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Safe water project eases the burden for children affected by AIDS in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2007/Singizi
Nomagugu Ncube, 19 (far right) with some of her sibilings and cousins.

By Tsitsi Singizi

BULILIMA-MANGWE, Zimbabwe, 25 April 2007 – As a child, Nomagugu Ncube had a dream. She wanted to be a dressmaker making people look cool and beautiful. But since her sister died and her mother fell sick with HIV, she has had to put her dream on hold.

For the last two years Nomagugu, now 19, has been caring for her sick mother and taking on the role of parent to her four younger siblings and her three orphaned cousins. 

Imposed parenthood is a recurring burden on youngsters in Zimbabwe, a country ravaged by HIV and AIDS. One in five adults here is HIV-positive, and more than one in four children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Some changes for the better

Amid this crisis, Zimbabwe is reeling from political tension and an economy that has contracted by 50 per cent in the past five years. Prices are rising by more than 30 per cent each month, and the country has just officially declared 2007 a ‘drought year’.

Still, Nomagugu tends to focus on her good fortune and not hardships.

“I am very lucky,” she says. “I used to walk for long hours just to fetch water to bathe my ill mother and siblings. There was no toilet nearby for my mother to use, and my siblings were dropping out of school because we had no school fees. Things have changed. We have a well nearby, we have our own family toilet and most importantly, my siblings are all back in school.”

Clean water and sanitation

Nomagugu and her family are beneficiaries of a unique joint African, Caribbean, Pacific and European Union water project, which aims to help children and adults affected by AIDS. The project is run by UNICEF and seeks to provide Zimbabwe’s rural communities with safe water and sanitation facilities.

Late last year, the European Union donated 3.7 million Euros (approx $4.7 million) to UNICEF so that it could reach 500,000 Zimbabweans with improved facilities.

“The European Union is committed to assisting the work being done by Zimbabwe’s rural communities, as they grapple with water, sanitation and hygienic challenges brought by the AIDS epidemic,” said the European Commission’s Head of Delegation, Ambassador Xavier Marchal.

Today, households that are hardest-hit by HIV and have large number of orphaned and vulnerable children are provided with pit latrines, support in building wells, and education grants.

Struggle to provide for her family

“Our efforts are driven by a desire to support households and communities, in particular orphans and other vulnerable children who have been most affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” said UNICEF’ Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “The hygiene challenges brought about by HIV and AIDS are immense. If we are to ensure that children and families stay healthy, we have to protect them through such comprehensive programmes.”

Of course, the water project doesn’t solve all of Nomagugu’s problems. She still has to struggle to provide for her family, though she is the first to admit that her burden has been lifted a little.

“The water and sanitation means that I can spend my time doing other things for my family,” she explains. “I used to spend six hours every day just fetching water. Today my mother is ill but she is always clean. My siblings are much healthier. And I have even started a small vegetable garden to raise money.”



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