Constable Moyofiri, an officer of Zimbabwe’s Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit, addresses the crowd during a child protection awareness campaign at Chikukwa Primary School.
By Julia Kayser*
December 19, 2013—What Christmas gift would you pick out for a twelve-year-old? A favorite novel? A video game? New clothes for lanky limbs after a growth spurt? We try to give our children everything they need and more. Munashe is twelve, and although he lives in Zimbabwe, he may not be so different from the children on your list. But Christmas will be different for him. Who buys gifts for orphans?
Munashe’s parents died of HIV/AIDS when he was very young. When he was five years old—the age at which American children start kindergarten—his grandmother who took care of him also passed away. So, Munashe went to live with his widowed aunt, who had three children of her own and no reliable income.
At age seven, when his American counterparts were playing soccer and reading Dr. Seuss, Munashe enrolled in primary school. But his aunt couldn’t afford the school fees or the uniform, and he was often sent home to get the fees they didn’t have. Because he was hungry and missed so many lessons, he struggled to learn the material.
The Chimanimani District where Munashe lives is far from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, and it’s underserved. But the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is there. In 2012, UMCOR started a new program for orphans and vulnerable children. Munashe was one of its first beneficiaries. UMCOR paid Munashe’s school fees and bought him two school uniforms, notebooks, pens, pencils, and a pair of shoes. This was all it took for Munashe’s academic performance to dramatically improve.
Between July 2012 and September 2013, more than 300 vulnerable children in Chimanimani District received this type of help from UMCOR. Fifty of them also got vocational training in horticulture, building, garment construction, and carpentry, including joinery. UMCOR trained nineteen Village Child Protection Committees to look out for children like Munashe.
This year, UMCOR is supporting the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare and the Department of Child Welfare in Chimanimani District as part of a national program of community case management to expand its work with orphans and vulnerable children. This method is recommended by UNICEF and approved by Zimbabwe’s government. UMCOR estimates that at least 1,100 children—150 of whom are survivors of sexual abuse—will directly benefit from its case management program.
UMCOR has been combatting HIV/AIDS and malaria in the Chimanimani District for many years. Village health workers are instrumental to UMCOR’s strategy in the area. “The work in Zimbabwe represents the scale-up of our particular concern for orphans and vulnerable children,” says Shannon Trilli, director of UMCOR Global Health. “Our health ministry is not limited to one disease or another, but builds on consistently addressing health needs at various levels.”
At the beginning of the project that benefited Munashe, surveys of local communities unearthed a common phrase: nherera dzinonetsa. It means, “Orphans are troublesome!” The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS affects even children who have lost their parents to the disease. So, UMCOR organized six awareness campaigns across both wards where the program was active to teach people about the relationship between HIV and AIDS and child protection.
“We would like to thank UMCOR for a holistic approach to child protection issues,” says Mrs. A. Chikukwa, a local HIV/AIDS activist. “Discrimination against orphans and vulnerable children with HIV/AIDS has been reduced tremendously.” Now, communities rally around a different local saying. It is mwana ndewe munhu wese: “a child is everyone’s responsibility.”
You can support UMCOR’s work with orphans and vulnerable children through a donation to Advance #3021770, Global Health.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.