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The SOS Social Centres in Zimbabwe are carrying out difficult tasks
SOS-Kinderdorf International
July 20, 2005

The "Operation Murambatsvina" carried out in Zimbabwe hit the poorest in the society. Also many children and families who are being assisted by the SOS Social Centres in Bulawayo, Waterfalls near Harare and Bindura have lost the source of their livelihoods.

At the end of May, a "cleaning-up campaign" by the government, called "Operation Murambatsvina", was initiated in the poorest districts of the cities Bulawayo, Harare and Bindura. In Shona it means doing away with the rubbish or creating order. In the process of this campaign, which is intended to bring about more safety, hygienic conditions and to take action against illegal settlement and illegal trade, an army of some 200,000 homeless and dispossessed persons was brought about.

Those affected include first and foremost families who kept their heads above water with micro-enterprises and who could not afford to live in anything other than shanties, as their income was so small. The severe economic crisis in Zimbabwe and the lack of social security result in the informal sector being the only possibility for the majority of the people living in the urban areas to make a living (unemployment in the formal sector amounts to almost 80%) and the slum settlements grow steadily. Without warning, whole quarters were destroyed or burnt down; stalls and mini-shops which provided various goods to cover daily needs at affordable prices were seized, plundered and demolished.

The activities carried out by the SOS Social Centres in Bulawayo, Waterfalls near Harare and Bindura concentrated on exactly the areas which were afflicted by "Murambatsvina". SOS Children's Village employees have been trying for years to support disadvantaged families through various social programmes in order to assist them in securing their own livelihoods independently. It is especially the children, whose families have broken up due to HIV/AIDS, who are barely capable of surviving economically and socially, and who can only make a living with the help of their extended families or who must run their households on their own.

The SOS Social Centres help on the one hand through the carrying out of short-term support measures (provision of supplementary monthly food packages, paying of school fees, and supplying them with school uniforms), and on the other hand, the employees of the centres see it as their most important task to set up a social network, together with the local authorities and the community, for the needy, and especially for the orphaned and abandoned children, in order to strengthen the collective responsibility.

Additionally, the SOS Social Centres have (in cooperation with ILO) provided numerous families with the know-how needed in order to improve their financial situation with micro-enterprises. With time the work paid off; the type of support being provided could be adapted or re-directed as more and more families became independent.

SOS employees see the progress of their social work being thrown back many years by "Murambatsvina" and they fear for the future of the children and families that they took care of for so long. "The SOS Social Centres now face a task that they cannot come to terms with. The community members, who are important partners in our work for the children, are now in a state of shock and have become weak", stated an SOS employee about the present situation.

"Children are greatly affected, especially the ones we care for, since they were already among the weakest. Many of these children will now move to places where we cannot reach them, which means we have lost them. They will no longer go to school, and are being up-rooted though they are already in a situation where having stability and a familiar environment would be so important."

The staff of the SOS Social Centres is very conscious of the fact that the living conditions in the destroyed quarters were very poor, but what was allegedly to be "solved" by these drastic measures was radically worsened: "We have always noted with great concern the overcrowding situation of people, they have no sanitary facilities at all. It is well known that families of up to ten members live together in a small hut. This is not only a health problem, but is also a great risk, for example in the case of a fire and also due to the possibility of sexual assaults on children. Nevertheless, the shanties gave these people a home. The destruction brought about fear and depression."

Relief organisations such as the Red Cross and church institutions have set up tents in order to provide those who are forced to move to other places with provisional accommodation. Many will have to move back to the country, which they had left in search for work in the cities in the first place. The SOS Social Centres only have limited possibilities to offer emergency relief, but they are for example trying to rent accommodation for homeless children in Glen Norah.

Also SOS employees themselves were directly or indirectly affected by "Murambatsvina". Some of their houses were partly demolished; others had to accommodate friends and relatives who had lost their homes. Rents have generally increased enormously.

"We will continue with our work, we will give the children in the SOS Children's Villages and in the surrounding communities hope," stated a determined co-worker.

At present there are three SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe, as well as three SOS Youth Facilities, three SOS Kindergartens, five SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, two Vocational Training Centres and three SOS Social Centres. The child care organisation has been active in the country since 1980. Non of the SOS facilities was directly affected by the eviction activities.

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