrition rates in Zimbabwe. Helping her vision become reality, MATTER planted tens of thousands of these trees across the country and established women’s Chaya cooperatives to empower women on the growing and cooking of Chaya. (You can read more about the co-ops here.)

As this nutrient-dense vegetable has begun to improve the nutritious health of communities in Zimbabwe, it is now poised to improve the economic health of countless families across the country. And that’s where the Chidobe Chaya Center comes in. With this facility, the women will be able to sell their excess Chaya which will then be dried and processed into marketable products within Zimbabwe and beyond. Currently, research and testing are underway to explore various products using freeze-dried Chaya leaves and Chaya powder. The possibilities include supplemental vitamins, teas and even soaps.

Chidobe Chaya Center - Creating a Path to Sustainability
Silent and Katie visiting one of the women’s Chaya cooperatives in Zimbabwe.

Shamwari Program Coordinator and Chaya Specialist, Silent Kaseke, explained the scope of the impact that the processing center will have on the women in the co-ops as well as the community of Chidobe, “First, the women will benefit from selling their Chaya to be used in the processing center. Second, we are planning on rotating the women to work at the processing center as a way to empower them with the skills and knowledge to manufacture the products. This will be yet another way for them to make some extra income for their families. Third, MATTER drilled a borehole at the site. Water is scarce and women typically have to carry water on their heads for long distances. This borehole will be an enormous benefit to them and to the whole community.”

At the grand opening, surrounded by women from all over Zimbabwe who are growing Chaya in their co-ops and home gardens, Sandi couldn’t help but think back to the days when the Chaya Tree Project was still in its infancy.

Chidobe Chaya Center - Creating a Path to Sustainability

“I think what hit me hard at the opening was that the Chaya plan we had worked so hard to develop and execute was working! Seeing all those villagers come together to celebrate how important Chaya is for themselves and the community was incredibly rewarding. As we toured around the area, Chaya trees were sighted outside of the co-ops indicating that the community understands how incredibly nutritious Chaya is. Our plan, getting people in Zimbabwe excited about Chaya so they want to share cuttings with friends and neighbors is working! And now to be able to help them use Chaya as a source of revenue is tremendously empowering for the village women and so very rewarding for me. I’m very grateful to be part of this life-changing project!”

You can be part of this life-changing project as well. Plans are underway to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first line of Chaya products to be developed in the Chidobe Chaya Center. If you’re interested in following the campaign, we encourage you to go here to sign up for regular updates once it begins.

Watch this video to see the joy and hear the singing for yourself at the grand opening of Chidobe Chaya Center!