By Tandi Pilani
COVID-19 definitely has had an impact on the globe, dominating the media and disrupting lives. This novel coronavirus has brought the world to a halt, making us adapt and accept a “new normal”. This article puts a spotlight on the Zambezi valley, and illustrates how Zubo Trust in the Binga district as well as the other community members, are coping during these times of adversity. Zubo Trust is a women-led, not-for-profit organisation that was set up in 2009 to give attention to the issues that affect women and children.
The Ministry of Health and Childcare daily updates reveal the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths. No doubt, the organisations’ developmental initiatives have been hindered by this public health crisis.
Binga is located in the north-western part of Zimbabwe, just south of Lake Kariba.
The population of the Zambezi Valley has historically faced structural inequalities and been struggling with high poverty rates prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The pandemic struck and thus they have been hugely affected. The Zambezi Valley communities primarily live in rural areas. Their remote location means they are excluded and have limited access to health services. It is important to note that rural households depend more on domestic remittances from urban migrants, so economic shutdowns in urban areas negatively impact on them as well.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene #WASH – Promoting good hand-washing behaviour
The jatropha soap production is one of the projects managed locally by the women of Zubo Trust.
The jatropha seeds are mainly collected in three wards Manjolo, Kariangwe and Sikalenge. The seeds are in huge demand and this has led to the collection being extended to other wards, namely Pashu, Siadindi and Tinde. To ensure longevity, inhabitants are being encouraged to grow more jatropha plants.
The natural, non-fragranced plant oil-based mild soap which was produced in early this year will be smoothened, packaged and distributed to the community members. Zubo Project Officers are managing the operations with support from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Women’s Affairs. At least 5000 households will benefit, a very welcome initiative particularly in a region where the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is non-existent. It is important to recognise the agency of the Zubo women and the significant role they are playing on the ground. The use of natural resources to mitigate against the pandemic is exemplary of how collaboratively they seek ways to address the harsh realities of COVID-19. The WHO guidelines advice to practice regular washing, a life-saving act, will be met. It is really a plus that the soap is mild and a non-irritant to the skin.
We cannot ignore the issue of poor access to water; the sources in Binga are dry due to the low rainfall received in 2020. Those in Binga Centre where Zubo Trust is located are at an advantage due to their close proximity to the Zambezi River. However, those located further away from the center are facing difficulties, the UN SDG6 on access to water and sanitation is not being met.
Operations that have been affected
Deep inequalities are entrenched in the global south. As such, small businesses have suffered tremendous losses and the Binga women have not been spared from the economic shock. The women’s survival is dependent on weaving crafts and other small market enterprises (SMEs). With the lockdown regulations women are struggling to fend for their families. For example, they cannot travel to the urban areas to order goods for re-selling purposes, an activity which generated an income pre COVID-19.
The smooth operations of the basketry project have been affected immensely, with the varying levels of lockdown measures creating a major setback in the communities. The result of the restrictive measures, whilst they have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus, means zero income for many households.
However, the situation has since improved as the weavers are now receiving orders, they are trickling in, a glimmer of hope. The first order since the lockdown measures were enforced was received on the 10th of June 2020. To date, the weavers have received 6 orders. Workaround solution? The weaving is now being done individually from home. Ordinarily the women would work in groups, at central points namely Siachilaba, Chinonge, Mabobolo, Lubu, Sikalenge, Tobwe and Nakapande. Here they were able to share skills and give each other support. What does this isolation mean? There is a loss of community building, loss of connection. Social interaction is now very limited, if not non-existent.
Zubo Trust is tirelessly working towards mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. Awareness raising is absolutely key and campaigns on COVID-19 are being conducted throughout Binga district. A partnership between Zubo and the Ministry of Health and Child Care has resulted in PPE (personal protective equipment) such as face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers being distributed to seven rural clinics, to ensure that frontline workers are protected. Environmental Health Technicians were sponsored to conduct the awareness training sessions and they will demonstrate to the ward members how to use the hand sanitizers and soap in the most effective way.
Additionally 1000 fliers and 500 brochures have been designed and printed in the local language Tonga, for dissemination to the community members. An awareness raising video was produced and shared on social media platforms. The footage was translated into Tonga to reach a broader-based audience, by so doing promoting inclusivity.
Food insecurity in times of COVID-19
Zimbabwe is an a food deficit and according to a World Food Programme report published in 2019, 7.7 million were facing severe hunger, with women and children affected the most by malnutrition.
Matebeleland North is dry and already affected by severe drought and erratic rainfall. As the food crisis worsened during the lockdown, donors such as the Red Cross, Kulima Mbobumi Training Centre (KMTC) and ADRA came on board to assist in the fight against hunger. They are playing a role in ensuring that food rations such as beans, cooking oil and maize meal are distributed to vulnerable households. Zubo Trust, with financial aid received from the Welthaus Bielefeld in Germany and the Cotswold Foundation in the United States, will supplement the donor assistance and provide salt to the communities.
Zubo bids for the partnership between government, private sector and civil society. The future lies in building and sustaining triad partnerships. This will support the objective of enhancing the women’s resilience to external shocks by creating sustainable livelihoods. Pandemics magnify existing inequalities. Responding to a catastrophe of this scale certainly requires a concerted global effort, we are learning this now. COVID-19 has challenged us in many ways to be more innovative, reflective and more importantly to appreciate the inter-connectedness of humankind. Innovation is important not only in these corona times, let us look beyond COVID-19 and think collectively of robust mechanisms to be better prepared should a pandemic of this magnitude strike again. The coming together of different stakeholders to address this global crisis is a lesson for history and humanity. These acts of good-will and solidarity must continue post COVID-19.
Zubo Trust has to be applauded for thriving in these tough times and for continuing to contribute to the macro-economic development of the country. The organisation is certainly living up to its name of uplifting communities and improving the lives of families. Challenges or not!
#resilience #communitybuilding #ruralempowerment #innovation #socialprotection #communitymobilising #publichealthcrisis #climatechange