'Young People We Care' volunteers assist vulnerable households in Zimbabwe
By Bertha Shoko
NYANGA, Zimbabwe, 27 July 2011 – Ambuya Sylvia Nyawera is an elderly woman from Dombo village in the rural Nyanga area of Zimbabwe, about 300 km east of Harare. She sits cross-legged in her small kitchen, palm on her cheek, looking miserable.
After spending the weekend with her son John, a schoolteacher in another part of Nyanga, Ms. Nyawera is alone again. She has no one to look after her or to keep her company in the absence of either her son or his wife.
VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on the activities of Young People We Care, a UNICEF-supported programme that benefits vulnerable households of the elderly and people affected by HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe.
When they aren’t with her, Ms. Nyawera has no caregiver. She grows her own food in the small field around her homestead and still does her own household chores.
‘Young People We Care’
“My other children died a few years ago after falling victim to this disease [AIDS] that is killing many young people these days. If they were here, they would take care of me,” she explains. “John does his best, but he can’t be here all the time to take care of me because he has to work and also take care of his family.”
Ms. Nyawera is among the many older people in Zimbabwe who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, losing their children to the disease, and now have no caregivers. Some are themselves caregivers of orphans left behind by their grown children.
Although Ms. Nyawera feels a deep sense of longing for her late children, she has been blessed with more ‘children’ who visit her at least three times a week through the Young People We Care (YPWC) programme. She looks forward to the company she gets from the members of the YPWC club in Nyanga.
Easing the burden
An initiative of UNICEF Zimbabwe, the YPWC programme began in 2005. It is part of the effort to help ease the burden of care in households where there is illness or where an elderly person has no caregiver.
YPWC also gives young people information on HIV prevention, care and treatment, and trains them in skills that prepare them for adulthood.
This past farming season, YPWC members helped Ms. Nyawera plant and harvest about 20 bags of maize, her biggest crop in five years. They also assisted her with planting and harvesting potatoes, thereby significantly improved food security in her household.
“Without these children I really would not have harvested much. These children worked hard. God will bless them,” says Ms. Nyawera.
An enriching experience
Being part of a YPWC club also benefits the young volunteers. The Nyanga club is composed of 10 young people who are out of school.
One of them, Hilda, 18, is living with HIV. She was infected at birth and recently started treatment. As a result of illness, Hilda sometimes cannot join her team for home visits, but she never misses a chance when she is well. She loves to sing and often uses song to help cheer up the sick people she visits.
Hilda says being a volunteer has allowed her to come to terms with her own HIV status.
“Before I became a member of the YPWC programme, I had very little knowledge about HIV and AIDS,” she recalls. “Now I understand that I can live a normal and productive life even though I am HIV-positive.”
Part of the solution
With support from UNICEF and many others, YPWC continues to make a difference in communities across Zimbabwe. Through intensive life-skills training and other support, several thousand YPWC volunteers have been equipped to help their own communities.
“The role that the YPWC clubs is playing in communities cannot be over emphasized,” says UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama.
“As a result of HIV and AIDS, the burden of care remains very high in many communities,” he adds. “For example, one in four children has been orphaned, mainly by HIV and AIDS. Young people represent a critical element of the solution, and we need to continue to honour their skills and energy.”