Under the blistering heat of Karoi town a mentally ill man forages for his meal from a street bin. Everyone affectionately knows him as Diva. Suddenly, a giant man wearing a straw hat passes by, and Diva stops the scavenging and turns to the man.
In a typical “my saviour has arrived” fashion, Diva abandons the search and a few dollars are stashed in his hands.
Diva and the man immediately starts talking as if nothing is amiss. Only Diva’s used-oil-dirty clothes tell an awkward story but they smile and intimate on something and laugh, mutually.
“When are you bathing me and giving me new clothes? Can’t you see these ones are too dirty?” Diva asks.
“Well, this Sunday we go bathing and I will buy you new clothes,’’ the huge man consents.
Musician, philanthropist and farmer, Never Gasho has a rare understanding for the mentally ill. In the small teeming town of Karoi, he is known for rounding up the mentally ill, taking them to Karoi River for a deserved scrub bath and dressing.
“They are just different from us in that they see things differently. If you spend time with them and befriend them, they understand you eventually and you can converse. It is not a relationship yu can build overnight and win. No!.
“They are not mad. I realised each of them needs food and drink. You give him food three or four times, he will start understanding you. All of them in this town are male and I relate with them well. I give them instructions and talk to them nicely.
“After a bath, I dress them with new clothes and give them good food. The last time I bathed Diva, he said he wanted to go back to his rural home but was scared of witches,’’ said Gasho.
The Lifestyle caught up with Gasho, on his interaction with them.
“It started just as a conversation and I ended up offering them food. That is how I developed relations with most of these people. I have told myself that I will make up time for such people as long as I can.
“I want you to know that people with mental illness are just people like us. All they need is love and someone to talk to and in all my interaction I have had with most of them, I realised that they all have families who have in most cases rejected them.
“It is this rejection that I feel makes most of them very violent but when they feel loved, most of them can be very calm and engage in a descent conversation,” says Gasho.
Touched by the plight of the mental patients living in the streets, Gasho says he could not stand seeing them feed from the filthy bins, compounded with their dirty bodies, he felt there was need to do something to make their lives better.
“I have a few well-known mental patients I would see almost every day picking from the bin and I just thought there was something I could do to ease their misery.
“You can imagine also with how dirty they would be, no one would even want to associate with them. Reality is these people all have families and do not come from another planet. Sadly we are a people that has no tolerance and would shun anything like mental illness. So most of them end up in the streets.
“I decided to start feeding and ensuring that they at least take a bath and that is just how it all started,” recounts Gasho.
The businessman and philanthropist says interacting with them was not that easy and it took time for him to gain their trust.
“This is someone who lives in the streets, feeds from the bins and no one seems to care about them. So initially when I started to approach them, I was not welcome. Maybe they were yet to understand my intentions.
“I did not give up, I would approach all those I know in the streets and give them food. Eventually they started warming up. I started with just providing a meal and then later set conditions that one should bath before they eat.
“That is when I started bathing and then feed them until I became popular as the man ‘anogeza mapenzi’.”
Gosho adds that while most of the mental illness patients can be very violent, he noticed that they can also be very calm when they feel loved.
“I have even interacted with the most violent well-known people with mental conditions. I realised that they can be calm and soft when they are loved. When you offer them food, they can be calm and will never attack you.
“I have interacted with many in the streets who end up telling me about where they come from and about their families. This has made me come to the conclusion that they all have families.
“It is rejection and the stigma associated with mental conditions that makes them violent sometimes.
“It’s sad that all those mental patients have a home and family somewhere but it is because of rejection that they have ended up in the streets.”
Despite the enactment of the Mental Health Act in 1996, the Mental Health Policy in 2004 whose major aim is to harmonise mental health activities and improve quality of care for those living with mental disorders, the majority of people with mental conditions like Diva, continue to live in abject poverty.
Gosho adds that his tough upbringing as an orphan has made him realise that everyone needs love, a home and support and envisages a day where people with various mental conditions living in the streets will find a home and love.
Gasho is a popular musician in Karoi with six albums but he is not into music for money. He plays mainly for charity and has been known for cushioning Karoi Town Council in times of need.
At one stage when the council was broke, he sponsored the council’s salaries and wages for two months.
He also donated 25 tonnes of maize for the town to undertake a food for work clean up campaign.
“I just want a better country and better living conditions for humanity. But I get really angry when I see Christians walking past the mentally ill and going to church without praying for them.’’