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Humanitarian response, Food security and nutrition, Agriculture, Climate Change and Resilience
Department of Home Affairs, Australia
Drought, Food Insecurtiy, Hunger, Rural Community
© John Hewat/CARE
© John Hewat/CARE
17 January 20
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
17-year-old Cleo* has lives on her own following a series of unfortunate events. Her father left them for South Africa, her mother became sick with kidney problems, and Cleo and her twin sister Wendy had to look after her until she passed away in 2017. Following that, Cleo and her sister were separated - her sister moving to Harare to live with an aunt, and Cleo moving to Zaka to live with her grandfather. Soon after though, he kicked her out because she was a burden to him. She moved in to an empty house that her father had built. She farms maize, and depends on the kindness of others for food. She occasionally does piecemeal jobs to support her expenses. Despite these challenges, she maintains a hopeful vision of her future, and is committed to completing her education, despite pressure to marry and start a family.
Cleo’s story in her own words:.My mother died of kidney problems after eight months of sickness. Her name was Chipo. I took care of my mother when she was sick. I washed her clothes and blankets and I looked for food for her.
Afterwards I was living in Harare (with her great aunt and twin sister) but moved back to Zaka and stayed with my grandfather (her father’s father) until he didn’t want me to stay with him any longer. I have a twin sister, Lucy, who lives in Harare.
In January 2019, I returned back to Zaka to live with my grandfather. In December 2019, my grandfather didn’t want me to live with him anymore so I now live alone. My grandfather used to beat me every day and force me to make my own food.
My great aunt, who we stayed with in Harare, doesn’t want me to stay with her anymore.
I felt like I was no longer part of the family.
The last time I spoke to my twin sister was in December last year but I don’t know where she currently is as she left Harare when I did.
I have not seen my father in a long time. I have only ever seen my father twice in my life. The second and last time was at the beginning of last year.
Living alone is too hard. I don’t have a reliable way to cook and I have almost finished all the maize I have.
I don’t have anyone to tell my problems to or to ask for help. My hope is in God.
Before I left my grandfather’s home, I felt a lot of pressure to get married from other males in the community.
I know I have made the right decision in staying in school and not getting married or getting a job.
Getting a job now would not pay off in the long run. I know that I should work hard now so that I can have a better tomorrow. I can manage on what I have, even on my own.
I live in the house that my father and his wife built. My house does not have a toilet. There is a bedroom with a bed but I sleep on the floor on a thin blanket as my grandfather told me never to sleep in that bed as it is my father’s bed.
I have received some food parcels from my father and received a portion of food my father sent to my grandfather.
I collect water from a well 200m away.
I am studying 10 subjects. I study Commerce, English, Shona, Maths, Geography, Science, History, Biology, Agriculture, Family and Religious Studies. Geography is my favourite subject as I want to understand about the Earth.
To relax, I read on my blanket.
Girls feel that they are special when they reach puberty. People don’t see me as special as I am poor and I don’t change my uniform. But people lack knowledge about how people live. I believe I am special because I know I can do better.
In five years’ time, I would like to be a doctor. When I look back at when my mother was sick, I feel sad and I feel pity. No one helped my mother. I felt bad as I couldn’t get help for her and we didn’t have any money to go to the clinic. But I was only young then. My mother suffered alone. No relatives looked after us. My mother suffered a lot. If I had been a doctor back then, my mother would not have died.
[through tears] I ask myself why did my mother die? One day when we were about to go to sleep, our mother told us, “My children, you are young but you are struggling for me. You struggle to find food for me and to help me. But you are young. If you were older, I would be happy knowing that you are supporting me because you can.”
She told us that her hope for us was for us to learn and be educated and get our own jobs so we can have a better future
.Today when I hear the other girls say my mother did this for me or bought a uniform for me, I feel pain because I no longer have a mother.
This is why I care so much about education. I think my mother would be proud of me.
With my friends, I like talking about school. I don’t have time for games. If I had more free time, I would read my Bible and the spoken word.
I dream of seeing my sister again. We struggled together when our mother was sick.
When I’m feeling sad, my mother would have asked me “What is wrong, my daughter?” But no one asks that these days.
I would like to have a white wedding and have children. I want to be a mother and look after my children the way other children are looked after.
I will turn 18 on 27 September 2020.
I walk 3 to 4 km to school.
On hunger:.My normal day begins when I wake up at 5am. I don’t have a watch but I have gotten used to what time it is from my routine. If I have food, I will cook breakfast and leave at about 6am. School starts at 7am. I study at school all day. School ends at 4.30pm and then I go home. If I have food, I will eat. If it’s not too dark I will read. I don’t have a light so I can only read when it’s light outside. If I don’t have any food, I will go straight to bed after returning home from school.
There are usually about seven days each month that I don’t have food and can only eat in the morning. I only eat once a day if I have food. I look at the food I have and in order to save it, I cook in the morning. If I have any leftovers, I will eat this in the evening. Only on these days do I eat twice a day.
I normally cook sadza with vegetables. I used to have a small garden. The poor rains have killed my garden.
It is very painful to go to bed without food. On those occasions, I really miss my mother. I have heard about people dying from hunger on the TV when I was living in Harare.
All the remaining food I have is some sugar, some salt, flour, cooking oil, mangoes and maize. This will last me until the end of next week. This is what remains of the food my grandfather gave me that my father sent to us.
Once I run out of food, I will have to see where to start from next week.
I do piecemeal jobs to earn food or money such as weeding, collecting water, washing people’s clothes etc. I would also wash clothes for other people to get food or money.
I have a small plot of land outside my house. With a seed portion I received from my grandfather, I am growing maize on my plot. I planted the maize in December 2019 – I did this after school.
Sometimes when it is rainy, it is hard to start a fire outside so I cannot cook and have to go to school on an empty stomach.
When I don’t eat, I get headaches. Sometimes I feel dizzy and my stomach feels empty. But I have gotten used to it as it is the reality of the situation.
My favourite food is pasta, pork, chicken, rice and spaghetti. The last time I ate this was before my mother died in June 2017. In 2017, when my mother was alive, life was much better.
In 2017, I would wash blankets for a family and I could buy a 10kg bag of maize and also vegetables. The drought has really affected the cost and availability of food. A 10kg bag of maize at the start of 2017 cost ZWD $3.20 (USD 18c), at the end of the year it cost ZWD $7.50 (USD 44c). Now it costs ZWD $150 (USD $8.80) for a bag of milled maize.
I have hopes for my crops this year. If I manage to get it fertilised, I could get 4 bags of maize. If not, I will get two bags of maize. I need 25kg of fertiliser for my plot and this costs ZWD $400 (USD $23.53). 4 bags of maize will give me food for six to seven months. I will not sell any and keep it purely for food to eat
.My greatest fear is that the crops will fail if there is not enough rain or if the heat is too much before the harvest
.On CARE:.I am very happy to see CARE here. I registered with CARE and I hope to receive milled maize, cooking oil, beans, salt, porridge and peas. I also need clothes, books, school fees, a solar panel, bathing soap and a school scholarship.
Receiving help from CARE means that not everyone in life wants to see me suffer. When I have food and money for food, it is one less problem for me to worry about. CARE wants to see me succeed.
Receiving the help would make me feel happy and feel like I have been elevated from the poor level to being a rich person.
If I could speak to supporters in the UK and Australia who make the food distributions possible, I would like to say thank you for their support and please continue to give. In this drought situation, we really need their help. I would tell them to find the time to look and understand the situation that people here are going through, especially the women and children. I’m sure they would wish to participate when they hear about it.
On Climate Change:.I have heard about climate change. I have read that there will be continuously high temperatures. I think that the area where I live will be very impacted by these continuous high temperatures.
I believe that climate change means that the ozone layer is depleted. It’s caused by people. The ozone layer is being affected by different industries. Their emissions are causing the ozone layer to be depleted. I learnt about this in Geography class at school.
I believe that women can save the earth. Women are more intelligent than men. Men are very good at arguing and are not easily convinced. They stick to what they have already said. They won’t go back on what they have said.
I will change the world by using alternative sources of energy such as solar energy and try not to use firewood.
I hope that people across the world can help the environment but people look down on me when I say that.
Catherine (CARE staff):.The community will continue to look out for her until she turns 18. The proper procedure would be for her to get social welfare but at the moment, the community looks after her and makes sure no one abuses her. Her community told her to register for the food distributions. They are trying to help her as much as possible.
Interviewed by Lucy Beck, John Hewat, Emily McGuinness in Zaka on 15,16,17 January 2020.
Scene-setting information: .Zaka District is enduring the worst drought Zimbabwe has seen in a decade, with nearly 8 million people (roughly half the country’s population) suffering food insecurity. Climate change has led to a lack of rain, which has led to many failed crops and families struggling to feed themselves. Compounded with high inflation leading to impossibly priced food and seeds, sourcing food is a challenge. It is anticipated that the conditions for families will get worse over the coming year, as their next harvest will be untenable for so many.
Project information and major issues: .Lean Season Assistance is helping highly vulnerable families by providing:.Maize Cereal - 7.5kg per person per month.Cooking Oil - 0.75 ml per person per month .Peas/Beans - 1.5 kg per person per month .Porridge - for under 5s (which they estimate will be 13% of the caseload) at 3kg per person per month
*Name has been changed (from Nelly) for child protection purposes.