Anyone who has access to social media will have heard of the Covid-19 pandemic greatly affecting all parts of the globe. Many folk have decided that they have heard more than enough and their minds are buzzing with all the statistics, theories, suggested coping mechanisms, lockdown periods, quarantine, isolation, treatment plans, so on and so forth. But what about those who have very little or even no access to social media, do they know and really concept how dangerous or deadly this corona virus is and the threat an outbreak of this nature will cause in a country whose medical facilities are incapacitated and resources almost non-existent to make any improvements. For many they do not even think that far! Today's struggle for the under privileged is when will I get something to eat! Many have not eaten a meal in days.
In Zimbabwe, and I will speak particularly about Bulawayo as it is where we reach out to some of the most vulnerable people groups, we have seen that the number of people considered 'poor or under-privileged' has increased dramatically and even more than before, these numbers are still climbing. Lockdown has had an even greater effect on pushing the numbers higher! Why would that be, you might ask Allow me to try and navigate you through the difficulties our poorer communities face each day.
Our outreach program has been providing food and medical support to vulnerable persons in five different community areas where both the old and young live in squalid conditions. From discarded materials of plastic, wood, tin and mud they create for themselves a place of shelter, unsafe as it is, they call this home.
There is absolutely no capacity to social distance when a family of six, at best, lives in one room less than 3metre square. Water is collected from nearby broken pipes, some intentionally damaged so they can simply have access. One cannot live without this very basic yet essential commodity. Take a moment of reflection, just how many of us have never given consideration to this blessing we have as we open a tap in our homes. Okay so we are facing 120hr water cuts, but at least when the rains come and the dams fill we have the hope of a more regular supply from a tap. Basic step 1 to avert the spread of corona virus - wash your hands regularly!
Right, water alone doesn't work, you have to break down the virus and a bar of basic green soap costs the equivalent of USD 1. Where do we begin to consider how we will find one USD. Our country was on a presidentially declared Lockdown and the enforcement agents were out to ensure everyone complied. The little piece work that we could have done before has not been possible for the last 5 weeks, and only now that formal sector can go back to work, again it's only the privileged few who will be able to work.
You've heard the facts about how many people are employed in the informal sector and until the release of lockdown conditions these numbers remain unable to earn any form of income unless they take the risk of 'hussling a deal or two'. No income, no ability to buy food never mind soap. Many of the people we assist are the elderly; some are too frail to work and some with ailments which affect their ability to work. Where and how do they generate an income Some have family members who have migrated in search of greener pastures, many seem to have simply forgotten about those they've left behind but really we know that those in the diaspora face their own challenges.
Those families who were able to assist previously with a little something are now also facing strict lockdown of their own and all cross border activities have come to a sudden halt. It's a circle that has no end in sight. So where does the next meal come from If NGO's and charities aren't out there helping there is no next meal! The community spirit we know, where every little bit you have is enough to share with your neighbour, is diminishing and it's heart-breaking. We have been able to assist through the kindness of our fellow brethren who have empathetically given for the sake of another and during our travels of distribution we have received exceptional gratitude for our bearing of gifts. Faith has seen many remain hopeful; others believe their ancestors have heard their endless cries, there is no discrimination when feeding the hungry and our only prayer is that the food we carry has the multiplication ability of the five fish and two loaves.
The need in our community is greater than we could ever imagine and we know that we are simply providing a drop in the ocean. We are grateful to have been able to provide some information about this dreadful virus on our travels to the people we are assisting, as they say education is key, many of these folks had no understanding of this corona that is being mumbled about. We have encouraged them to wear a mask, whether it be a piece of cloth or a scarf, not only because it's mandatory but because we know that this is one way to avoid spreading the virus which may be lurking in our midst.
There are many other under privileged groups of people who have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 Lockdown. I look at the elderly living in an old age home or retirement village, and whilst they probably live with the limitations similar to lockdown as they don't get to move about we are unable to visit with them. Weekly visits are an activity they look forward to but now are confined within their perimeter walls. Our orphanage is much the same as we cannot risk visitors coming in to play with the children, thankfully they can play with their siblings. Our team of dedicated staff have forsaken time with their families to safely care for these precious souls and we are extremely grateful to them for this. They know the risk lies in an over-crowded and possibly un-sanitized public transport system.
So how are the poor and under-privileged people in Zimbabwe really coping! I would without hesitation say 'they are not'!