Having lost her mother at the age of 14, Munyaradzi Nyoni prematurely graduated into adulthood as she had to fend for her two siblings.
By Stambuli Kim
Growing up in an impoverished and arid Mativenga Village, Ward 5 in Mwenezi District, 500km south east of Harare, now 16-year-old Nyoni — who squats in a single room with her two siblings, aged 14 and four years — realises that the task of parenthood is even more challenging exacerbated by the ravaging effects of the drought.
Of late, they have been living at the mercy of fellow villagers, who are now also struggling to feed their own families, hence little to spare for Nyoni’s family.
“I lost my mother due to Aids and she was ill for a long time. I have never known my father since birth and so we are on our own,” she said.
“I dropped out of school before secondary education as my mother could not afford school fees and worse still, I had to look after my siblings after her death.”
Thanks to village head Mativenga who gives them food handouts, Nyoni and her siblings sometimes have a meal a day.
But they have not been always lucky as the effects of the El Niño-induced drought are taking a toll on their neighbours who had little to harvest last season.
“It’s painful to watch my siblings go to bed hungry. Being the eldest, I am duty-bound to ensure that there is food on the table. But I have no source of income, menial jobs are hard to find these days as the biting economic conditions have not spared anyone. We don’t have any livestock nor farming implements. We tried to plant some small grains we got from Red Cross last year but we got nothing due to the erratic rains,” she said.
Her siblings’ school attendance has been affected as they cannot endure to walk 7km to school on empty stomachs.
The weather in Mwenezi is generally hot and it is dry throughout the year. And when they are lucky to get some casual work to do in exchange for food, the siblings abscond school to help their sister so that they can complete the tasks sooner.
But there is a flicker of hope for the family.
Nyoni is one of the 24 600 beneficiaries across the country who are receiving support from the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) emergency food security programme and she was all smiles when she recently received $21 under the cash transfer component of the programme.
With this amount, she could afford a month’s supply of basic food stuffs which included maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, salt, relish and other basics. Not enough though, but at least it can see them through the month.
And she is ever grateful.
“Oh, Red Cross is very good, it’s very helpful. If Red Cross had not come with this intervention now, we were going to starve. We were not receiving any support from other aid agencies and our situation was dire. I would like to thank the Red Cross, they have given us a lifeline,” she said.
Nyoni dreams of shattering the stereotypes by becoming a truck driver so that she can have a regular source of income to guarantee a brighter future for her siblings.
ZRCS, with support from the British Red Cross, is implementing the cash transfer programme as well as drought-resilient activities in response to the drought situation in Mudzi, Mwenezi and Chipinge.
Other response initiatives in other districts are being funded by various partners of the ZRCS, among them the British Red Cross, Danish Red Cross, Finnish Red Cross, American Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Among the recipients are pregnant and lactating mothers, the elderly, the disabled, as well as widows and child-headed families.
The emergency appeal project is covering five districts, namely Kariba in Mashonaland West, Mudzi in Mashonaland East, Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central, Chipinge in Manicaland and Mwenezi in Masvingo with the cash transfer component. The project will soon spread to Lower Gweru in Midlands, Gwanda in Matabeleland South and Binga in Matabeleland North with the water and sanitation component.