By Pamenus Tuso
Life has never been the same for Chidothi Mbewe (62) and her family following the death of her husband in 1996.
Her late husband was a former National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) employee.
Chidothi’s plight is exacerbated by the country‘s economic meltdown which has since worsened over the years.
“My husband died in the same year when the government introduced ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme). Since then, life has not been kind to me and my family. The paltry monthly pension which I receive from NRZ has not only been inadequate to pay schools fees for my dependents, but is not even enough to buy food for my family,” said Mbewe.
Mbewe, who stays in Bulawayo’s Sizinda high density suburb, Bulawayo South constituency, is now the breadwinner for a family of eight, including four orphaned grandchildren.
Many women in the constituency are in the same predicament as Mbewe.
With over 15 000 pensioners and retrenched workers who are mostly aliens from Malawi and Mozambique, Bulawayo South constituency is probably ranked as one of the poorest urban constituency in the city.
As the constituency grapples with glaring unemployment and poverty, the local MP, Eddie Cross, found himself under extreme pressure to assist the struggling residents. Cross has since initiated a solar–powered irrigation scheme in the area as a means of alleviating the residents’ suffering.
The Sizinda community garden project which was funded by an Australian organisation, Sally Foundation, and implemented by the Zimbabwe Democracy Development Trust (ZDDT), has brought joy and relief to several households in the area.
“I was lucky to be selected as one of the beneficiaries of this project. Now I am able to grow a variety of fresh vegetables for my family’s consumption as well as for selling. I am also now able to pay school fees for my grandchildren and buy medication for my ailing daughter.
“The income level and household food security for my family has greatly improved as a result of this garden,” said Mbewe.
A trustee of the community garden project, Judith Dube, expressed gratitude to Cross for initiating a life-changing programme.
“Before the inception of this project, most women were restricted to household chores. The living standards of most widows and child-headed families have tremendously changed. Most of the families in the area used to have a single meal or even none per day, but now they can enjoy three meals, courtesy of the garden project,” said Dube.
Dube said a total of 118 beneficiaries from the community, the majority of them women and child-headed families, have benefitted from the scheme.
“The beneficiaries have been selected from all the 21 wards in the constituency, but the majority were drawn from Sizinda. For one to qualify, she or he has to be a resident facing serious problems in accessing basic needs,” she said.
The irrigation scheme uses a solar-powered pump. The pump runs on electricity generated by solar panels using sunlight. The solar pump provides 9 000 litres of water per hour per day.
“This provides enough water for the 1.2 hectare irrigation project. I think this is a very cost effective way of extracting ground water for communities. The operation of solar powered pumps is more economical due to the low operation and maintenance costs and has less environmental impact than other pumps,” said Cross.
Drilling the borehole and installation of the pump and solar panels costs $7 000.
The MP said electricity generated by the panels costs three cents per KWH compared to 14 cents when accessed from the national grid.
He added that the solar project sustains the irrigation scheme with ease except in extreme dry hot days.
Each family has been allocated 100 square meters of land where they plant a variety of crops such as cow peas, vegetables, tomatoes, beetroot and potatoes.
The garden project is complimented by a chicken project which feeds the gardens with manure. The chicken fowls also use a solar powered lighting system.
Dube said beneficiaries pay a joining and monthly subscription fees of $5.
“Of the monthly subscription, $2 goes to a savings club and $3 to maintenance fees. Very few members have failed to pay,” said Dube.
Dube also pointed out that there is now a noticeable improvement in nutrition standards among families in the community. Local demand for the vegetables has also increased.
According to the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) many urban dwellers are increasingly facing hardships.