Helping Restore Livelihoods and Build Self Confidence through Sustainable Strengthening of Resource Base of Caregivers in their Struggle to Improve the Well-Being of Orphans in Zimbabwe
One of the challenges of our generation is HIV/AIDS. A pandemic of this disease is currently being experienced most severely on the continent of Africa, and the country of Zimbabwe has been no exception. In fact, Zimbabwe ranks among the highest in the world in rates of HIV/AIDS infections. As an advocate for citizens of Zimbabwe, her homeland, Dr. Prisca N. Nemapare, PhD, CNS, has worked in community nutrition and public health over the past two decades to positively improve the nutritional health of women and children in rural communities of Zimbabwe. Most recently, her work focuses on AIDS orphans.
As co-founder and Chief Program Officer for The Zienzele Foundation (www.zienzele.org/), a non-governmental organization focusing on the needs of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and their caregivers, her innovative work in rural Zimbabwe has shed light on this issue and has improved the nutritional health and overall well-being of women, children and households in these communities.
As a native of Zimbabwe, Dr. Nemapare worked diligently as a young woman and was able to come to America to study. She completed her BS degree in Food and Nutrition and MS in Food Science at Alabama A&M University, Normal, Alabama, and her PhD in Human Nutrition at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee. Dr. Nemapare has had a notable career as a nutrition scientist. Her career in academia began at Ohio University in the School of Human and Consumer Sciences. While at Ohio University, Dr. Nemapare’s scholarly work focusing on the well-being of women and children was supported by the prestigious Earthwatch Institute, Maynard, Massachusetts. Her work led to the development of the Institute for the African Child at Ohio University (www.ohio.edu/african/), a unit focusing on the teaching, research and service related to Africa’s most marginalized resource, their children.
With the explosion of HIV/AIDS in Africa, Dr. Nemapare left Ohio University in 1998 in order to focus her efforts on improving the lives of individuals and families suffering the effects of HIV/AIDS. A picture is worth a thousand words; therefore, The Zienzele Foundation Web site (www.zienzele.org/) is an excellent "picture" that highlights her current work. Education and economic development, as well as health and nutrition assessment, are all part of Dr. Nemapare's efforts, with promoting sustainable self-sufficiency as a priority.
Caregivers are those individuals who care for orphans in communities served by The Zienzele Foundation. They range in age from 45 to 85 years of age and are from 500 households. Eighty percent of these households are headed by grandmothers aged between 45 to 85 years of age, a majority (70%) of which are over 60 years. Many of the caregivers are terminally ill, blind or generally in poor health due to advanced age.
Dr. Nemapare's work consists of assisting caregivers in improving their access to food and in paying children's school fees. This work began at a time when the government’s land policy changed which resulted in many of the funding agencies leaving the country. Sources of funding dried up immediately. Yet the problem of orphans being cared for by grandparents and child-headed households continued to escalate. Therefore, it was imperative for her to take swift, effective and sustainable action to remedy the crisis. Building on her previous work, she approached the caregivers and discussed with them the idea of making traditional baskets, which in turn, The Zienzele Foundation would purchase and resale them to generate funds. These funds are sustaining these women-led micro-enterprise projects that improve food security and education of AIDS orphans.
While groups agreed to the proposal, a formal commitment in the form of a contract was developed, and the groups signed. Exempt from basketry were those caregivers who were so old that they could not see anymore or were infirm. Overall, the average number of orphans each caregiver is caring for is four. Considering the limited resources caregivers are operating under, the average number of orphans being cared for is quite high.
Part of the contract stated that the money that groups generated from making the baskets had to be handled three ways. They were to: 1) have a savings account, 2) reinvest into the project and 3) share the rest. Besides being a market for their baskets, the Foundation would assist them in starting gardening, sewing, poultry-raising, as well as soap and peanut butter-making projects. In sum, these sustainable projects are all income-generating projects that improve the food security of caregivers, and ultimately the nutritional status and educational level of children.
Depending on the project, the caregivers organized themselves into groups of 10 to 20 members. Next they chose a committee which constitutes a chair, deputy chair, secretary, treasurer and a committee member. They also are expected to develop a constitution in which they state their goals and objectives, as well as governing rules and regulations. Each week they are expected to come together and work on their project. The only exception is the gardening, where members meet daily to water vegetables and care for the garden.
Members have to belong to at least one project. Because caregivers struggle to make ends meet, they usually will join several projects. This provides them with a better chance of generating a bit more money for food and school. Meetings have become weekly social gatherings where members work and teach each other to make baskets, for example, as well as to discuss problems and give each other ideas and/or advice on how to resolve some issues. Getting together to work on their projects has evolved into a community support system for the caregivers.
Caregivers are carrying an enormous burden, including plowing in their fields, producing food in the fields and keeping food on the table for their charges daily. Making sure food is available is one of the most difficult problems that caregivers face on a daily basis. Therefore getting involved in the projects has helped their families evade starvation.
Currently, the savings accounts of these groups range from Zim $200,000 to Zim $670,000 (US $2.00 to US $6.70). This level of savings is a very a small amount. Yet to these women, it is an unprecedented, stunning achievement. It has also been very empowering and has given them enormous confidence. The average yearly income in Zimbabwe is about US $700, yet these would earn far less than this average without these projects. The savings account money has been loaned to members to buy food. In some cases, when a member is faced with tragedy (i.e., death or terminal illness), the group comes together and decides to take some of the money out to help the affected member. Because of the current food problems, members are borrowing to purchase food, fertilizer and seeds for planting in their fields.
To illustrate how projects have effectively and sustainably changed lives, Mai Zviitire (not her real name) was widowed six years ago and was left with seven children ranging in age 10 months to 14 years of age. She was the sole supporter of these children. At the death of the husband there was very little, in terms of resources, that the family had. Her home was in the area where The Zienzele Foundation work started paying fees for children. When the Foundation met with community leaders and members to explain what it intended to do, she was one of the first caregivers to join the groups.
At this same time, the caregivers agreed to form basket making and garden groups. She promptly joined both of them. Since the time was getting close to the time of the rainy season, the group requested that could they begin by soliciting maize seeds from the Foundation. The Zienzele Foundation agreed on condition that each caregiver makes three 30-centimeter baskets as payment. They were given three months to do it, and they would receive the seeds. This was done because the Foundation does not support the notion that individuals or groups be provided with things without them having to work for it. The group gladly agreed to this arrangement. They were supplied with maize seeds the same time baskets were collected. Garden projects had already started so the community was already benefiting by this time. The giving of seeds in lure of the baskets went on for three years in a row.
Mai Zviitire worked very hard to support her family. Availability of seeds through working with The Zienzele Foundation helped. She grew corn every year and when she timed her crop well (early planting), she managed to harvest quite a bit. She also began to save maize seeds for the next planting.
Mai Zviitire also joined the garden group. Here she excelled in producing vegetables which she was feeding the family, as well as selling to generate income. Through working with other caregivers, she sold old vegetable leaves to those who were raising rabbits in lure of her being given a female baby rabbit which she eventually mated, and she produced her own which she fed to her family as well as sell.
This has helped Mai Zviitire to certainly increase her family’s access to food and improve their nutritional status. Many caregivers are making a fairly comfortable living due to their involvement in these projects. Besides school work books and pencils, she is also able to purchase basic commodities such as sugar and iodized salt from proceeds from these projects. Yet, the most important and significant outcome from these projects is how these caregivers have gained in self-esteem and confidence.
Many success stories could be told. Suffice it to say, however, that overall, this work has resulted in all participating households being able to afford food and education. In the past six years of severely low rainfall in this region, in particular, these families, like Mai Zviitire, have been able to purchase maize (staple food) and have continued with the gardens. Results of this effort have seen improved food intake. In 2003, a food availability survey was carried out and results showed improved access to food in all the households even though total nutrient intake was still insufficient. This year there will be another health assessment which will include again evaluate access to food, food intake, nutrient intake as well as hemoglobin levels.
Initially, The Zienzele Foundation was only serving three schools; however, currently it has expanded to 18 schools. This means that there are 17 groups making traditional baskets, four sewing, four peanut butter making, two soap making and 24 gardens projects. Many more communities are now interested in starting such projects. This means more starting money is needed to get projects in these new communities get started. The types of inputs required to get a project and to sustain it very minimal. It has been amazing to observe how so little has benefited so many.