IT is a very hot Tuesday and the scorching sun has no mercy on the hundreds of weary people gathered at Rimuka Primary School in Kadoma.
Nothing seems to deter the crowd that has gathered to receive the long-awaited food aid. Not even the stench of nearby toilets could move them an inch from their positions.
The atmosphere is tense and curiosity is written all over their faces. They all wanted to be sure their names were in the bhuku reupenyu (book of life).
The book refers to a register of food aid recipients.
The food they are waiting to receive is their sole means of survival and if their names are not in the book, it means they canâ€™t receive food aid.
What is striking about the crowd is the large number of children.
The majority of them are either HIV-positive or living with a parent with HIV or in child-headed families.
For Angela Muchemwa (13), it is one of the very rare days she can put a smile on her face, feeling relieved of the burden she has to go through on a daily basis to feed her little brothers.
Today she does not have to move around households looking for some laundry to wash or clean in exchange for katsaona (a small cup of mealie-meal or sugar).
Muchemwa is one of 1 485 beneficiaries of food distribution in Mashonaland West by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) under its home-based care programme.
The programme is an outreach initiative that sees volunteers visiting and at times looking after people living with HIV and Aids.
ZRCS was in Kadoma this week to deliver 26,5 tonnes of maize, cooking oil and sugar beans.
“I move around asking people if they have any laundry that I can do in exchange for food or money that can â€˜pushâ€™ me for the day,” Muchemwa said, lamenting the food crisis in the country.
She has been staying with her grandmother for more than 10 years after her father passed away in 1995 and her mother in 2002. The granny is not feeling well.
“At times I do not go to school as I will be working to get food. If I donâ€™t do that we will starve to death. Today I am happy because I am going to get some food that will keep me at school,” Muchemwa said.
Nyasha Lot (18), whose parents passed away when she was only 11, said she was forced to drop out of school to raise money to look after her brothers and sisters.
“I began doing house chores in households in this area when I was 11 years old to raise money to buy food,” she recalled.
In Rimuka, many children have resorted to providing labour in various forms to solve matters of the “stomach”.
A local resident, John Tembo, said the situation was traumatising and needed urgent attention.
“Children as young as 12 years can be found at a number of houses offering to do laundry and other menial jobs in exchange for food or money,” Tembo said. “What type of laundry can a 12-year-old do? Imagine them being given blankets to wash and the distance they have to travel to fetch water.”
Tembo added: “These children are abused. It wonâ€™t be surprising to find that rampant sexual abuse cases are going on. Who knows what other services they will be providing in those houses?”
He said a number of young girls were being employed at a local nightclub as dancing queens.
Ten-year-olds Kelthy and Verire Nyembe of SQ area in Rimuka, who were also waiting for food aid, said their absence from school was as a result of lack of school fees and food.
Kelthy said: “We do not go to school because we donâ€™t have school fees. At times we have to fetch firewood which we sell for $800 a bundle to raise fees.”
Yvonne Chisanhu (12) who looked much younger than her age and wearing torn clothes, could not help but pour tears down her frail cheeks as she narrated how she had not eaten anything since morning.
According to World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Zimbabwe is facing a food insecurity crisis widely regarded as the worst on record.
According to the June 18 2008 report of the FAO and WFP joint crop and food supply assessment, the total number of food-insecure persons in rural and urban areas will be 2,04 million for the period between July and September 2008, rising to 3,8 million between October and December and peaking to 5,1 million between January and March 2009.
The food insecurity in Zimbabwe is said to have been caused by a succession of small harvests, poor agricultural policies and a declining economy, characterised by hyperinflation, high unemployment and a rapidly depreciating currency. High HIV and Aids prevalence rate, which has contributed to increasing levels of vulnerability, is also a reason.
The ZRCS has acquired 383 tonnes of food aid to be distributed in the eight provinces of Zimbabwe targeting to feed 24 000 people.
The ZRCS Secretary-General, Emma Kundishora, said: “This initial deployment will provide almost 24 000 people with enough maize, beans and cooking oil to last for one month. A total of 260 100 people infected or affected by HIV and Aids will be supported each month.”
She said many of these vulnerable people were on anti-retroviral (ARV) medication and for it to work effectively food was greatly needed.
“Without a full stomach many of those on ARVs are now choosing to default on their treatment as they cannot cope with the debilitating side effects,” Kundishora said.
Antonia Tsikira, a 55-year-old bedridden Aids patient who stays by herself in Ward 4 in Rimuka, is one of the people who have been affected by the shortage of food.
Tsikira gets assistance from caregivers who regularly check on her.
“I have my sisterâ€™s child who stays close by who often comes and checks on me. Food has been my biggest worry and at times I would go the whole day without eating,” Tsikira said. “I am glad I have managed to receive some today.”
By Wongai Zhangazha