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Donors come together for Zimbabwe’s orphans and vulnerable children

© UNICEF/HQ06-0441/Pirozzi
Children use sticks and dirt as pens and paper in an outdoor classroom at a settlement in the Zimbabwean village of Nyamukwara, near the Mozambique border.

By James Elder

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 22 February 2007 – In a one-room hut with a torn blanket for a door, Miriam, 16, lives with her six younger siblings.

Miriam welcomes us into their home as her half-dressed brothers play ‘tsoro’, a local version of chequers, in the shade of the hut, while her sisters help with the cooking. A bitter wind blows dust into their plates and eyes. 

Two hours east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Miriam and her brothers and sisters live at the heart of Buhera, where maize is burnt dry and HIV decimates communities. Although just a teenager, Miriam is head of her household. Her father died in 1998, and her mother four years later. 

“I have just travelled more than four kilometres in search of water,” she says. “Now it is time for cooking, bathing and cleaning.” 

Programme of Support announced

Enforced parenthood is an unreasonable burden to place on a teenager, yet one that is repeated with terrifying regularity across Zimbabwe. UNICEF estimates that 100,000 Zimbabwean children live in child-headed households like Miriam’s.

HIV and AIDS have dramatically increased children’s vulnerability in recent years, to the point where Zimbabwe now has the highest percentage of orphaned children in the world.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2007
UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe, signs the Tripartite Agreement between the government, UNICEF and non-governmental organizations to aid 350,000 orphans and vulnerable children this year.

However, through the joint financial efforts of the UK Department for International Development, New Zealand AID, the Swedish International Development Agency and the German Government, Miriam and thousands like her will soon get essential assistance.

The donor assistance, in the form of a Programme of Support announced last week, means that Zimbabwe can scale up its National Action Plan for orphans and vulnerable children to boost existing work and improve their living conditions.

$70 million from donors

Under an agreement reached by UNICEF, the government and 21 non-governmental organizations on 15 February, funds from the Programme of Support will go towards:

  • Increased school enrolment of orphans and vulnerable children
  • Family and community support
  • School nutrition programmes
  • Increased registration of children with birth certificates
  • Improved access to food, health services, and water and sanitation
  • Reducing the number of children living outside a family environment
  • Preventing the physical abuse of orphans.

The programme – backed by more than $70 million from donors over five years – enables the 21 NGOs to fund and support a further 150 community-based organizations. 

“The pressures on Zimbabweans are overwhelming,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. Thousands of Zimbabweans die from HIV-related illnesses every week, and over 1 million children have been orphaned, he adds.

“Anyone who has seen the hardships of these orphans and the resolve and determination of struggling Zimbabweans to assist them must be moved to help,” notes Dr. Kavishe. “We have a team of donors reaching out to orphans across the country. I hope others will now join us.”



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