Some international and local higher learning institutions, in partnership with a local NGO, have vowed to continue supporting internally displaced community members of Harare’s Epworth township and Lumanda (dubbed Mandebvu) settlements.
The institutions behind the initiative are local universities including Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University (ZEGU), University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and Women’s University in Africa (WUA), UK-based universities including the University of Nottingham (UoN) and University of Wolverhampton (UoW), and local NGO, the National Age Network of Zimbabwe (NANZ).
The project was funded through the UKRI’s GCRF/Newton Fund Agile Response for Covid-19.
Addressing stakeholders during an end of project workshop, the project lead Professor Juliet Thondhlana said the communities have been empowered to take responsibility for maintaining provided innovations through use of the entrepreneurial skills that they have acquired during the course of the project.
Minimal support will be available through key local partners, NANZ (who have a history of working with the communities) and ZEGU (who will provide maintenance for a small fee).
“As we come to the official end of the project, this does not mean that we will completely pull out or withdraw from the communities.
“Our NGO partner will continue to promote healthy living in the communities and technical support will be availed by ZEGU at a nominal fee.
“The communities will be able to afford the fee from the entrepreneurship activities developed during the project,” Thondhlana said.
The community members from Epworth and Lumanda farm were at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 given their living conditions and highly concentrated communities.
However, many observers have noted that the timely intervention by the project has served to prevent a potential catastrophe, at the height of the pandemic where thousands in Zimbabwe have succumbed.
The project was mainly focused on availing some protective measures including full body sanitizers at the main entrances to the settlements, hand washing stations at water points, community tailored facemasks.
The various measures have not only afforded the community members with solutions for the current time but opened up empowerment avenues for them, so that they could also start producing facemasks, soaps and other products such as school uniforms, work suits and aprons for some income.
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, the local project coordinator Professor Evelyn Garwe said that they had been engaging the community members for bespoke solutions and are pleased that the communities were already receiving orders from various organizations to supply goods.
“They did not only learn to manufacture soaps and masks, they are actually running the project for their own revenue generating purposes and we are happy they are even receiving orders from schools and other big companies.”
This move will aid in sustainability of the project and empowerment of the members, as they can grow their market bigger and create more products for not only their community members but also other external clients around the city who demand these solutions daily.
This will be another indirect support service from the project organizers which if fully implemented has a potential to stand alone as a sustainable revenue generation project even after Covid-19 era.
Besides the equipment they have received, the programme included a roadshow run in partnership with the Ministry of Health that saw vaccination of many community members as this offered direct calls for all who were not yet vaccinated to come out and be inoculated against the disease.
This made it very easy for such community members to get the vaccines, which predominantly are done in central towns and areas far and out of reach for them, a move that could have endangered more, putting them at the risk of medical effects for none vaccination.
Community members, speaking during the event, also expressed their gratitude towards the project, thanking them for not only saving their lives, but locating their specific communities amongst many in Zimbabwe, a favor they appreciated.
One of the community members in the review meeting made mention that as community members, they will also be guarding the equipment jealously to make sure that it is not vandalized and is fully functional to the best interest of the whole community.
While most of the equipment was directly funded by the project implementers, the community members were also involved in the physical work to adapt and install the equipment, as they came in their numbers to be involved in much of the manual work.
The Covid-19 alleviating solutions in these communities are robust and suitable for outdoors which will make the last for years, not only as a measure to fight Covid-19 virus, but also a general health practice to keep hands and bodies clean, hence also fighting other communicable diseases.
The full body sanitizer at Lumanda was installed in a brick and motor safe house which secures it for potential future generations.
The equipment provides an example of how poor communities can be effectively supported and empowered to take responsibility for their basic health and livelihoods and also protect the broader community in the face of this and other infectious diseases.
The communities are most grateful for not only receiving this support and sustainable revenue models, but for the many lives saved at the height of a terrible pandemic, a precious priceless gift.