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Of despair and hope as rural girl rejects hunger

Monday, September 5, 2016 - 13:59

Eleven year old Melody from a village in Nyanga, east of Zimbabwe, has not allowed the hunger pains she has experienced to dampen her spirits and hope for the future. Despite the food shortages, she remains optimistic despite the many nights she has had an empty stomach while at home.

I want to be a pilot. My uncle once took me to the airport in Harare. From then my dream has always been to drive an aeroplane, said Melody. 

The primary school, where Melody attends, is one of the 11 schools in Ward 18, Nyanga that has benefitted from an emergency school feeding programme implemented by ActionAid and its partners as part of our efforts to curb the effects on children of the El Niño related drought. 

The emergency school feeding programme introduced in June 2016 will last until September 2016.

Melody is one of the 377 pupils at the school who eats the corn-soya blend porridge prepared there.  The porridge was supplied by Simukai Child Protection, an ActionAid partner implementing programmes in Saunyama in Nyanga. In Ward 18, a total of 3,143 children are currently receiving this basic food so that they can continue to attend school at this crucial time in their lives.

I used to miss my classes because there will be no food at home.  I would feel my stomach rumbling while at home and try to feed on matohwe (wild fruit chewed like bubble gum) but this did not end my hunger. I am no longer missing classes because I eat porridge three times a week at school,” said Melody whose mother Patience is chronically ill and lives with her brother’s family. 

“In the morning we eat nothing at home and I look forward to eating the porridge at school. My next meal after the porridge is sadza (thick porridge) which I eat in the evening at home.  Sometimes I even miss the evening meal,” said Melody who stays with her mother and six other extended family members, who are wife and children to her uncle.

Melody’s teacher, Blessing Gutu, had good things to say about Melody.  “I am impressed by the performance of Melody in class.  She has potential despite her worrying situation. She used to miss class lessons at least three times a week citing food shortages, but now she no longer misses school since the introduction of the porridge programme,” said Melody’s teacher.

Kessia Chiruka, the teacher responsible for the emergency feeding programme at Melody's  school said: “The porridge programme is benefitting Grades 3 to 7 pupils while ECD grades to Grade 2 pupils are receiving sadza made available by the government. Each class would at least have a quarter of the class not coming to school per day prior to the feeding programme. Attendance has now improved with only a few pupils absent in a day in one class.

“I am told the porridge programme is coming to an end in September and I am worried that we will see more absenteeism. Summer time is coming, there will be more exhaustion caused by heat and children will prefer staying home. The children should continue receiving porridge up to 2017 when parents have harvested something from their fields. “

One of the mothers from the community who volunteers to prepare the porridge at Melody’s school, Patience Nyabocho, said the porridge programme had brought relief to many parents in the community as children were refusing to come to school due to hunger.  Patience said she harvested nothing from the 2015-2016 farming season due to poor rains.  

The El Niño-induced drought has left close to four million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe. ActionAid and its partners are implementing the emergency school feeding programme in areas of Nyanga and Nkayi, Matabeleland Province (south West of Zimbabwe) where ActionAid already had long term development programmes.  A total of 19 schools comprising 5,115 children are benefitting from the programme in these areas.