Tafadzwa Chibukwa, Chronicle Reporter
THE late great philanthropist Jairos Jiri was inspired by nationalists such as the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo and Cde Benjamin Burombo to set up Jairos Jiri Association, which caters for the physically and mentally handicapped.
Established in 1959, the Jairos Jiri Association, turned into a household name both locally and internationally.
Due to Jiri’s philanthropic works, his family feels their father deserves a national hero status.
The late Jiri, founder of the Jairos Jiri Association died on November 12, 1982.
By the time of his death, he was running 16 centres including special schools for the deaf and blind as well as hostels, homes, vocational training centres, agriculture skills training centres, clinics for those living with disabilities among others.
Born in Bikita, between Masvingo and the Save Valley, the late Jiri had 17 children and eight wives.With few resources, Jiri took it upon himself to provide for, organise and regularly help the needy.
Through his efforts, the rights of the disabled are now respected in various areas.
In an interview yesterday, the last philanthropist’s son, Mr Auto Jiri, retraced his father’s story, narrating how he selflessly cared for humanity.
He said although his father came from humble beginnings with little education, he mastered the art of providing care to the disabled.
“When he was 12 years old, my father longed to join some of his friends who were attending school at Silveira House Mission in the locality of his home area in Masvingo, but because of lack of funds he could not,” said Mr Jiri.
He said his father was a warm, kind-hearted and generous man. Mr Jiri reminisced how his father religiously strived to put other people’s interests first ahead of his family.
“We were very blessed to have him as a father because he taught us how to treat other people around us.
He also taught us the meaning of love for mankind and care, which we continue to cherish to this day,” he said.
Mr Jiri said his father was so passionate about helping other people to an extent that he would even forget about the welfare of his own children while focusing on helping the less fortunate and disabled.
He said his father taught them to fend for themselves from an early age.
“He would wake us up early in the morning and start working in the fields. My father made sure that as his children we followed in his footsteps,” said Mr Jiri.
From the sale of chickens and vegetables, Jiri carefully saved enough money to pay for two terms.
He set off to the Gokomere Mission School in Masvingo where he enrolled in Grade One, but suddenly became ill and returned home, bringing to an end the formal education he ever received.
During his time in Gokomere, he had learned a little about God and Christianity and took these things seriously.
After several months Jairos left home for Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) where he found a job as a gardener, but was soon promoted to domestic-cum-baby-minder.
Later that year he resigned from his employer who was disappointed and promised to increase his salary but could not entice him to stay.
Early in 1939, he set off on foot with his half-brother, with all his possessions rolled in the sleeping mat he carried on his head, to seek his fortune in Bulawayo.
His half-brother known as Mazviyo Jiri found him a job as a gardener in North End.
During his initial period in Bulawayo, he came across destitute, half naked, blind and disabled people begging in the streets. Jairos’ immediate compassion for the unfortunate beggars was unusual and remarkable.
“At one stage, my father carried a disabled young man on his bicycle to Old Memorial Hospital and persuaded authorities there to perform a corrective surgery on him and when asked if he could be responsible for payment he agreed,” said Mr Jiri.
“Greatly encouraged by the help he had received at the hospital he started to take ex-blind beggars to his house and putting into practice all he knew about rehabilitation at that stage.”
Eager to register his organisation and with the help of friends such as the late Vice President Nkomo, Cdes Burombo, Gideon Mazaba, Mike Hove and Michael Mawema, Jiri drafted a constitution. After painstaking negotiations with the then native commissioner the organisation was fully registered.
“However, the years between 1945 and 1950 were never easy.
In October 1950 through the courtesy of Bulawayo City Council, the first skills training workshop was opened in Makokoba and this marked the beginning of his great rehabilitation work,” said Mr Jiri.
“In 1959, 20 years after his arrival in Bulawayo, Jairos welcomed guests to the official opening of a new training centre in Nguboyenja suburb made possible through the Bulawayo City Council which donated land and buildings funded by State Lotteries.
I do not think there is any other person who did any works greater than the late Mr Jiri for the country hence the recommendation by the Government of him being a national hero,” said the late Mr Jiri’s son.
“My father’s burial was graced by the former President Robert Mugabe and his deputy, Cde Simon Muzenda. To us as a family, he remains the people’s hero.”