Miclon surveys his field in silence. There’s nothing to say because there’s nothing to see.
The soil is parched and hard as concrete and the little grass that is evident is dried out, brown and lifeless.
Overhead the sun relentlessly beats down on land that hasn’t seen rain for months. With no irrigation, the field isn’t fit for crops or livestock. But this land is now in Miclon’s charge - a legacy left to the 17-year-old after both his parents died from AIDS-related illnesses.
Miclon lives in a drought-prone part of Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe where the subsistence agriculture way of life dominates.
That means when the rains fail, so do the crops and people go hungry. It’s tough for any family, let alone a teenager living on his own, just yards from the unmarked burial site of his much-missed parents.
Miclon knows what it’s like to go hungry, although typical of many resilient Zimbabweans his explanation of his plight is understated: ‘It was very difficult for me before the church came and helped me,’ he says.
‘I couldn’t get anything from the fields because of the lack of rain which killed my crops, like the maize plants.
‘There was a shortage of food and I used to run out of things to eat. Eventually I had to sell the few goats I had to buy food.’
He used the money to buy maize, a staple food in Zimbabwe, and a maize mix called mealie meal.
Surviving in such an environment, where the vagaries of the shifting weather can play havoc with your livelihood, requires a lot of hard work and in Miclon’s case a helping hand from the local church and Tearfund partner Zoe (Zimbabwe Orphans through Extended Hands).
‘When the church and Zoe came in, I stopped having to sell my goats,’ says Miclon. ‘They gave me food – maize, beans and cooking oil - so I was not under pressure to sell the things I had.’
Miclon also benefited under Zoe’s livestock project where vulnerable children are given animals as a source of income, as well as support to rear them.
‘I was given goats. Over time they reproduced and at the end of two and a half years I took one goat back to the church so it could be given to another orphan.’
He now has three goats, a hardy breed able to cope with the changing environment, which he milks producing about half a litre of milk per day. He also uses their manure to fertilise a garden where he grows vegetables, irrigated by water from a stream close by.
Tools to survive
Zoe’s support is providing him not only with the tools to survive but to potentially grow a business that will improve his standard of living: ‘I plan to increase the number of goats I have so I’ll eventually have 40.’
Continuing his education is also a priority, as he wants to stay on to do advanced level exams, but juggling school and work is far from easy.
‘It’s difficult waking up very early to milk the goats before school, especially during times when I have a lot of school assignments to do. It’s quite a challenge as I also have to go to my garden every couple of days to work also.’
Here the local church is also helping. Volunteer Zuzile Moyo, a mother-of-four, regularly visits Miclon. She was trained by Zoe in animal husbandry and crop growing, so offers Miclon and other orphans in the community support to keep their agricultural activities going.
But there’s also an emotional and spiritual dimension to her visits; witnessing their interaction it’s clear that there is genuine warmth between them and Miclon’s sober adult demeanor often gives way to the carefree smiles of youth.
‘Volunteers like me can easily support the orphans and understand their needs since we are Christians,’ says Zuzile. ‘As we live in the community, we’ve also known the children throughout their lives. .