‘COVID-19 threatening children with developmental challenges’


AS the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughougt the world and Zimbabwe in particular, children with developmental challenges have been identified as some of the most vulnerable during the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Zimcare Trust director Nicholas Aribino says if mitigation measures are not strengthened to take care of the vulnerable, the effects might severely affect children with developmental challenges. The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay (ND) senior parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa and Aribino (NA).

ND: What is Zimcare Trust and who are its beneficiaries?

NA: Zimcare Trust is a private voluntary organisation (PVO) 57/82 with a non-profit-making agenda, administering 14 centres across the country for persons with intellectual challenges. Zimcare Trust legacy started much further back than 1981, when the organisation was formed by an amalgamation of Hopelands Trust, Salisbury Association for the Care of the African Mentally Handicapped (Sascam), the Midlands Association for the Mentally Sub-normal African Children (Mamsac) and Sibantubanye Day Care Centre.

Zimcare Trust centres within Harare are Homefields, St Catherine, Sharon Cohen, Tinokwirira, Batsirai, Ruvimbo, Zambuko, Bulawayo (Sibantubanye, Sir Humphrey Gibbs and Simanyane), Mudavanhu in Midlands, Rubatsiro in Kadoma, Ratidzo in Masvingo and lastly Chengetai in Manicaland province.
All these centres cater for children and young men and women with intellectual challenges by providing specialised education and care for age groups between six and 17 years and those 18 years and above.

ND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the PWDs that Zimcare looks after?

NA: The novel coronavirus involuntarily undermined the fundamental rights of children and young people with intellectual challenges, in particular the right to adequate food as well as quality and specialised education. The organisation is confronted with the threat of COVID-19 as an emergency that comes in the form of food insecurities.

The nation thrives on an informal sector and with extended lockdowns, the total number of people requiring food relief that had previously been estimated by World Food Programme is likely going to double from 4,3 million. This places children and young people with intellectual challenges on the extreme receiving end compared to other social groups.

The centres under Zimcare Trust thrive on income-generating projects (IGPs) for subsistence and commercial purposes. The emergence of the pandemic means that all these economic nuggets had to be stopped, further exposing people with intellectual challenges to hunger and food insecurity, a chief evil that the sustainable development goals has been committed to address.

ND: What kind of mitigation measures did you embark on in order to ensure PWDs in your organisation are safe and well taken care of?

NA: Due to the mysteries associated with the coronavirus on treatment or diagnosis compared to other diseases, we had no option except to adhere to presidential directive of working from home.
Centres for young people and schools are all on lockdown to at least prevent new infections while observing social distancing.

Due to the ambush nature of the pandemic, the organisation had to improvise on available resources in place of recommended detergents and sanitisers which we could not afford at that particular time.

Resource mobilisation mechanisms were also put in place to assist staff and children on lockdown in improving food reserves, thanks to the Business Fighting COVID-19, which was generous enough to donate 2 500kg of mealie-meal to Zimcare Trust.

However, resources gathered were not sufficient to cater for staff and other centres outside Harare, hence distribution tended to focus on centres within Harare and excluded those outside.

ND: There is an adage that says give a man fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. How does this adage relate to the people you take care of as Zimcare Trust? Is the government or other support organisations doing enough to assist?

NA: Zimcare Trust subscribes to sustainability principles and mechanisms that ensure continuity of projects, but that does not mean we do not welcome social or cash transfers from well-wishers. Implementing IGPs as well as receiving donations or gifts have been central to Zimcare Trust’s survival.

Worth mentioning is that disability does not mean inability, as you will soon notice that the people that we work with, through the guidance of their instructors, treasure the skills training sessions especially for centres that cater for 18-year-olds plus, which has seen some making door mats, bed sheets, coffins, nice cups or dinner plates through pottery and other several items, most of which have been sold to willing buyers who support us.

Young adults are trained to do gardening, weaving, woodwork, welding, metalwork, candle making, pottery and poultry to enhance their skills so that they are not entirely dependent and can sustain themselves post their time and experience in these centres.

However, IGPs through nutrition gardens has been the most predominant activity as produce is primarily used for the children’s consumption with surplus sold to access the scarce financial resources.

While we yearn for financial resources, the biggest challenge we have had to encounter has been accessing materials that we use in our projects, for example, wood in carpentry, wax in candle making, inputs for our nutrition gardens and green houses.

ND: Are there any new exciting programmes that have been introduced at your organisation?

NA: The organisation is currently working towards implementation of child empowerment programmes sponsored by Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ).

In previous years, empowerment programmes were heavily concentrated on adolescent boys and girls as well as youths with intellectual challenges, leaving behind children under 13.

The message being sent out by the LCDZ-sponsored programme is that development as a process rather than an event is nurtured from childhood as children are the future.

Zimcare Trust will again this year be raising awareness through the sports day to be held in the Midlands province, having initially been scheduled for June but postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Awareness will also be raised through the Zimcare Day in which marches shall be prioritised in sending out the message to communities on the existence of the organisation, people we work with, services we provide and various centres across the country under Zimcare Trust.
ND: What policy interventions do you think should be adopted in order to assist PWDs to be self-sufficient?

NA: Efforts by the government working with Zimcare Trust so far have been commendable through the departments of health, education and that of social services. Grants for nurses and nurse aides, skilled special needs teachers and food relief and per capita grants respectively have been provided through these agencies.

While current policies express commitment to PWDs, there is need to identify, finance, implement, monitor and consistently evaluate IGPs within Zimcare Trust so that they are sustainable and empowering on the part of people with intellectual disability. Institutional and legal frameworks should also be enforced to ensure this sustainable initiative is treated with seriousness.