In Bikita, Community Health Clubs uses innovative ways avert another disaster

In Bikita district, martial arts, poetry, dance and livestock breeding have one thing in common-School Health Clubs.

Farai Mutsaka
Health club
UNICEFZimbabwe/2022/Timothy Manyange
21 June 2022

Bikita, Zimbabwe-From the nightmare of a devastating cyclone, people in Zimbabwe’s Bikita district are using ingenious ways to take charge of their future and develop a prosperous and health conscious community better able to respond to current and future challenges, such as COVID-19.

On a concrete slab at Vushe Primary School in Bikita district in the south-eastern province of Masvingo, a group of boys punch, some kip-ups and kicks barefoot as part of a martial arts routine.  “We are members of the school health club,” said Tendayi Mageka (10), wearing a blue t-shirt inscribed with messages encouraging hygienic practices. “These are just some of the things we do to get people to pay attention to our messages,” said Mageka, referring to the martial arts show.

From being victims of Cyclone Idai in 2019, both children and adults in this rural district of more than 170,000 people are emerging as champions of safe health practices and the epitome of resilience.

Health clubs formed or revived from the shards of the cyclone are taking the lead to stop COVID-19 from becoming another disaster in their area. For members of the 78–member school health club, this means drilling messages of safe WASH practices into both their peers and older community members.

“They disseminate information from home to school and from school to home; educating people on how the water and hygiene problems brought by the cyclone have turned into an opportunity to help us fight COVID-19 and other diseases. We have the new infrastructure, but people out there still need information, so the children also perform outside the school,” said Flora Chikumbo, the school health coordinator.

Children vaccinated
UNICEFZimbabwe/2022/Timothy Manyange

Getting the message across and also pushing people to put it into practice often takes some innovation, said Chikumbo, hence the club’s use of martial arts, poems, music, and dance.

Such creativity was on display during the WASH assessment tour at the school in March.

“Cyclone Idai couldn’t defeat us. COVID-19 won’t. Fight. Mask up. Wash hands. Social distance,” the boys chanted in-between martial arts moves.

Guests, who included Government WASH experts, local community leaders and other humanitarian agencies responded with a thunderous round of applause, impressed by how the children have turned their Cyclone Idai experiences into an effective COVID -19 and general health response mechanism.

The club had folded years earlier and was only revived after the introduction of the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP) in 2019. ZIRP is funded by the World Bank and managed by UNOPs through UNICEF. Christian Care is implementing the project in Bikita, where the communities, including schools, received support to rebuild WASH infrastructure destroyed by the cyclone.

“The infrastructure such as boreholes and modern toilets is the hardware side of ZIRP. The health clubs are the software side. They help amplify the message in an entertaining and easy going way so that people get hooked,” said Regis Makoni, the Programmes Director for Christian Care.

Makoni said 35 health clubs have been established or revived aa schools and within the community under ZIRP, reaching more than 43,000 people with hygiene education.

In the community, members of health clubs run by older people gather on designated days to mould bricks for toilet construction, contribute money for the upkeep of water infrastructure built through ZIRP support and walk long distances on sensitization campaigns.

UNICEFZimbabwe/2022/Timothy Manyange

It doesn’t end there. Some of the health clubs have morphed into economic self -reliance projects, with members engaging in livestock production to raise household income that can be used to pay school fees for children such as Mageka, the 10 -year old health club member.

Although memories of Cyclone Idai’s horrific destruction still linger, it is the future that matters most now for Mageka and other children.

“The support we received (under ZIRP) helped us appreciate that we are survivors with a better future. But a better tomorrow can only be shaped by us, we have to work for it,” he said, before dashing off to join other children trekking back home.