March 10, 2014

Rhythms of Change

During a 2012 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange on civic engagement, Plot Mhako learned how American organizations strategically use hip-hop to connect with youth and talk about challenges they face in their communities. Upon his return to Zimbabwe, Plot collaborated with U.S. Embassy Harare on a new program called Step Up 2 HIV to help de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS in his country. The project, which is supported through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), uses popular culture to raise awareness among youth about HIV prevention and reproductive health. “My IVLP experience was mind-blowing, life-changing, and inspiring,” Plot commented. “The experience has transformed me and given new meaning to my Jibilika Dance Trust initiative. I have, within a year of my return, been listed among the 100 Most Influential Young Zimbabweans and went on to win an award at the Zimbabwe Hip Hop Awards in the category for Best Positive Social Contribution. My scope, skills, and social and professional standing were transformed immensely during the course of my three-week U.S. exchange.” 
In December 2012, Plot organized a competition featuring over 30 dance crews from around the country to commemorate World AIDS Day in Harare. HIV/AIDS messages were broadcast to over 800 audience members and participants between the performances. The winning group was invited to perform at the 2012 Auxillia Chimusoro Awards Ceremony held at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Harare. Named after the first woman in Zimbabwe to disclose her HIV positive status, the Auxillia Chimusoro Awards recognizes those who have demonstrated commitment and courage in reducing the stigma of HIV/AIDS. The awards have been supported by the U.S. Embassy for the past 12 years. In 2013, Plot’s Dance Trust supported a cross-border exchange for 15 Zimbabwean and 15 Batswana youth organized by U.S. Embassy Harare and U.S. Embassy Gaborone. In an effort to engage students about safe sexual practices, Plot offered a dance workshop, and hosted a discussion about HIV, sexual rights, social stigma, and the power of art and culture to disseminate health-related messages. 
Plot established seven ‘Step Up 2 HIV’ clubs in schools throughout the Harare metropolitan area. Keen to share his best practices and learn from others, Plot led a public discussion, in partnership with the Zimbabwe-United States of America Alumni Association (ZUSAA), titled “Community Arts, Advocacy, and Empowerment” at U.S. Embassy Harare. While Plot’s ‘Step Up 2 HIV’ was the first of its kind in Zimbabwe, his outreach within the community has spawned several new popular culture-oriented awareness programs. 
In advance of Zimbabwe’s 2013 presidential elections, Plot was involved in a radio campaign managed by a fellow alumnus urging young people to vote and get involved in shaping their communities. Plot continuously works to highlight challenges for youth in Zimbabwe, using social media platforms to foster constructive dialogue among youth. 
Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Plot Mhako is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout March on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.