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A child headed family during emergencies as ActionAid assists

Friday, March 17, 2017 - 10:52

The normal pre-occupation of any teenager growing up in a rural Zimbabwean family where both father and mother are there can be their right to play.  From playing they will be hungry and they ask for food.  They obviously have no knowledge of where the food came from and what it took the parents to have the food on the table despite it being a drought year or not.

At the age of 15, Faith of Buhera District, Manicaland Province, has literally become both a “father” and “mother” to her younger sister Felistas (12).  She has been the child head of the family since 2014. 

 “Our father died in 2004 and our mother left us in 2014. She stays in Bikita (Masvingo Province) where she married another man.  She has not come back ever since she left us,” Faith said. The girls were born in a family of four children all girls.  Their two older sisters are married and their whereabouts are not known. There are also no other extended family members who are close by and have tried to assist.  

 “The drought situation in my area has made it even difficult for me for find food for us,” said Faith.

Buhera East, which is situated in Zimbabwe’s driest rainfall region 5, is one of the areas heavily affected by the El-Niño induced drought of 2015 and 2016, which left over 4, 1 million people across Zimbabwe without food to eat.  Although Buhera received good rains in the 2016-2017 agricultural season, food shortages are perennial there where crops do not do well. Communities in this area rely on livestock which unfortunately is being wiped away by animal diseases in 2017 due to incessant rains. Faith and Felistas do not have any livestock.  

Faith, who is doing Grade 7 at a local primary school, has high hopes for the future despite a future which looks bleak. Both her sister and herself have not dropped out of school notwithstanding their challenges. She is doing Grade 7 at a local school in Buhera while her younger sister is doing grade 5. Although the two girls have received some limited financial support from well-wishers within her community, the ambitious girl has managed to do casual jobs for food and for part of their school fees.“

“Some concerned neighbours have given us some tasks such as washing plates and weeding their crops and we get some money from there which I use to pay our school fees,” said Faith. However due to limited availability of casual jobs due to the effects of the El-Niño induced drought, she was struggling to raise the school fees.

I do not have time to play with other children of my age. I wake up very early at 4am in the morning every day to fetch water and cook for my sister before we go to school. When I return from school, I have a lot of household chores to do and helping my sister do her homework and mine as well. I sometimes go get stuck when helping my sister and I seek assistance from my neighbour. I do casual jobs during the weekends.

Both Faith and Felistas were smartly clad in clean uniforms bought by Faith’s teacher during a visit to the school by ActionAid in January 2017. “I want to be a police woman when I finish school,” said Faith while Felistas said she wants to be a shop keeper.

 “We normally have two meals a day in the morning and in the evening only. Sometimes we have one meal a day when we do not have enough food. There are times when I wake up, not knowing what we will eat and sometimes by the Grace of God, my neigbours will give us food. “

ActionAid Zimbabwe with support from ActionAid Denmark is introducing programme in Manicaland entitled Promoting Accountability to Children during Emergencies with a Focus on Hunger, as part of the El-Niño Response starting from March 2017 until March 2019. This project seeks to support children and communities in selected wards of Buhera, Chipinge and Makoni Districts in Manicaland Province to recover from the impact of the worst El-Niño recorded in Zimbabwe in the last 35 years. The project will reach out to at least 145,668 children and 73,504 vulnerable adults (at least 54% female) from 48,556 households in selected sites of the three districts in Eastern Zimbabwe. Faith and Felistas will be one of the beneficiary households.

The project will see the establishment of nutritional gardens at ward level to provide support to vulnerable children and communities. It will also include supplementary school feeding, feeding to children under 5s, feeding for pregnant and breast feeding mothers and training of primary caregivers on health, nutrition and hygiene.

 ActionAid in partnership with various organisations and funding partners is reaching out to more than 690 000 people between 2016 and 2019 reaching beneficiaries through various humanitarian assistance programmes which include emergency food aid and long term resilience building projects in Manicaland, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central Provinces and Matabeleland North Provinces of Zimbabwe.

 Using what is called the Child Protection in Emergencies Priorities, Principles and Practices (CPEPPP) and augmenting what is entitled the Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability, this project will ensure that child protection interventions are part of every first phase response and subsequent recovery focusing on protection dangers that children face and how to address them. This will include the sensitization and awareness of targeted communities on child hunger and stakeholder accountability. This will empower the communities on their expectations during the delivery of emergency relief aid in terms of quality services and accountability during such periods, focusing on children primarily.