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  • Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles

  • Another side of UNICEF's support in Zimbabwe
    James Elder, UNICEF Zimbabwe
    August 22, 2005

    HARARE, Zimbabwe – As Zimbabwe faces growing isolation because of the controversial policies of its government, UNICEF has been appealing to the international community to look beyond the politics and focus on the children and people of the country. Now more than ever – amid drought, grave economic troubles, and political polarization – Zimbabweans need the support of the donor community.

    This appeal has been taken to heart by UNICEF staff members on the ground here. As they work overtime on policies and programmes in health, nutrition, education and child protection which will lessen the impact of the mass evictions and demolitions that rocked Zimbabwe over the past few months, many of them also are choosing to help on a personal level.

    An informal poll around the UNICEF office in Harare found that most employees – touched by the plight of Zimbabwean children and inspired by the resolve of their families – have opted to financially support children out of their own pocket, in areas ranging from education to health care and career development.

    "Empathy for those we seek to serve is imperative in our work. Taking that emotion and translating it into financial support is highly admirable," said UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe.

    Edward's story

    Nine-year-old Edward is just one example of a Zimbabwean child benefiting from direct support from a UNICEF staff member. Two months ago his home was destroyed during the Zimbabwean government's 'restore order' campaign that left more than 225,000 children homeless, forcing many of them to seek shelter with their caregivers in 'transit camps' – temporary accommodation for people without homes. The campaign also destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of parents and caregivers.

    Together with his grandmother, Edward, an orphan, was relocated to a transit camp called Caledonia Farm where they spent six weeks sleeping rough outdoors. The camp was much farther from Edward's school than his home had been.

    In Zimbabwe, if a child does not attend school for eight days, and if the school is not notified, the child's enrolment is cancelled. After losing his home, Edward did not go to school because it was so far from the camp. For the past four years, Edward's grandmother – like many other grandparents across this country – had managed against great odds to keep Edward healthy and in school. But after she lost her home and source of income, Edward dropped out.

    Reaching out to give help and hope

    Fortunately, on one of many visits to Caledonia Farm, where UNICEF is providing emergency assistance to those displaced by the evictions, a UNICEF staff member met Edward and his grandmother and was moved by their plight. The staff member's generosity has now helped Edward to re-enrol at school and pay his tuition and book costs, and has also helped Edward's grandmother re-start her business.

    "Edward's grandmother was immensely grateful," says the UNICEF staffer, who prefers to remain anonymous. "But for me it is my privilege to be able to have such an impact on a child's life. I couldn't afford to do this in my own country; here I can. And so I don't expect thanks …rather I think it's an honour to be in a position to help educate a child."

    Thankfully, in response to UNICEF's appeal for funding, over the past few months the people of Australia, Germany, England, the Netherlands, Sweden and Ireland have all followed suit, making substantial contributions to help with the crisis.

    There remains much to do in Zimbabwe. The country has the world's fourth highest prevalence rate of HIV and has registered the fastest rise in child mortality in the world. But as Edward's example attests, there is great hope when individuals reach out to help children in need.

    "I really like school, and my teachers say I am good at it," says Edward. "So I was very upset when I was no longer going. But now I am enrolled again and my granny doesn't have to worry about fees. And all this because of a stranger …that makes me very happy."

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