Solar energy fortunes for the elderly

By Pamenus Tuso

The lives of elderly people in Sizinda and Tshabalala high density suburbs in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo is  set to significantly  improve following the setting up  of a solar driven horticulture irrigation scheme in the area by a local organisation ,Trace the Fortune of the  Elderly (Trace).

The project which is being funded by the United States USA government through the Ambassador’s Special Self-Help, programme will benefit more than 150 elderly people and orphans in the area according to Trace‘s Director, Mariyeti Mpala.

Mpala said since the organisation’s formation in 2000, it has been surviving through donations and hand –outs from different people and organisations.

However, the director said Trace ‘s fortunes changed for the better  in 2016 when the US government  through its   Ambassador Self- help Project, advertised in the  local press for registered organisations to apply for funding.

“Trace applied for funding from the Ambassador’s Self –help project after seeing an advert in the local press.  We did not waste time because we wanted to move away from the begging syndrome. The US government gave us a chance of a life time,” said Mpala in an interview.

 Mpala said the organisation received $US 7,421 from the Ambassador’s fund which they used to buy solar panels, seeds, building toilets  and training in horticulture for members. Lupane State University personal offered the training to the beneficiaries.

“We started three months ago and the project has already done wonders. We now have various horticulture crops such as beetroot carrots, onions, and beans at various stages of maturity.

“This project is already assisting the elderly to buy their blood pressure and diabetes medication. The beneficiaries who are mostly pensioners are now able to buy  decent   food  and pay school fees for their grandchildren, some of them  affected and infected by HIV/Aids,” said Mpala.

Mutsa Machimbidzofa, a Grant Specialist at the US Embassy in Harare, said the Ambassador’s Special-Self Help fund is a   catalyst facility for organisations to do bigger things by themselves.

“With the Ambassador Special Help fund, we work directly with the impacted communities. So our funding does not go via somebody or via a big office . It goes directly to the impacted communities .

“As for Trace, we gave them the funds directly,” said Machimbidzofa.

 The Ambassador Special Help fund ranges from US$ 5,000 to US$10,000.

“We do not make the amount very big because we make huge assistance through US Aid, our development agency. But these ones are very small for a very short period of time of 12 months. We are encouraging organisations to be self- empowered.

“We want them to move away from the donor dependency syndrome. Our Ambassador and the US government came up with this idea that let us not give them fish but let us teach them how to fish ,”said Machimbidzofa.

The Grand specialist said they decided to support the programme after the realisation that elderly people were facing several challenges in the country.

“These are elderly women above 70 years old who are   going through a lot. They are taking care of orphans impacted by HIV/        Aids. Some of them are on medication for life,” she said.

Machimbidzofa said the horticulture project would also help the elderly to find something that occupies them and relieve stress associated with loneliness. She said the project would also minimise suicides.

“You have also to realise that in the elderly community, they get depressed and there are a lot of suicides that happen within the elderly community. But if they have a space where they can gather and do something they are fine. They are always kept fit.

“So the idea was for them to create employment for themselves so that they have a sustainable source of income,” she said.

 “So we are making them resilient to the different shocks that come as we live.”

Machimbidzofa said the US government will continue to support clean energy initiatives in the country.

 “We believe in going green. We believe in clean energy. That is why we are now encouraging people to use solar power for pumping water.  Submersible electricity pumps are very expensive” she added.

One of the beneficiary of the project, Teo Phiri (80 ), expressed gratitude to both Trace and the US government for coming up with project.

“Before the inception of this project, most old people spent most of their time doing nothing at home. This project will certainly change the living standards of most widows and child-headed families in Sizinda and Tshabalala.  Already we have started harvesting and selling some of our produce to the locals,” said Phiri whose late husband was a former National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) employee.

Phiri said the paltry monthly pension which she has been receiving was  not adequate to pay schools fees for her dependents.

With over 15,000 pensioners and retrenched workers who are mostly from Malawi and Mozambique, Sizinda is probably ranked as one of the poorest suburbs in the city.

A Ministry of Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare, Tapiwa Chikove, hailed the project saying apart from improving the welfare of the elderly, it would assist in reducing  incidences of gender based violence.

Post Author: Nyasha Nyakunu

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