Jairos Jiri- The legacy of Zimbabwe’s greatest Philanthropist

Jairos Jiri- The legacy of Zimbabwe’s greatest Philanthropist


Jairos Jiri started creating facilities in the 1940’s for disadvantaged and disabled people in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, using Christian principles of charity, patience and non-judgmental tolerance.

The Association exists to assist to rehabilitate disabled persons within Zimbabwe to learn and be trained skills so they are empowered to manage their lives and become responsible citizens of society.

There is great need for assistance with over 6.500 people each year being helped through outreach and follow-up integration programmes.

The types of disabilities people have is very wide and the help needs to be tailored to their requirements.  


How to get here: 

Bulawayo Craft shop: corner of Leopold Takawira & Robert Mugabe Way 

Mutare Craft shop: 41 First St, Mutare,

Victoria Falls Craft shop: 406, Adam Standard Drive, Curio Village, Victoria Falls 

In the current economic climate where the Government’s priorities are elsewhere, disabled men, women, boys and girls need assistance now and Jairos Jiri Association has been there to provide and help as the largest organization of its kind in Africa. Mr Jairos Jiri founded the Association in 1950 to provide hope and assistance for the disabled of Zimbabwe and to be an advocate to the Public and Government for rights and needs of the disadvantaged. The Association operates sixteen centres where sixteen hundred children and adults get treatment, care and education. Among the activities are:

(1)    Special Primary schools for the deaf, blind and physically challenged

(2)    Hostels and Homes to provide a safe environment for people with disabilities and those who have no family support

(3)    A vocational training centre to provide knowledge and practical skills

(4)    An agricultural skills training centre

(5)    Clinics to provide medical care and treatment for people with disabilities

(6)    An orthopaedic workshop to provide aids for the disabled

(7)    A community based rehabilitation programme

(8)    A gender empowerment programme

(9)    Craft shops

Jairos Jiri was born on June 26, 1921 at Mutenyami Village in the remote Bikita Communal lands situated between Masvingo and the Save River. His father, Chief Mutenyami Jiri, was the fourth generation of his family who served the people of the area and a descendant of the rulers of the Varozvi people. His mother, Marufu, was the first and therefore senior wife of Chief Mutenyami.

His parents were not rich and could not afford to send him to school so Jairos sold chickens and grew vegetables and hoarded his money until early 1937. When he was twelve years old, he had saved enough money to pay for two terms at Gokomere Mission School where he enrolled in Sub A (Grade 1) and was always proud of the fact that only after a week or two he was promoted to Sub B (grade 2), but suddenly became ill and returned home, bringing to an end the only formal education he ever received.


He worked for a few months in Masvingo as a gardener, but in 1939 he set off on foot with his half-brother and all his possessions rolled in the sleeping mat he carried on his head, to seek his fortune in Bulawayo where he found a job as a gardener in North End where 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 and with the help of friends drafted a constitution for a rehabilitation organisation which they registered. At the outbreak of World War II in 1940, he like many other young men joined the renowned Rhodesia Africa Rifles in Bulawayo as a dishwasher. The first real knowledge of rehabilitation he ever received came from a group of American Airforce Officers who were visiting the camp where Jairos was based and this must have had the effect of a thunderbolt on him. His excitement and enthusiasm mounted and great things were soon to follow.  At one stage he 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.

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 Benjamin Burombo, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Gideon Mazaba, Mike Hove and Michael Mawema he drafted a constitution and after pain staking negotiations with the then native Commissioner the organisation was fully registered with the late Stephen Kwenda as Secretary, Fabian Dururu as Treasurer and Job Mapfinya and Jacob Mufute as members. 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.

After a decade of effort in October 1950 the first skills training workshop was opened in Makokoba and this marked the beginning of his great rehabilitation work. In 1959, twenty years after his arrival in Bulawayo, Jairos welcomed guests to the official opening of a new training centre in Nguboyenja made possible through the Bulawayo City Council which donated land and buildings funded by State Lotteries.

The Jairos Jiri art centre an outlet for the association quickly achieved prominence and by the 1960’s was a prime source of curios for tourists. These items were made by disabled people and included tiles and tiled tables and wall plaques, carvings, pottery, painted artworks and sculptures. His rehabilitation centre in Bulawayo also fostered music and dance. By 1974 the centres had expanded and diversified to include homes for the disabled, and legal representation was gained locally and in the United Kingdom. Jairos Jiri centres and his philosophy are still a major resource for community action and charity in Zimbabwe.

In the same year Jairos Jiri was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his philanthropy to the nation and in 1963 he was granted Freedom of the City of Bulawayo and the same year he addressed an International Symposium on Rehabilitation in Kampala, Uganda.

This public recognition resulted in enormous support from both home and abroad to expand the Association’s reach and activities to disadvantaged people. 

Impressed by his outstanding work the United States Consular General granted him three months to tour rehabilitation centres in the United States and Europe. The demand for Mr Jiri’s work was increasing and after being granted land by the then Salisbury City Council he joined hands with the Salisbury Society for the Handicapped formed by Jonah Matswetu, the late John Madzima the late Kate Chitumba and the late Mrs. Lillian Sondayi who after an agreement elected him as their president. At the same time Mrs Margaret Chiwandamira who was running Mukwapasi Clinic approached Mr Jiri for help and Mukwapasi clinic was incorporated and Mrs Chiwandamira became the 9th Founder Life Vice President of the Association.

The work of Jairos Jiri continued to expand and diversify. For 32 years he worked in rehabilitation Jairos received enormous support and funding from both home and abroad. Jairos, a small boy herding his father’s cattle, working in a garden to earn himself a pair of trousers, scribbling alphabet in the dust, a dishwasher, waiter, cook, newspaper vendor, boxer, comforter of beggars, defeater of bureaucracy and father of people with disabilities never entertained illusions that he would solicit the recognition of an elite and exalted institution like a university or that tribute would come to him from the realms of higher learning. Neither had he imagined when he painstakingly learned to write his name that it would one day read Jairos Jiri, MBE, MA (Hons).

In July 1975 Mr Jiri had an audience with Pope John Paul VI, where he received a blessing for his great work and was presented with a medal marking a Holy year. On May 16 1977 the then University of Rhodesia awarded him an honorary degree in Master of Arts. Later the same year he received the Lions International Service Award and a Humanitarian Award from the then Salisbury Union of Jewish Women. In June 1981 he was granted Freedom of the City of Los Angeles. Earlier on that month Jairos Jiri became the first recipient of the newly inaugurated Goodwill Industries International Award for Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Work. Later the same year, Rotary International presented him with their International Year of Disabled Person Award for Africa which carries citation “Greatest Contribution to Rehabilitation in Africa -  IYDP 1981”

Before Mr, Jiri died, he was faced with internal dissensions and being cognizant of his responsibilities, he made up his mind to request the help of sponsored experts to reorganise and train staff in the fields of financial control, administration, workshop management and agriculture and this was granted generously by the Association’s partners in Europe and the United States of America. On November 12 1982 Mr Jiri a great philanthropist and illustrious son of Zimbabwe, a man full of charisma, humility and unfailing love for mankind, passed away.

The state took responsibility for the funeral which was attended by the then Prime Minister, Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the then Deputy Prime Minister the late Comrade Simon Muzenda, several cabinet ministers and dignitaries. At the time of his death, the Association, which Mr. Jiri founded, had grown from 1 centre in 1950 to 16 centres. Jairos Jiri not only gave hope and opportunity to thousands of people living with disabilities during his life time and after his death, but also earned Zimbabwe international recognition in the care and rehabilitation of the disabled. It takes a man of great compassion and courage to assume responsibility for people with disabilities and to break down the barriers and attitudes of society towards them, and in doing so, restore human dignity and their rightful place in the community.

Jairos Jiri left a tangible legacy to the nation and to all of us to inherit the Jairos Jiri Association with gratitude and pride with all its achievements to date.


Individuals can donate to the Jairos Jiri Association by: 

  • Buying quality and affordable craft products made by disabled people at any of the three shops listed above 
  • Making a donation through the website to the annual fund-(http://www.jairosjiriassoc.com/)
  • Make an endowment for a specific goal or with restrictions on how your donation is used
  • Planned giving of a bequest on the death of the donor
  • Sponsor an individual until they become self-sufficient


Credit: Zimfieldguide, Jairos Jiri Association, 

Photo credits: Zimfieldguide, Jairos Jiri association, Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway.

Back to blog

Leave a comment