Young people with a difference assist vulnerable households in Zimbabwe
By Richard Nyamanhindi
For Ms. Philistia Chigodo aged 71 is an elderly widow from the village of Makanda in rural Wedza in Mashonaland East in Zimbabwe. Her life can be lonely. She lost all her children to AIDS related illnesses a few years ago and is currently taking care of five orphans aged between two and five years.
“If they were alive, they would be taking care of me,” she explains. “Most of my days I spent taking care of my grandchildren and I have no rest as I do their laundry, cook for them and make sure they are safe,” says Ms. Chigodo.
Although the HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe has been declining over the years – currently at 15 percent in the adult population it is still high. Many older people have been affected by HIV, with the death of their children leaving them to fend for themselves. Some are also caregivers to the almost one million orphans left behind by AIDS in the country.
Although Ms. Chigodo 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) program. Every week she looks forward to their company.
A UNICEF initiative – the YPWC programme began in 2005. It is part of an effort to offer support to young people living in communities affected by HIV/AIDS where there is illness or where elderly headed households have the burden of taking care of orphaned children.
YPWC also gives young people information on how to prevent HIV, how to access care and treatment and provides skills training in preparation for adulthood. Several thousand participants have now gone through the program throughout the country. In Wedza, UNICEF is working through Restless Development.
The YPWC members help Ms. Chigodo to do various household chores such as sweeping the yard, cleaning her cooking utensils and fetch water from a nearby borehole. During the rainy season they also assist with planting and harvesting maize significantly improving food security in her household.
“Without these children I really would not achieve much. They work hard. They should continue their good work to the other widows and the elderly in the community,” says Ms. Chigodo.
Being part of a YPWC club also often benefits the young volunteers. The Wedza club is composed of 15 young people some of whom are still in school.
One of them, Talent Chizerwa, aged, 15, says the YPCW club has given her the opportunity to work with the elderly, those living with disabilities and those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Talent says being a young volunteer has also allowed her to appreciate the effects of HIV/AIDS and the role of young people in communities.
“Before I became a member of the YPWC program, I had very little knowledge about AIDS,” she recalls. “Now I understand that one can live a normal and productive life even though they are living positively.”
“We are young people who care and when we carry out a home visit, we do all the work that the vulnerable household cannot do. It has given us a sense of responsibility and the community has come to respect us. We also teach communities about HIV and its effects and we also discuss home based care for the sick which has reduced stigmatization in our community,” says Talent.
With support from UNICEF and many others, YPWC continues to make a difference in towns and villages across the country.