Apostolic Sect Women Defy Religious Teachings To Save Their Children

By Newsday Zimbabwe


‘I JOINED a secret base to save my children from dying. The church that I go to does not allow the vaccination of children. Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET) helped me, especially with how to care for my children. All my children received BCG, polio and measles vaccinations,” says Anna Kanyati (not her real name) from the Gwamatenga area in Mwenezi district, Masvingo province.

A devout member of the apostolic sect with four children, Kanyati (22) had to secretly seek healthcare services to avoid confrontation with her husband and the church.

In 2022, Kanyati’s district, Mwenezi, was one of the ten districts hit hard by a measles outbreak that claimed the lives of 700 children across the country.

In response, the Ministry of Health and Child Care ran a measles vaccination campaign targeting children between 5 and below 15 years in partnership with UNICEF and WHO.

Social data generated by UNICEF and partners to understand the drivers of low vaccination in the Measles affected districts revealed that misinformation, disinformation, lack of community knowledge of an understanding of the importance of vaccines and religious/traditional beliefs are among the main causes of low immunization coverage among young children.

In partnership with Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust AWET, to address these challenges, UNICEF collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to increase awareness and build trust among the communities on measles and childhood immunization. With financial support from the United Nations Central Emergency Fund, UNICEF and its partners engaged hesitant communities such as the Apostolic sect to build their trust in vaccination and appreciate the health benefits of vaccinating children.

Through AWET, an organisation that engages religious women and faith leaders to increase immunisation uptake, many like Kanyati have found solace and access to invaluable education on vaccination against measles and polio.

“I am happy that I joined the secret base. At church, we are given water to heal these illnesses, which only if we knew that they required vaccination, children would not be sickly every month. At church, I ended up confessing to things I didn’t know and some I didn’t do out of fear, yet all the answers were through vaccinating my children. Sometimes we were told to take margarine and coke as medication for ailments, but the children’s condition would not change,” Kanyati confides.

“At the secret base, I am given family planning pills, and they have taught me how they are taken. Family planning has helped me nurse my child, who is now eight months old, which is rare in my church.

“My husband and I are still young and already we have four young children. It is difficult to nurse so many little children at once and this has led to some apostolic women neglecting themselves in terms of cleanliness. We have no time as the children need attention from one mother. AWET really helped me. They also taught us the importance of having toilets, washing of hands and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she adds.

Village health facilitator Shenet Shoko says she works with AWET to ensure children are immunised early so they do not die from preventable diseases. “I am not a member of the apostolic sect, but my main goal is to make sure women bring children for vaccination. I work with the apostolic sect women and their husbands are a big impediment to children getting vaccinated, mainly citing their right to freedom of worship. My main duty is to mobilise these women and make sure we stop these diseases,” Shoko explains.

“I was trained by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in 2019. I now work with 15 to 20 women at the secret base, where we are winning. We have taught apostolic sect women the importance of family planning. We have been holding dialogues with these women, from the apostolic sect community and raising awareness on the importance of vaccination against measles and other vaccinations deemed necessary for the protection of children. We tell them not to hide children, but to bring them for vaccinations that are free of charge.”

Chikava Lopi, a health teacher at Gwamatenga Primary School in Mwenezi, expressed gratitude to the Health Ministry, UNICEF, AWET and other stakeholders for training village health workers to uphold the health of parents and children in their villages.

“Health workshops have helped us in this community. Working with trained health workers was an advantage to us. A lot of parents are now accepting the vaccination of children. Only a few have remained sceptical, especially religious parents who have denied their children vaccinations. We have told our people that if the government brings health programmes to our communities, we must quickly grasp and accept them, for they are for our benefit,” Chikava says.

Another village health worker, Patronella Guva of Ward 6, also at Gwamatenga Primary School, narrates how they have managed to mobilise, educate and create awareness about measles vaccination in the apostolic sect community.

“Working with AWET and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, we have managed to preach at village meetings and those who have accepted vaccination for their children come secretly. In that way, we have managed to vaccinate children from the apostolic sects,” she says.

Village health workers have penetrated the hard-to-reach areas, which has seen a lot of children getting vaccinated for measles, polio, malaria and other health cases

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How an Apostolic women’s group helped Zimbabwe counter vaccine hesitancy

By Elia Ntali (Gavi Vaccine Alliance)

Zimbabwe’s large Apostolic faith community has a reputation for shunning medical intervention, including vaccination. Amid COVID-19, that position began to soften. Here, insiders tell VaccinesWork about the strategies that made a difference.


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Empowering women in Apostolic sects

By Roselyne Sachiti Assistant Editor Sunday Mail


SISTER Esnath Gombakomba is a primary care nurse at Chibhebhe Clinic in the Bocha area of Manicaland province.

Having worked at the clinic long enough, she knows too well the behaviours of community members, especially women, who seek health services at the facility.

Over the years, fewer women from Apostolic sects visited the clinic for health services like HIV counselling and testing, something that worried her.

To reach out to this community, her team regularly visited the sects’ shrines for engagement.

Today, the situation has changed.

Hundreds of women from different Apostolic sects in the Marange area recently gathered at Chibhebhe Clinic for a community dialogue on International Women’s Month — organised by the Apostolic Women’s Empowerment Trust (AWET), with support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Excited by the huge turnout, Sister Gombakomba and her colleagues disseminated important information on interventions that women can use to protect themselves from HIV — what to do when exposed to the virus — and how to move on and live a healthier life if a person tests HIV positive.

Sister Gombakomba recalled how in the past, it was not easy for the women to visit the health facility as a result of varying reasons.

Women from the Apostolic sects never came for HIV testing at our clinic.

Today, we tested more than 100 women for HIV. This was the first time for them to test for HIV in a clinic setting. The women were excited.

What excited me is that most were willing to be tested. No one opted out. They were all interested in HIV testing. I have never seen such eagerness from them,” said Sister Gombakomba.

She said at the meeting, women were equipped with knowledge about HIV counselling and testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), subjects they had never heard about.

PREP is the use of medications to prevent the spread of a disease in people who have not yet been exposed to a disease-causing agent, usually a virus.

PEP means taking medicine to prevent HIV after possible exposure.

“The women were more excited and interested in knowing about PREP,” said Sister Gombakomba.

At the meeting, the women were also educated on the importance of disclosing one’s HIV status and adherence to anti-retroviral treatment (ART) for those who would have tested positive.

The Apostolic women also received lessons on HIV self-testing and were given HIV self-testing kits.

Apart from the Apostolic sect female members, other women in the community, too, have been tested for HIV. This is a huge success story for this community as their outcomes contribute to the country’s triumph in achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets.

Zimbabwe is now one of only three Sub-Saharan African nations to have met the  UNAIDS’ 95-95-95 HIV objectives.

In 2020, the country achieved the UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets, placing it among the few African countries to do so. The country is also making significant progress towards meeting the 2025 targets and such initiatives further place Zimbabwe up the ladder to reach this goal.

Carrying out numerous activities,

Speaking to The Sunday Mail, AWET head of programmes Ms Hope Dunhira said in Manicaland Province and around the country, their organisation has been working with relevant line ministries to complement Government efforts to ensure that gaps identified in communities are plugged.

“AWET has been carrying out numerous activities, with support from different partners such as UNICEF, Anglo American, PEPFAR, ACT Ubumbano and Plan International.

“Firstly, in Manicaland province, AWET commemorated International Women’s Day (IWD) through conducting engagements with women from the different Apostolic communities. This saw around 100 women volunteering to get tested for HIV, which has never been possible with the Apostolic community,” said Ms Dunhira.

She added that AWET also held IWD celebrations with women in Shamva, where focus group discussions were carried out with members of the Apostolic community.

“An end child marriage campaign was also held across all districts AWET is operating in. The trained behaviour change facilitators (BCFs) from AWET went on a door-to-door campaign to sensitise communities on the effects of child marriage,” she added.

Ms Dunhira said AWET also shared messaging on social media around Women’s Month and the importance of celebrating women every day.

“As we wind up, AWET has been training adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) on entrepreneurship skills, focusing on the use of digital equipment, hence the theme for this year,” she revealed.

This, she said, was in line with this year’s International Women’s Month global theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality”.

More than 12,000 women have benefitted from AWET initiatives.

“For example, women from the Apostolic community in the past, especially from the conservative Apostolic churches, have never had HIV tests done, but with the engagements and dialogues AWET has been carrying out, many women ended up getting tested and now know their status.

“This has helped to contribute towards the 95-95-95 target where HIV testing, and uptake of medication is being encouraged, as well as adherence for those on medication,” explained Ms Dunhira.

She revealed that, apart from the health interventions, there was engagement during intergenerational dialogues. Women were also empowered to make dishwashing liquid and candles, and to bake.

“This is a livelihood empowerment model that AWET has been using in Manicaland under the SAGE project. This has improved the livelihoods of women and girls.

“They can now get income from selling the dishwashing liquid and candles they are making. In Shurugwi, the women are making a living through selling reusable pads they were trained to make by AWET through the Anglo-American support,” noted Ms Dunhira.

She further said training of AGYW in Shurugwi district has been a milestone. AGYW were taught basic accounting, usage of money, self-help projects and social marketing.

In March, AWET also worked with community volunteers and trained BCFs to ensure that gender equality messaging is cascaded to all communities through village savings and lending schemes (VSLs) that have enabled women to start small projects for sustenance.

AWET, under the “Supporting Adolescent Girls Education”, has also made sure girls from the Apostolic community continue to get a second chance to education through numeracy and literacy skills acquisition.

“AWET has also been engaging with adolescent girls and boys and the youth from the Apostolic community on sexual reproductive health (SRH) issues, as well as menstrual hygiene and mental health awareness, under an ACT Ubumbano support project. The trained AGYW now understand the importance of literacy and numeracy in a small business, and coming up with profit and losses for business continuity and sustainability.”

While a lot is being done, some emerging challenges still pop up. Ms Dunhira said emerging challenges include a demand for education opportunities, where children are willing to transition back to the formal school setting, but cannot due to lack of resources.

“In some instances, we have noted that most children do not have birth certificates. This is proving to be a challenge, especially in the event that child abuse is to be reported. There will be no evidence as the age of the child cannot be ascertained. Out of school young women require entrepreneurial skills since they can’t afford to further studies,” she emphasised.

She revealed that Apostolic churches were also on a drive to build schools across the country, a huge milestone for this community and a sign that the message to keep the girl child in school is being accepted across Zimbabwe.

“Apostolic girls who had never been to school or had dropped out before completing primary education have been given a second chance to education as they have been receiving literacy and numeracy skills that will help them in their day-to-day lives.”

She said they have a crucial role to play in empowering the Apostolic woman and girl child as a way of bridging the marginalisation gap that has always been glaringly obvious for a long time.

“AWET is made up of Apostolic people from different churches.

“It is important for us to continue to create dialogue and hold engagements to ensure the child and women are protected within Apostolic communities.

“It is also important for us to play the role of a catalyst in ensuring there is a mindset shift within Apostolic communities, where we move from watching abuse happening to women and girls to a point where we actually take action to prevent that abuse and protect the child,” Ms Dunhira said.

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1st Quater AWET Newsletter March Issue

Measles Outbreak Response Vaccination

Mutasa – Baba Freddy, an AWET District Focal Person (DFP), did not hesitate to share the information shared during the discussion about vaccinations being the only form of protection when he took part in a focus group discussion about the measles outbreak in the country that was organized in Mutasa district by the Ministry of Health Child Care and UNICEF Zimbabwe. His district was among the first to have confirmed measles cases, and the only way to make the locals aware was through sensitization.The district focal person from Mutasa in Manicaland says,

Click the link below to read the full newsletter


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Kurapwa kuchipatara handi kun’ora

By Abel Ndonga Except From Kwayedza

SANGANO reApostolic Women Empowement Trust (AWET) riri kudzidzisa vanhu vanopinda kereke dzechipositori munharaunda yeShurugwi, kuMidlands, kukosha kwekuenda kuzvipatara kunorapwa kana vachinge varwara pamwe nekubatsirwa kana madzimai akazvitakura pane kubarira mudzimba.

Nekuda kwezvitendero zvavo, vamwe vanopinda kereke dzechipositori havaende kuzvipatara kunorapwa kana vachinge varwara uye vanosunungukira mudzimba nekunzvimbo dzinozivikanwa nekuti chitsidzo.

Mai Ntombizodwa Revesai, vanove District Health Officer weAWET kuShurugwi, vanoti vari kuita basa rokukurudzira vanamati vemakereke echipositori kuti vaende kunorapwa kuzvipatara kana varwara nezvirwere zvinosanganisira HIV neAIDS kana TB.

AWET iri kushanda yakabatana nesangano reNational AIDS Council munzvimbo yeShurugwi.

Mai Revesai vanoti mutsvakurudzo yavakaita, zvakaonekwa kuti Midlands iri kutungamira panyaya dzekunyuka patsva kweHIV neAIDS.


Tiri kushanda nevanhu vanopinda kereke dzechipostori tichionesana navo kuti
hapana chakaipa kuenda kuzvipatara kunorapwa kana kunoonekwa nachiremba uyemadzimai akazvitakura vagosunungukira muzvipatara.


Vanhu vanopinda chipositori vazhinji vanotungamidza mweya mutsvene uyo
vanofunga kuti unorapa. Hongu, hatirambe kuti mweya mutsvene unoshanda, asikuenda kuchipatara hakusi kun’ora, kunotovabatsira pautano hwavo,” vanodaro.


Mai Revesai vanoenderera mberi vachiti: “Tine vatinoti ma’behavioural change
facilitators’ vanove vamwewo vanhu vanopinda positori iyoyo saka tinovadzidzisa
upenyu hwakanaka hwekurarama kuitira kuti kana vadzokera kumakereke kwavo,vagonopawo ruzivo rwatinenge tavadzidzisa.


“Vanhu ava takavapa zvidzidzo maringe nenyaya dzeutano, HIV neAIDS uye nyaya



Mai Revesai vanoti sangano ravo riri kubatsirawo panyaya yekuvakwa kwezvimbuzi mudzimba munharaunda yeWard 18 kuShurugwi nemunzvimbo dzinonamatira mapositori.


Nyaya yekushandura munhu mafungiro ake ihombe isingaitike ipapo-ipapo. Asi tine
mufaro mukuru kuti chirongwa ichi chave kutambirwa nekuti mapositori vari kuona

sechirongwa chavo saka tinenge tichitaura tichinzwisisana pamwe chete.

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Inter-Apostolic Women’s Conference September 2016

Click the link below to read the full report


Inter-Apostolic Women’s Conference September 2016



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16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence: Districts Commemorations

Is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.
Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust participates in the UNITE Campaign, which has a different theme each year, along with the rest of the globe. The theme for this year is “Unite! Activism to
eliminate violence against women and girls.” We ask everyone to take part in this effort and to support and stand in solidarity with this action.

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AWET exhibits at the National Disability Expo 2022

The Apostolic women Empowerment Trust participated in the National Disability Expo in Marondera from September 6-8, 2022, together with other United Agencies in Zimbabwe, with the theme “Building a disability inclusive and participative society: Leaving No Person and No Place Behind. Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust exhibited at 2022 National Disability Expo to link with thousands of people with disability and service providers as well as presenting a range of informative and interactive presentations delivered by industry experts.

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Breastfeeding, when done exclusively from the first hour after birth for six months and beyond two years, is one of the best way to ensure a child’s health and survival. It’s more critical than ever to begin life as a new-born being breastfed, according to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Executive Director of UN Children’s Fund UNICEF. #Breastfeeding is a natural act, but it is also a learned behaviour.Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust believes All mothers must be supported to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.

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In Ethiopia, Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust attended a Spotlight Civil Society Organizations (#CSOs) knowledge Sharing Forum on emerging promising practices and lessons learned on Ending Violence against Women and Girls and Harmful practices (#EVAWG/HR) and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights (#SRHRR). This initiative was supported by UN Women and
African Union under the Spotlight Initiative.

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