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Red Cross orphan support changes lives

An old adage has it that give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and you empower them for life. This aptly sums up how the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) humanitarian programmes are impacting lives across Zimbabwe.

By Our Correspondent

One of the organisation’s key programmes, the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) support to date boasts of major successes with some of its beneficiaries having risen to become respected members of the community.


ZRCS secretary-general Maxwell Phiri reckons that humanitarian programming should go beyond emergency interventions, but also look at the developmental aspects of the communities they serve.

“Zimbabwe Red Cross Society provides a holistic approach to the diverse humanitarian needs of disadvantaged communities through its integrated humanitarian programming,” said Phiri.

“Beyond the emergency interventions during disasters and droughts, the organisation also aims at developing community-based solutions to everyday challenges so that our beneficiaries are able to respond to humanitarian challenges as they arise.”

ZRCS youth and organisational development officer, Ernest Maruza said the society was playing a big part in alleviating human suffering at the same time developing disadvantaged children across Zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe Red Cross Society champions integrated humanitarian programming which covers disaster preparedness and management, food security and livelihoods, water and sanitation, health and social services, restoration of family links, first aid and nurse aide training and last but not least, the youth and organisational development programme which covers OVC”.

Maruza highlighted that their programme design is informed by the national action plan for OVCs and contributes to the overall vision being championed by the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry. Much of the organisation’s support includes, among others, educational support, medical support as well as developing life skills for disadvantaged children.

“Given our auxiliary nature, we don’t operate in isolation but work closely with the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in our support for OVCs and other organisations that work to improve the lives of OVCs,” Phiri said.

“As a tried and tested player, we use a rights-based approach whereby our beneficiary selection is based on vulnerability. In some instances, however, we also use a needs-based approach as a way of reaching out to those disadvantaged youths who would have excelled in their studies but with no resources to continue with their studies.”

Maruza said ZRCS believed in changing the world, starting with the individual and has in many instances reached out to talented but disadvantaged youths by capacitating them through educational support.

“Once you empower an individual within a family, the resultant ripple effect has a lot of positive bearing on the wholesome family,” said Maruza.

He highlighted that ZRCS values economic strengthening of households by developing children with potential through educational support so that they in turn can play a big part in poverty eradication starting at household level.

Much of the funding for the ZRCS’s OVC support is coming from the Norwegian Red Cross, a longtime partner of the humanitarian organisation. Norwegian Red Cross support has also seen some ZRCS youths going to Norway on exchange programmes as a way of sharing experiences and broadening their understanding of humanitarian issues.

Munyaradzi Katiro, a medical doctor and beneficiary of the ZRCS’ OVC support, believes the programme is a welcome development in enhancing the aspirations of disadvantaged youths across Zimbabwe.

“I was born with the brains, but heaven knows what would have become of me had the Red Cross not chipped in when I lost my parents at a young age,” said Katiro.

“The future looked bleak and I had no one to look up to for furthering my education. Zimbabwe Red Cross Society became my father and mother, providing for my education, medical check-ups as and when the need arose.”

“We even went for youth camps with other OVCs where we were taught invaluable life skills that largely shaped the person I am today.
This is just the beginning of even bigger things to come, but I believe my future is set and I pledge to play my part in capacitating youths in similar circumstances as I was”.

Katiro is ZRCS’ national youth president and he remains an integral part of the organisation’s humanitarian endeavours. He has also toured far and wide attending international conferences aimed at developing humanitarian and youth-related programmes in the country.

His sentiments were also echoed by June Munyongani, ZRCS national youth secretary from Masvingo. Munyongani, who had to bear the brunt of becoming a breadwinner in a child-headed family, believes ZRCS and other like-minded organisations are changing lives through OVC programmes.

“I lost both my parents at a tender age and I became head of the family. It was a hopeless situation but I believe Zimbabwe Red Cross was God-sent,” he said.

“Just when I was about to give up on life, they came in with their OVC programme and my life was set. From Red Cross we received everything we needed from educational support, medical check-ups, psycho-social support as well as food.”

Munyongani is in his final year studying at Great Zimbabwe University where he is studying Human Resources Management and is a businessman with interests in hardware in Masvingo.

He also had an opportunity to go for an exchange visit in Norway where he learnt a lot about life skills, at the same time getting a better appreciation of the humanitarian landscape. Munyongani believes it is important for beneficiaries of such invaluable programmes to give back to the community through assisting youth in similar circumstances.

“I know what it means to be desperate and hopeless. I have walked that road, I am grateful to the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society for having launched an ambitious programme whereby all beneficiaries of their programme are called upon to convene and strategise on how they can play a part in contributing to the welfare of OVCs across Zimbabwe,” he said.

Chiedza Chakawanei, a finance graduate from National University of Science and Technology (Nust) and an aspiring actuarial scientist also narrates a touching story of how ZRCS OVC support gave her a lifeline.

“Our parents passed on when we were very young and with my two siblings looking up to me, life became unbearable,” she said.
“While we were fortunate enough to be taken in by our uncle here in Masvingo, life was never easy, but thanks to the Zimbabwe Red Cross’s intervention through the OVC programme, we were given a lifeline. We had lost hope but with the support we received, I am happy to say we have all acquired tertiary education.”

Chakawanei believes everything good that has happened in her life is because of ZRCS support. He younger sister also graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree from Nust, while the youngest is studying Physical Education with the same institution.

An equally touching story was shared by Siphiwe Nyathi, another ZRCS beneficiary and a Development Studies degree graduate from Lupane State University who lost her father when she was 10 years old.

“When my father passed on, I was staying in Matobo but we had to move to my maternal grandparents’ place in Nkayi. Unfortunately, my mother was diagnosed with TB in 2002 while I was in Form 2 and at that stage life became unbearable,” she said.
“I took over the burden of the family, taking care of my siblings, ailing grandmother and mother at a time when I was doing my studies and paying school fees. It was at that strategic time that Red Cross came into the picture and the positives I have seen are largely because of their support.”

Nyathi went through high school and tertiary education with all her needs covered through the Red Cross OVC support. ZRCS peer educators and youth advisors also came in handy with their psychosocial support and even though she went on to lose both her mother and grandmother, Nyathi believes she is on the path to success and is currently working at ZRCS’ Binga offices as an intern.

Maruza highlighted that the ZRCS had seen it fit to reintegrate the beneficiaries of their OVC support programme into a programme that will see them giving back as champions of hope to those in disadvantaged circumstances.

“As part of ZRCS’ Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans campaign whereby every Zimbabwean regardless of class, race and political affiliation is called upon to support the less-privileged, we want all beneficiaries of our OVC support and that of sister organisations to be part of a national framework that will see them ploughing back to the community. Munyongani will be our link person and everyone interested is invited to get in touch with him or any of the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society centres across Zimbabwe,” said Maruza.

For feedback and to join the ZRCS national framework for the OVC programme graduates, call Munyonani on +263 775 103 653 or email: munyonganijune@gmail.com or Maruza on +263 773 606 905 or email: maruzae@redcrosszim.org.zw.

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