By Tim Shenk
AKRON, Pa. - Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is supporting Zimbabwe's Brethren in Christ Church in providing emergency food supplies to 23 high schools after a four-month delay imposed by the government because of political tensions.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of economic and political crises. Unemployment and skyrocketing prices - with basic foods now costing hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean dollars - have driven more than 3 million people to flee the country in recent years. Government and opposition political leaders have been deadlocked since March over a disputed presidential election.
The Brethren in Christ Church is distributing 72 tons of wheat and soybeans to 23 high schools in Matobo District, a rural area in southwestern Zimbabwe. Many of Zimbabwe's 33,000 Brethren in Christ live in Matobo, according to Abraham Nyatsanza, a consultant to the Brethren in Christ food relief program.
The food distribution was delayed from June to September because of government restrictions on humanitarian aid following the disputed presidential election, according to Nyatsanza.
Food shortages have affected the health of many children in Matobo district, many of whom walk several miles to school.
"I can confirm to you that we did find instances where children were fainting in school because of lack of food," Nyatsanza said.
The food distribution, which started in early October, is allowing schools to serve a mid-morning meal. Some schools resumed sports and drama activities that had been suspended because students were hungry, Nyatsanza said.
However, the food will run out in December, and hunger is expected to be a continuing problem. Many farmers in Zimbabwe are unable to buy seed or fertilizer, Nyatsanza said.
"Some 5 million people may be in need of food in January," he said.
MCC is planning further food distributions to schools and communities in Zimbabwe, according to Willie Reimer, MCC's director of food, disaster and material resources programs.
Zimbabwean schools are also struggling with other issues. Inflation has reduced teachers' monthly salaries to less than $4 U.S., which is the price of a loaf of bread, Nyatsanza said.
Many teachers are on strike, and some schools in Matobo are only taught by one headmaster, according to Nyatsanza.
The economic crisis is leading able-bodied adults to seek work in South Africa or other countries. Parents are leaving their children with relatives or other caretakers in order to earn money abroad and send it home, Nyatsanza said.
Zimbabwe's political leaders are currently negotiating a power-sharing agreement, but few people envision a quick solution to Zimbabwe's political and economic troubles.
"People are going ahead with their plans to leave the country," Nyatsanza said. "I think it's a situation where people are giving up on the politicians."
Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.
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Photo available: Students at a high school in Matobo District, Zimbabwe, participate in drama activities that were previously suspended because of lack of food. (MCC photo)