A grandmother’s struggle to feed four grandchildren in drought-prone Zimbabwe

Published: 8 March 2014 12:36 CET

Hansika Bhagani, IFRC

When drought descended on the town of Gwanda in Zimbabwe’s southwest, Ainna Ndlovu fed her grandchildren just one meal a day. As the head of a family of four grandchildren ranging in age from five to teenagers, times were tough. “It was very difficult,” she says. “My daughters used to send me some money but they are not employed and neither are their husbands. We had to resort to one meal a day from the little that my daughters were sending.”

In Zimbabwean culture, children born out of wedlock must be accepted by their mother’s new husband, if and when she marries. If not, they remain behind, often with grandparents who themselves are struggling to survive. In Ainna’s case, she was also born a dwarf. She stands 110 centimetres tall and needs a cane to help her move between her rows of maize. She relies on her two older grandchildren to help with some of the more challenging chores, such as collecting firewood and managing the crops that do grow.

Gwanda, in Matebeleland South province, is ranked as one of the worst-affected provinces by the current food shortage. Caused by erratic rainfall, prolonged dry spells and limited access to seeds, getting enough food here is a constant challenge and it is getting worse.

According to the 2013 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, 25 per cent of rural households in Zimbabwe are food insecure. That represents 2.2 million people and is a 32 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

From the small amount of money her estranged daughters would send, Ainna would buy 10 kilograms of mealie meal. The rest of their daily diet would come from wild vegetables that grow when the rains come. “We had to eat those veggies without oil for every meal because we had nothing else,” she explains.

Since receiving 50 US dollars in late January as part of the first cash transfer programme by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society to help vulnerable families in Gwanda, Ainna has been able to feed her family three meals a day. “We bought food on that day,” she says, “using all of the 50 dollars we received.”

Ainna continues to receive cash every month until the harvest season in April, when she hopes to have some crops to cultivate.

For now, she is grateful the children are getting enough food so they can continue to attend school and concentrate on their lessons.

The Zimbabwe Food Security Emergency Appeal for 805,279 Swiss francs will assist the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society in supporting 10,500 people for seven months. The cash transfer element of the appeal provides 50 US dollars per household per month, for three months, to purchase a suggested food package of 50 kilograms of cereal, 10 kilogrames of pulses, and four litres of oil.

Other activities include the rehabilitation of 28 boreholes and the establishment of community gardens.

When drought strikes and food supplies begin to run out, people turn to negative coping mechanisms. In Zimbabwe, including illegally digging for gold in the resource-rich mountains, and trading sexual favours for meals. Next week on www.ifrc.org/africa, the story of a 15 year old girl who endured years of being raped in exchange for food.



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