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Inform and empower: A local NGO in Zimbabwe shows the importance of community aid during COVID-19

13 Aug 2020


Walter Chikanya and the Waddilove High School Ordinary Level class of 1992 donate food hampers to the elderly in Hopeley, Harare, Zimbabwe. Credit: ZiCHIRe

By Jayne Mache, Public Information Officer in Nairobi

In the face of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Zimbabwe Community Health Intervention Research Behavioural Change Programme (ZiCHIRe), like most humanitarian organizations around the world, has had to quickly adapt the nature of its activities to help the most vulnerable people.

Led by Walter Chikanya, ZiCHIRe is providing sexual reproductive health programming and creating safe spaces for women by shining a light on the rise in gender-based violence in the provinces of Mashonaland East and Harare in Zimbabwe since the COVID-19 preventive measures were put in place.

“There are young girls who sometimes go and fetch water for their households at night and there are chances of sexual exploitation by men manning the water points and authorities controlling those places,” explains Mr. Chikanya. By creating a referral messaging system, women and girls are being reached with the help they need.

ZiCHIRe has also created income-generating platforms, such as making and selling hand sanitizer and peanut butter. “After they have survived gender-based violence, there is now a need to empower them beyond just giving them information,” Mr. Chikanya says. 

Through the Sista2Sista Clubs – groups that mentor vulnerable adolescent girls – ZiCHIRe, in collaboration with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has been able to provide girls with sanitary hygiene products.

“Most of the families have lost their income, especially in the informal sector, which has been greatly affected by the lockdown. Families are struggling to make ends meet, including providing sanitary hygiene products,” Mr. Chikanya explains.

Since one of the fundamental pillars of containing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 is for people to have accurate information about the virus, the ZiCHIRe team is carrying out information dissemination activities among the community members. Volunteers serving as behaviour change facilitators also frequent food distribution points to share information on the reduction of the spread of the pandemic, including information on sexual reproduction health issues and protection.  

ZiCHIRe’s community cadres who are conducting the SAFE SPACE programme participate in a sign language training. Credit: ZiCHIRe

Mr. Chikanya has a deep passion for helping vulnerable communities around him. When he is not working, he and his former classmates donate food and provide access to medicines to vulnerable groups in Epworth and Hopeley Districts in the capital, Harare. “I am a person who is fond of the community and wants to help vulnerable communities,” he says.

In Zimbabwe, drought and crop failure, exacerbated by macroeconomic challenges and austerity measures, have directly affected vulnerable households in both rural and urban communities. Furthermore, inflation continues to erode purchasing power, and the affordability of food and other essential goods is a daily challenge.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 7 million people in urban and rural areas across the country were in need of humanitarian assistance, including at least 4 million vulnerable people who faced challenges in accessing primary health care. 

“For us to be hit by a disaster like COVID-19 and the drought that had already set in is a double blow,” Mr. Chikanya says. But organizations such as ZiCHIRe are working to do all that they can to help local communities.