When I started donating blood it was in 1993 and I was in Form 5 at Harare High School. I had heard about lives being lost in hospitals because there was no blood for transfusion. My friends and I decided to help in the small way we could. In 1994 NBTS and DANIDA (a Danish non-governmental organisation) through a women called Patricia Rudd, requested the school administration to select two student blood donors who would help with the promotion of blood donation to fellow students at the school. That is when I and a girl called Rudo Matiki were chosen to join a Peer Promoters Programme that involved 10 schools in Harare.
Funded by DANIDA and facilitated by NBTS we would meet very often to discuss how best we can promote blood donation in our respective schools. HIV was also at its peak and posing a great threat to life and blood safety in Zimbabwe. So, naturally leading a low risk lifestyle was one of the topics we would always discuss. Back at school we would encourage fellow students to donate blood and answer their questions to the best of our knowledge. When the blood donation team visited for blood collection, if we were free we would help them with setting up before moving to call other students for donation. We would also make sure the room to be used for blood donation was clean before and after the blood donation exercise.
The Pledge 25 Club founding members circa 1995. Standing from left, Rudo Matiki,
Chido Chitsatse, Ernst Butawo, Rodreck Manzungu, Sunday Chibvongodze and James.
Seated from left, Josiah Mushonga, Shalom Mkwakwami, and Weston Chidzinga.
It was during one of our meetings in the third school term of 1994 that we realised the happy fun-loving and life-saving family we had become would soon disintegrate when we left school at the end of the year. This is when we thought of forming a club of blood donors who had left school. After some brainstorming sessions we agreed that a member should join by pledging to donate at least 25 units of safe blood during their lifetime. To do this, the member should also promise to lead a safe lifestyle and refrain from practices that would risk the safety of their blood. We then agreed to call the club the Pledge 25 Club. We formed a committee, chaired by Shalom Mkwkwami from Girls High. She was the first club President. I replaced her as President two years later.
We set aside a day to meet and donate as well as recruit new members leaving school into the club. In consultation with NBTS we decided to set this day on the first Saturday after schools close and called it Youth Donors’ Day. To invite members to this function we would use the home addresses the outgoing students would have given us. Using what we called Postal Teams we would hand deliver invitation letters moving from door to door. I still remember for every letter delivered the postal team member would get 30c. There were no mobile phones then and this method of sending messages gave us a chance of interacting with the parents, explaining the club and gaining their trust. It also made donors in the same residential area know each other and form groups of like-minded out-of-school youths.
Then something that further opened my eyes on the need to donate blood happened in 1998. All along I had thought our blood benefited accident victims, maternal and a few other cases, until our club had a meeting with a person with a condition called hemophilia. This, I learnt, was a condition whereby blood doesn’t clot normally because of insufficient clotting factors. Life threatening bleeding would happen internally, especially in the joints where it would be visible through swellings. The man explained that from the blood we donated a protein or clotting factor, called Factor 8, would be processed to help hemophiliacs to stop bleeding. I vividly remembered the man shedding tears and expressing gratitude to our club for coming up with the idea that would save more people like him. From that day I vowed to continue donating and share my blood and products from it with such people in need.
I fulfilled my pledge of 25 donations in 2002 and got honoured with a certificate and shield at a colourful NBTS Annual General Meeting. After graduating I did not look back. Giving blood was now part of me and each time I was due I would visit the NBTS clinic to donate. In 2010 I received my 50th Donation award and am looking forward to receiving my 75th donation award this June of 2018. My target is to reach 100 donations by 2025.
I am now a professional and happy family man, married with three children. I am grateful to the Pledge 25 Club because through its low-risk lifestyle values I was able to sail through the turbulent era of HIV and AIDS where most of my age-mates succumbed. As I saved other people’s lives, the clubs’ values were also saving mine.