Food insecurity and orphan hood in Zimbabwe

By Sitambule Kim, Zimbabwe Red Cross communications manager in Midlands Province, Zimbabwe

When his mother finally succumbed to AIDS and passed away in 2005, six year old Tinashe Magama was taken in by his grandmother. The grieving family were immediately made beneficiaries of the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society's food assistance programme. For Tinashe and his grandmother, their trauma was lessened in a small but meaningful way.

But the food assistance programme phase came to an end in 2006 and since then life has become more and more difficult for Tinashe and his 66 year old grandmother. His grandmother, because of her age, really needs to be looked after herself. But instead, like so many of her generation, she must try to find ways to make ends meet - to make sure that Tinashe goes to school and, most importantly, has regular meals.

"Soon after his mother's death, the Red Cross incorporated us in their food distribution programme and at least with food on our table, life was bearable," says Mrs Enia Magama, Tinashe's grandmother, who has lost six children to HIV and AIDS over the past four years.

"After the end of the programme, I had to resort to illegal gold panning in the nearby disused mines which are death traps as they may collapse whilst one is underground."

Food in the area is generally inaccessible, with the area - Lower Gweru district in Midlands Province - having suffered through consecutive droughts in recent years.

"A 20 kilogramme bag of maize meal is quite exorbitant as we have to compete for it when it's available," Mrs Magama continues. "Those with money are able to buy at our expense.

"We rarely have two meals per day. We have a small garden where we grow vegetables which we prepare without any cooking oil as we cannot afford it. We cannot even dream of having meat; it's unaffordable."

On top of all this, the family from the effects of the floods which hit most parts of Zimbabwe early this year. The rising waters left only one hut standing at their homestead - the other three having been washed away.

Sometimes Tinashe has to forego attending school as he helps his grandmother in the panning fields, 30 kilometres away from their home.

"Its difficult going to school on an empty stomach so sometimes I don't go to school," says Tinashe. "Instead, I accompany my grandmother to the gold panning field so that we get something to buy some food.

"At times we go for some days without any meal and neighbours, if they have any to spare, generously give us something."

But this generosity is increasingly on the decline. No one has much to spare nowadays.

For Tinashe and the other 53,000 orphans and other vulnerable children who are supported by the Red Cross in Zimbabwe, their sole hopes are pinned on the Red Cross; that one day the food which they used to get will be back again.

This year's harvest in Zimbabwe is expected to provide only 40 per cent of the country's food needs. The ability of the government to import food will be constrained by soaring global prices and hyper-inflation. Through its community home-based care programmes across the country, the Red Cross will provide food aid to thousands of people living with, or affected by HIV and AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.