ZIMBABWE’S lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19 has thrown the lives of homeless orphans in Plumtree’s Bulilima District rural areas into chaos.
Some are walking around Marula villages seeking shelter while others are going to bed hungry as the country locks down to battle the pandemic.
Of the 13 million people in Zimbabwe, 48 percent are children. Most of them (72 percent, or 4,5 million), live in rural areas. More than 1,3 million are orphaned children, but it is believed the number could be much higher. Over 50 000 households are estimated to be headed by children under the age of 18 who have lost both parents who, on average, according to campaigners are the worst off in terms of being negatively impacted by the lockdown.
Traditionally, those orphaned in Zimbabwe are taken in by a kin living in surrounding areas. This kin often could be aunts, uncles and grandparents of the orphaned children. However, due to various reasons like extreme poverty, this network is under severe pressure. It has been predicted that due to poverty, between the years of 2020 and 2030, orphaned Zimbabwean children will not only have to deal with the loss of their parents but also will not have support from grandparents or other family members.
In Marula, orphans are some of the most affected by Covid-19, because most villagers do not have the means to accommodate them.
However, one villager, Hilda Sibanda, a health worker in Marula, has taken it upon herself to give shelter to eight orphans.
“During the lockdown everyone has been told to stay home. But what about the homeless orphans? Where do they go?” Sibanda asked.
In an evaluation report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), concerning orphans and other vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, it was reported that nearly 50 percent of children had left their homes after the death of their parents. Many children in this study ran away, never to be heard from again while others headed for rural areas to work there in order to ease hardships involved with living in the urban areas of Zimbabwe.
“These children are usually very independent, they look for their own means of survival. This is the first time many of them need assistance. Most of them just came here and told me their plight and I just decided they can live here. I treat them as I would my kids and they are also good children because they assist with normal chores,” said Sibanda.
Then, there are those she describes as “invisible children”, the ones who live away from the main roads, in areas that are not easily accessible.
“People get assistance from donors and the Government but they are not in the system and some are not easy to reach out to, especially in the present circumstances,” she added.
Sibanda accommodates orphans, aged between 10 and 15 years. She said she would stay with them for as long as she could manage.
All children need and deserve so much more. In order to develop and thrive, they need individual care and attention. They need love. Luckily for the eight orphans, Sibanda understands this. She recognised how desperately they wanted and needed to be part of a family during this pandemic.
“Children hear about the coronavirus all the time so even if they have just a minor cough or cold, they worry that they have got the infection. Being alone can make them panic. They are always in need of someone to speak to them, and reassure them,” said Sibanda.
Zimbabwe has several homes offering support for orphans. However, these organisations cannot reach out to all vulnerable children.
Research states that, children’s homes, just like other institutions of the disadvantaged in the country, are facing mounting problems that have seen them failing to properly carry out their operations. These problems range from the country’s spiraling inflation which is weighing heavily on orphanages operations, resulting in the institutions failing to fully provide for children. There is also inadequate funding, and influx of homeless children owing to the effects of the HIV and Aids pandemic and most recently the coronavirus (Covid-19).
As such, when individuals like Sibanda step in and offer to take care of a few orphans it really does make a difference.
Although Sibanda’s efforts are commendable, she worries about the orphans’ future.
“What pains me is that all I can do is provide them with shelter but when the lockdown restrictions ease and schools reopen I will not manage to take them to school. There is a girl who completed Grade Seven with six units but no one could afford to pay for her fees so that she advances to high school. Actually most of these children have not had the opportunity to go to school,” said Sibanda.
Despite noting these challenges, Mduduzi Moyo, a villager in Marula, commended her determination in giving shelter to the children.
“Sibanda’s generosity means the eight orphans are now part of a loving family. It’s amazing because most of the children’s relatives cannot look after them. We really appreciate her good heart,” said Moyo.