A local organisation has initiated a highly successful solar-powered horticulture irrigation scheme for the elderly and pensioners in Sizinda and Tshabalala high density suburbs in Bulawayo.
The project, funded by the United States government through the Ambassador’s Special Self-Help Programme, will benefit more than 150 elderly people and orphans in the area according to Mariyeti Mpala, Director of Trace the Fortune of the Elderly (Trace), which is spearheading the project.
She said since the organisation’s formation in 2000, it relied on handouts from different people and organisations but its fortunes changed for the better in 2016 when the US government, through its Ambassador Special Self-Help Programme, advertised in the local press for registered organisations to apply for funding.
“Trace applied for funding from the Ambassador Self-help Project after seeing an advert in The Chronicle calling for organisations to apply. We did not waste time because we wanted to move away from the begging syndrome.
“The US government gave us a chance of a lifetime,” said Mpala in an interview with The Chronicle.
The organisation received US$7 421 from the fund which they used to buy solar panels, seeds, building toilets as well as paying for horticulture training for its members.
Lupane State University 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 which are 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 whom are affected and infected by HIV and Aids,” said Mpala.
Mutsa Machimbidzofa, a grant specialist at the US embassy in Harare, said the Ambassador Special Self-help fund is a catalyst for organisations to sprout up and do bigger things by themselves.
“With the Ambassador special 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 Self-help fund gives support ranging from US$5 000 and US$10 000 per group.
“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 realising that elderly people were going through 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 and Aids. Some of them are on medication for life,” she said.
Machimbidzofa said the horticulture project will also help the elderly to occupy themselves and relieve stress associated with loneliness. She said the project will 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,” added Machimbidzofa.
One of the beneficiaries of the project Teo Phiri (78) expressed gratitude to both Trace and the US government for coming up with the initiative.
“Before the inception of this project, most old people spent 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 she has been receiving from the NRZ is inadequate to pay schools fees for her dependants.
With over 15 000 pensioners and retrenchees who are mostly aliens from Malawi and Mozambique, Sizinda is one of the poorest suburbs in the city.
An official at the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Tapiwa Chikove also hailed the project, saying apart from improving the welfare of the elderly, it is likely to help reduce the incidence of gender-based violence.