June 2, 2011
It has been about two years since I touched down on African soil, but yet it feels like I never left. This summer I am interning with International Relief and Development (IRD) in the beautiful country of Zimbabwe. After a fun-filled time in the DC area attending a weeklong orientation, I boarded my first flight on Saturday, May 23rd at around 6 pm and landed in my final destination of Harare, Zimbabwe at 1 am Monday morning. Phew! That was a long journey.
Some of the programs IRD implements in Zimbabwe include the Restoring Livelihoods – Strengthening Value Chains (REVALUE) program, which increases incomes of 8,550 farmers by focusing on the value chains of groundnuts, sesame, sugar beans and paprika. IRD also started the Peri-Urban Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting (PROOF) program, which provides a medium-term solution to the critical safe water supply problem faced by some high-density area municipalities in Zimbabwe through the installation of rooftop rain water harvesting systems (RWHS). My work at IRD will mostly focus on examining the impacts of the REVALUE program on orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).
My first full week in Harare has been relatively calm. I have spent most of my days reading background material on the REVALUE program and learning more about the plight of OVC’s in Zimbabwe. The HIV/AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe has led to an exponential increase of double and single orphans in the country and I am hoping that by the end of my time here, I will have contributed important information to help drive future programs that will focus on improving the welfare and development of these children. My first full immersion to the Zimbabwean people came on a Sunday when I planned to attend an ordinary Sunday mass only to find the local parish had planned a day full of activities and celebrations to mark the feast day of their patron. It was really a memorable experience seeing people singing and dancing with so much joy; it felt like I was back at home in Nairobi. The church had planned several activities including lunch, an auction, a football (soccer) match, and an HIV/AIDS awareness talk that in my opinion was well received with laughter and understanding of the main message of choosing one sexual partner. Throughout the event I found myself spending the whole day practicing what little Shona (one of the main languages spoken here in Zimbabwe) I knew with locals and just enjoying good company and learning a local dance known as the borrowdale dance.
To aid in understanding the life of OVC’s in Zimbabwe, Dr. Reneth Mano, a colleague in the IRD office, suggested a visit to the Chiedza Child Care Center, a community-based organization that runs a unique day program focusing on OVC’s from the high density area of Mbare in Harare. They usually have about 1,500 children walk through their doors, coming for rehabilitation or after school activities. The center also sponsors basic health assessments of children with 8 primary schools in the area and organizes referrals to the hospitals for children who are in need of further medical attention. My brief description does no justice to the type of work they do in Chiedza but it definitely provides a safe haven to children in need of care.
This time next week the plan is to join those out in the field in Buhera district to carry out the survey to determine the welfare of OVC’s. As I sit here in Harare, I eagerly await meeting more of the Zimbabwean people and experiencing their culture—and of course enjoying the lush landscape that the region is known for.
Until then take care and God bless.