Visiting a village to see the real Zimbabwe!

I accompanied UNICEF Zimbabwe to Mberengwa on my first field trip to pretest a flip chart with messages to prevent cholera transmission.

Wei Jia
Wei and primary school students in Chomubhobho school, Mberengwa, Zimbabwe
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Bigman Muvishi

08 February 2019

MBERENGWA, Zimbabwe, 31 January 2019 - Zimbabwe is a totally unfamiliar country for me, a 21-year-old Chinese student, who is currently an intern at UNICEF Zimbabwe in the communication section.

Before I arrived in Zimbabwe, the only knowledge I had about this unique and special country is from the Internet. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, bordering Zambia in the north, Mozambique in the east, Botswana in the southwest, and South Africa in the south. It covers an area of 390,000 square kilometers, which is approximately the same size as Gansu Province in China and has a total population of 16.53 million. The hot weather, traditional food - sadza (a porridge made of white maize meal), and thatched huts are really different from Chinese style. However, my first month in Harare - the capital city of Zimbabwe – was not so different from being in China. They have big supermarkets with all kinds of fresh fruit, vegetables, and fantastic snacks. And they also have delicious food including Chinese traditional dishes.

However,

It was during a 3-day field trip with UNICEF to rural Mberengwa that I was able to see what I consider, the ‘real Zimbabwe’

Mberengwa is located in Midlands Province in the southern part of Zimbabwe, 387 kilometers from the capital city, Harare. This area is abundant in minerals such as gold, asbestos, and emeralds. It also experiences high temperatures and drought. Lack of electricity and limited teaching facilities, mean that few children receive a quality education.

UNICEF was visiting Mberengwa to pretest with communities, a flip chart with 18 illustrated cholera prevention messages promoting hand-washing, toilet use and boiling water for household use, among others. Early in 2019, the area experienced a serious cholera outbreak in which 26 cases were identified and two people died. Fortunately, there were no cases in the second half of January. The flip charts are designed for use by village health workers to raise community awareness on how to prevent and control the disease.

Pretesting the cholera prevention flip chart with children at Chomubhobho primary school.
Wei Jia
Pretesting the cholera prevention flip chart with children at Chomubhobho primary school.

Pretesting the educational material provides useful feedback on which messages and images are effective and which are not, with different communities. To conduct the pretest, focus group discussions were held at Chomubhobho primary school.

When I visited the school,

The playground was filled with children playing, chasing, laughing, and drawing.

The school structure comprised two bungalows without desks or chairs and with a galvanized tin roof. The children, however, were happy and energetic. At first, they looked at me with bashful smiles which were symbols of shyness, I thought. When I tried to break the ice by asking, “How are you?”, one young girl boldly replied, “I am fine”. Wide-eyed and dressed in her red uniform she shook hands with me. Her bravery encouraged other children to step forward to shake hands with me and so we built trust between us. I was completely moved by their hospitality and friendliness during the visit. With this trustful foundation established, two focus group discussions were held at the school: one for children aged 6 to 18, and one for adults.

Children at Chomubhobho primary school gather to see Wei
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Wei Jia
Children at Chomubhobho primary school gather to see Wei

This was my first opportunity to experience authentic village life in Zimbabwe. I saw vast grasslands, natural living places, and honest residents. It is my hope that the young children I met will continue to be healthy by learning about how to practice good sanitation and hygiene; and avoid getting cholera.

Children in Chomubhobho primary school were eager to meet a visitor from China.
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Wei Jia
Children in Chomubhobho primary school were eager to meet a visitor from China.