Zimbabwe is a country that has been struggling with poverty for many years. Poverty can be defined as a lack of basic human needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. In Zimbabwe poverty is pervasive, with at least 60 percent of its 16 million population living below the poverty line. One of the main reasons for this is the difficulty in growing food due to the dry climate. Located in southern Africa, Zimbabwe has a subtropical climate with hot summers, low rainfall, and cold, dry winters. It is a challenge to grow crops there, especially during the dry season.
In rural areas of Zimbabwe, many families rely on subsistence farming to survive. This means they grow crops to feed themselves and their families, rather than for commercial purposes. However, the dry climate and lack of rain make it difficult to grow crops. Farmers often struggle to produce enough food to feed their families, let alone sell any surplus for income.
The lack of access to water is a significant problem in Zimbabwe. According to the United Nations, more than 2.2 million people in the country do not have access to safe drinking water. This makes it difficult for farmers to irrigate their crops, which is essential during the dry season.
Zimbabwe has experienced severe droughts in recent years. Droughts can devastate crops and lead to food shortages. This causes prices to rise and makes it even more difficult for families to afford basic necessities.
The effects of poverty in Zimbabwe are far-reaching. Children are often forced to drop out of school to help their families with farming or other income generating activities. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty as, without an education, it is difficult for young people to find better-paying jobs and improve their standard of living.
While the government and NGOs have implemented various programs in an attempt to address poverty and food insecurity, there is still a long way to go to ensure that all Zimbabweans have access to basic human needs.
The consequences of an insufficient supply of essential nutrients in a child’s diet can be severe and long-reaching. Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can lead to stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and impaired cognitive development. A lack of iron can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue and decreased concentration, while a lack of vitamin A can result in night blindness and an increased susceptibility to infections. Malnutrition can also increase the risk of chronic diseases later in life. In order to ensure optimum physical and mental health, it is crucial that children eat a diet providing proper levels of all the essential nutrients.
Seeing young children toiling to help their families grow food or sell tomatoes at the side of the road pulls at everyone’s heartstrings. But the majority of people look away, simply because poverty in Zimbabwe is overwhelming and beyond what any one individual can change.
Fortunately, one unique individual could not turn away and felt compelled to help a sick, starving boy. On a walk through a shopping center outside of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, Bruce Kanengoni and his young son witnessed a sight that shocked them to their cores. A young boy, dressed in rags with grey, scaley skin that hung off his skeletal frame, limped past them. Bruce’s son begged his dad to buy the boy some food.
It was obvious the boy’s life force was completely depleted. His whole body shivered uncontrollably and involuntarily. Tanya (a nickname) was a fourteen-year-old boy who looked to be about nine years old. He was an orphan, living in an overcrowded, small house with his grandmother. Both his parents had died as a result of HIV and his grandmother was frail and penniless.
Bruce couldn’t turn away and decided to help Tanya. This was a challenge as Bruce’s business and income had suffered because of COVID-19 and lockdowns, and his wife had recently lost her job. Money was tight and he had barely enough to keep his own family afloat. Undeterred, however, Bruce took a video and some photos of Tanya and posted them to a page on Facebook where Zimbabweans around the world could catch up with current affairs in the country.
As an ex-Zimbabwean myself, now living in Australia, I was moved to help Bruce raise money for Tanya. I was recently retired and had very little money to donate but was working on a plan to help people like Tanya help themselves. I had recently read an article about the Dr. Rath Health Foundation and the work they are doing in other African countries. I wrote to the Foundation and asked if it was possible for them to run a similar program in Zimbabwe.
The Dr. Rath Health Foundation were willing to help. They offered to provide a small budget to help purchase garden tools, as well as to supply training materials on fruit and vegetable gardening. Bruce Kanengoni was the obvious choice to take on the role of educator and project coordinator, and so the Tibatsirane (meaning ‘Let’s Help Each Other’) Foundation Trust was born.
Bruce’s previous expertise lay in organizing and managing big rock concerts in the role of the MC for such events. He therefore had to step out of his comfort zone and become a gardener and expert on micronutrients and health. Unfazed, he spent months dealing and negotiating with Zimbabwean bureaucracies in order to set up the Tibatsirane Foundation Trust, develop a constitution and rules for the organization, plus a myriad of other tasks.
During these months of jumping through bureaucratic hoops, Bruce made a commitment to learn about micronutrients, health, organic gardening practices, and teaching children. In addition, he had to negotiate with a primary school in order to obtain consent to run his program on its school grounds. The level of learning that Bruce had to take on was intense.
After completing his six-month training course to a satisfactory level, Bruce immediately got to work. A school in a large, sprawling suburb of Harare allocated land for him to start his first vegetable garden. The headmaster of the school was supportive, and a number of students decided to join the program.
Progress was slow, mainly due to a lack of seeds and shortage of water, but, as Bruce soon discovered, anyone on a mission can always find ways around the challenges that arise. He got the students to donate what vegetable seeds they could from home. He then told every student to bring in a five-liter bottle of water to school each day, to water the seedlings.
During the school holidays Bruce expanded the program into the homes of his students. Small back yards became vegetable gardens, and the good word soon spread.
Recently, Bruce negotiated with the headmaster of a second school in the area in order to expand the program. The necessary preparatory work at this school is now underway.
I will report further on the development of these exciting new Zimbabwean initiatives in the weeks and months ahead.