I HAVE been following with keen interest the development of the story triggered by a video in which child X complained about the monotony of eating mbambaira (sweet potatoes) everyday.
To protect the child, I shall call him child X throughout this article. I salute child X and the free communication relationship he has with his father. I am also saddened by the fact that due to economic difficulties he, like most children in our communities, was being exposed to monotonous meals, which at that age must be difficult to stomach.
I, however, feel compelled to start a conversation about what as adults we should be learning from this self-expression by children and how we can redirect our children’s energy on such matters.
When child X said he had enough of mbambaira, what we should understand as parents and adults is that he is tired of the monotony of mbambaira and that is normal. This does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with feeding mbambaira to our children.
I did search for the nutrition value of mbambaira as part of research for this article and the fact is bread falls far behind the root vegetable which boasts fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.
Bread with its high carbohydrate content might cause obesity and in these days it’s unjustifiably expensive. While I applaud the response by the private sector which showered child X with bread and other so-called modern breakfast ingredients, I have a problem with the value system being promoted here.
The private sector sent a clear message to the child, that mbambaira is indeed a terrible thing. They replaced the potatoes with bread and in child X’s mind that’s a perfect life.
The response lacked balance and communicated a very artificial value system to the child. One company even offered to sponsor a paternity test and salaries for the rest of 2020 for both father and son!
At the risk of ruffling some feathers I would like to analyse the general atmosphere that was created around child X after the video went viral. For starters, an impression was created that his father had been very wrong in feeding him mbambaira and that bread is the desirable food that he has been lacking.
All the donors created an impression in child X’s mind that one can get goodies simply by saying I am tired of this and if your message gets to the correct ears your meal table composition can change overnight. We all know that is not real life.
I am not saying all the companies that donated should not have done so, but the way it was done took away more in values from child X than it gave him.
It is a tragedy that the socialisation which we pass on to our children teaches them that traditional foods including mbambaira should only be eaten when we can’t afford the so-called modern foods such as bread. It is, therefore, important for the adults to explain to our children the health benefits of certain ordinarily looked down upon foods.
It is also important to explain to children at a young age that while there is nothing wrong with expressing our wishes, we should be grateful for the food we have access to. At that young age child X has no idea that there are children who would give anything for a small piece of mbambaira.
That there are children who go to bed on empty stomachs, it would have been possible to donate bread, but structure the donation in such a way that the family gets it on a given number of days a week with an encouragement that on the days they are not given the bread it’s because they should be eating mbambaira.
It was possible to donate in a way that does not seek to psychologically replace mbambaira in child X’s mind, but in a way that places bread and mbambaira at par. After all, mbambaira is what his parents can afford.
The donating companies had a duty to encourage him to take pride in his parents’ ability to provide for him in these difficult times. Instead, companies rushed in like father Christmas and made the child and his family dependent on them. To me, this is not good social responsibility as it creates expectations that cannot and should not be sustained.
With all my misgivings about the donated goodies, I can at least understand that maybe the motivation was to make a difference, albeit for a short period.
What I am completely baffled with the offer of a paternity test. No matter from which angle I try to understand this absurd offer it does not make sense to me and borders on doing more harm than good. I don’t understand how someone could offer a potentially traumatising procedure to a child. Wasn’t the fact that child X’s father was living with him, providing for him to the best of his ability proof of paternity in the absence of a dispute?
Are we saying because we are donating to a child we need to be certain the caregivers who are also going to benefit from the donations are his blood relatives? What gives us the right to be that intrusive.
I shudder to think what would have happened to child X had the paternity test results been negative. When child X made the statement he had a loving home and father, irreplaceable treasures.
If paternity had not been confirmed by the test, all that would have been taken away. I also wonder if the company had a plan B for taking care of him had things gone wrong.
Ordinarily a paternity test is taken when there are very strong reasons to prove paternity like, for example where there is a dispute. I also find offering the father a salary that is not tied to a job absurd.
What, for me, would have been ideal is to offer him some kind of job or part-time engagement so he earns the salary with pride and dignity.
The adults, who rallied to make donations to child X, should have been conscious of the need not to appear like they are seeking to totally replace the family’s diet as if it was unacceptably wrong. The family’s diet is what the family has proudly provided for child X and a donation has to respect that.
It’s very easy to undermine a family’s value system without intending to. It’s, therefore, important to remember that donations should not undermine a child’s support system, they should not perpetuate shame about one’s background.
When pictures have been taken and companies have established themselves as good corporate citizens by giving handouts, what remains is a family and a community that needs to be held together.
In conclusion I would like to draw the attention of the private companies to the fact that child X has been fortunate and self–advocated, which is well and good, please think of the many Zimbabwean children out there who are most likely in a worse off situation. It would be worth your while to develop more sustainable and deliberate community interventions targeting children.
Sibusisiwe Marunda is the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative Zimbabwe country director. She writes in her personal capacity.