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Impacting communities through conservation farming

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After last year’s agricultural workshops, our Community Officer, Peter Kazembe, travelled out into the community to assess the impact of  the programme and find out how participants are doing on their own plots. These are just a few stories from over 30 families who will have food for the next year. After these amazing results, we anticipate that many more families will be signing up for the programme in 2016. 

“This programme has been welcomed by so many from the community. Participants have learned a lot, especially about the importance of mulching (applying a thick ‘blanket’ of fallen leaves and grass which helps reduce water loss from soil, suppresses weeds and protects against extreme temperature).

This season has been the driest in many years, but those who have been following instructions from the workshops have successfully harvested and are escaping the severe hunger that many of their neighbours face. Those who did very well on the demo plots have seen an overwhelming admiration from their fellow neighbours, who have promised to join them next season.

Many participants have fallen in love with this programme, as they are now discovering the greatest secret behind it. They have learned that conservation farming is achievable no matter what type of rain patterns may come. It is quite obvious that in the next ploughing season the number of people engaging in conservation farming will increase. Truly speaking, this programme came as an eye opener to many people in this community.”

Mr. Gungungu with his well-mulched plot

Despite poor rains and the dry spell, Mr. Gungungu is a hard worker. He proved his this by mulching close to three hectares (his entire plot!) and making lots of planting stations. His crops are not suffering moist stress but are growing just as well as they would in normal rainfall. He worked tirelessly all summer and his neighbors are stunned by his incredible plot.

MR Gungungu

Mr. Daison and his soaring crops

Mr Daison has been working tirelessly with Mr. Gungungu as a team, and they are doing wonders! The height of his crops alone speaks volumes in this dry spell. He managed to prepare his whole field, almost three hectares!  He is one of our most successful participants.

Mr. Daison and MR Kazembe

Mr. and Mrs. Mahwendepi promise some fireworks next season

This couple worked very hard all summer making their planting stations, successfully planting close to three hectares of maize. Though they did not manage to mulch the whole area, they have a good looking plot and with better rainfall will certainly manage to get an even better harvest.

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Mr. Aaron anticipates a bumper harvest

He is a young man who has passion for farming and as seen in the picture he is standing right on top of thick mulch. He did a great job during summer collecting grasses for his plot as evidenced in the photograph and there is no doubt about it. His plot is quite health and come what may he is going to have a bumper harvest.

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A state of disaster declared in Zimbabwe

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A state of disaster has been declared in Zimbabwe due to the current drought that has been worsened by the El Nino weather phenomenon. An estimated 2.4 million people are now in need of food aid, more than a quarter of the population.

There has been abnormally low rainfall since last year and there is no sign of water in many rivers. Fields are dry and bare, and thousands of cattle have died because their grazing areas have become parched.

We are stepping up our efforts to give children in the Chinhoyi region relief and keep them coming to school through our Feeding Programme.

But it is not only children who are suffering. Last week our Community Officer was approached by this old lady pleading for help. She looks after many orphan children since their parents (her own children) have passed away over the last few years. She is overwhelmed, weak and has no other place to turn.

Please help us raise awareness of this desperate situation, or make a donation here to directly impact these families now facing a desperate situation.

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Feeding Programme Update

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Earlier this year, we were thrilled to announce the launch of our much-needed feeding programme at the Chinhoyi Primary School from pre-school to Grade 2. Since then however, the food shortage many children were facing has worsened, as Zimbabwe has been hit with the worst drought in a decade.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has said that around 1.5 million Zimbabweans do not have enough food this year after a dramatic fall in maize production. As a result, our Chinhoyi primary school staff have been struggling. The Head Teacher recently appealed for help due to high absentee levels caused by shortages of food, stating “pupils are going two or three days without eating food.”

We have worked very hard to get attendance rates up and give these children the education opportunities they deserve.  We cannot accept that all our hard work is diminishing and children are absent due to hunger problems. In response to their appeal, we have successfully sourced funding to extend the feeding programme to more children. We will be offering the children Mahewu – a traditional Zimbabwean porridge-based-drink fermented with sorghum or finger millet malt, and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, sourced from a local organisation.

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We cannot emphasis enough the desperate situation so many families are facing. It is going beyond hunger and bordering starvation. These children need your help, not only to remain in full time education but also to survive the hunger problems they are facing  – they have nowhere else to turn! We have been so successful in creating a school community full of hope and aspirations. Next year could see many more wonderful achievements for these children – if only we can get them through this extremely difficult time.

For £30 a year we are keeping each child in school and providing a feeding programme and conservation agriculture training for many families.  It will be the best £30 you spend this Christmas.

Thank you and Merry Christmas from all at Zimbabwe’s Children.

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Foundations for Farming Workshops

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This November, we collaborated with Foundations for Farming to deliver a three day agricultural training programme in the rural area of Chinhoyi.

Foundations for Farming is an incredible organisation working to help communities become self-sufficient by teaching them effective agricultural practices. Using Foundations for Farming methods, a family of six can feed itself for a whole year from a very small plot of land. That’s one bucket of maize per week, for every week of the year!

This means these families can use the land to turn a profit, so that they can eradicate hunger and have surplus yield to sell and pay their children’s school fees.

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Training began early in the hot morning sun with an introduction on the importance of maintaining healthy soil. Participants were taught how to prepare and maintain good soil structure without ploughing. While this method might sound unusual, it actually makes the soil less sensitive to erosion, increases its water absorption capacity and actually increases yields, all at a much lower cost because the soil doesn’t need to be turned. The group also learnt about how to keep a mulch cover on the surface of the soil, a thick ‘blanket’ of fallen leaves and grass which helps reduce soil water losses, suppress weeds and protects against extreme temperature.

Then everyone got to work pegging their own plots, following precise specifications in order to achieve optimal plant populations and give their plants the best chance to thrive. Everyone practiced planting seeds and applying fertilisers, as well as learning about different seed varieties and home remedies for pest control.

Participants were also taught about keeping a farm calendar and how to budget with the help of record books. With the training’s focus on how to make a profit, they learnt how to farm for value. For example, if a certain crop like maize is not fetching good prices on the market, this can be used to keep pigs which can then be sold at a higher price.

It’s possible to reduce the need for or even eradicate the requirement for fertiliser through the use of compost. This results in even lower input costs and a higher standard of living for the family. Participants learnt how to make compost making and “chicken manure soup” for the supply of nitrogen in plants.
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Certificates of attendance were issued to the participants and this was the happiest moment of all since they also received 2 seed packs to set up their own “pfumvudza” plots at their homes. Each pack contains enough agricultural lime, specially formulated basal fertiliser, seed maize, and ammonium nitrate needed for an 8m x 39m area of land. Measuring cups and instructions on how to plant and manage the crop are also included.

Participants were so happy that they have all written letters of appreciation to the organisers of the programme.

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Primary School Feeding Programme

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We are very pleased to announce that we have launched a long awaited and much needed feeding program at the Primary School from pre-school to Grade 2.

Each week 276 children are given a nutritious meal kindly donated by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) in America. The rice pack formula is specially designed to meet the needs of the most severely malnourished children with all key vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

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This last winter term has been even more difficult than usual with most families producing no yields in the previous season due to harsh annual drought. The food programme was established for a set time to bring relief to the youngest children.

If funding allows we hope to continue with this program and expand up to further grades. All of the children in these photos were surviving on one meal at the end of each day, which causes issues in attendance and concentration. Receiving a nutrient rich meal will not only improve their health, well-being and attendance, it reduces the stress on guardians and families who suffer from severe hunger. Thank you to all those who have supported this programme.

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Chinhoyi School

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Whilst shooting “Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children” in 2010, the film crew came across a very remote rural area school, where they found Obert.

The school allowed them to film a very regular occurrence happening that day – desperate young children being humiliatingly sent away, unable to afford the small fee of $2. Only 10% of the hundreds of children in the area were able to attend school. This was a shocking discovery.

With the donations that flooded in to help these children, we were able to cover many of the most disadvantaged children’s school fees, and get many more access to a UNICEF scheme for school fee assistance. This resulted in over 1000 children going back to school. With the school fees, we have been able to provide essential education materials, build 5 new classrooms, new toilet blocks, install a borehole and water pump flowing with clean water, and provide training and community programs which have benefitted 2,500 people. Today, our school and its pupils are rated at number 13 out of 100 in the district for passing exams.

However, simply paying these fees each year is not a sustainable way to ensure the children in this area continue an enriching and successful education. What’s more, with such a high rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe, we need to leave this community with the ability to provide for themselves.

We work in close partnership with the children, their parents and the teachers. We stretch each child’s levy as far as possible to create a centre of hope and education in healthy survival. Using the research and knowledge we have acquired over the last 5 years – we hope to continue creating sustainable agriculture, water, education and teacher training programs within the school community to get the guardians, school and children to a point where they are receiving a quality education and are able to live independently without the need for aid.

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Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children – Obert

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In a round, one-room hut, 13-year-old orphan Obert lived with his grandma, Gogo. Since he had been separated and lost touch with his parents in 2005, Obert spent five years of his young life panning for gold each day beneath the scorching sun. When we first met him, exams were approaching and Obert wanted nothing more than to sit them. But his chances of this were slim as he could no longer afford to attend school.

School fees had already been reduced from $6 to $2 a term in order to help struggling parents. But, with the the average wage at $1 a day and more than 80 per cent of Zimbabweans unemployed, many could still not afford the fees. Those who cannot pay are sent home, unable to return until they find enough money.

Every day, Obert worked and worked, collecting small shimmers of gold dust into his pan. There was not much food waiting for him when he returns home. “We only eat once a day – we have a beans and maize meal.” The money he earnt from panning gold was barely enough to put food on the table for him and his grandmother, let alone pay for school. He often worked a whole week without making even $2. “My future is dark if I don’t go to school,” he told us.

Since “Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children” aired in 2010, we have been able to send Obert back to school with the help of so many generous donations and support from around the world. Obert left the gold dust behind and, after missing two years of school, passed the entrance exams for a top boarding school where he began uncovering the treasures of learning instead. He passed his O’levels with outstanding results, four A’s, three B’s and four C’s, and has now registered to complete his A’level exams. Obert’s dream is to get a funding scholarship to become a doctor, so he can give back to the same neglected communities he came from. Obert tells us that he want to helps other children and encourage them to work hard because “education is for life.”

He returns home to his hut to spend every holiday with his loyal and proud grandmother and friends. Obert’s only request is to “please carry on assisting the school which I came from so the children can have a better chance at life”

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Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children – Esther’s Journey

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In 2010, the film “Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children” aired on the BBC. This is when we first met Esther.

On the outskirts of the city, a squatter camp unfolds into a dusty stretch of tin shacks and tents blowing in the stifling hot air. With no running water, electricity or sewerage, life here is gruelling. For nine-year-old Esther, life was a near impossible struggle five years ago. Left alone to care for her baby sister Tino and her terminally ill mother, Esther has hardly been able to attend school in over a year. The burden of being the sole family carer weighed heavily on her small shoulders, made even weightier by the pains of her own illness. Like one in seven Zimbabweans, Esther too is HIV positive.

After their mother’s death, Esther and Tino were left with their unsympathetic Uncle who locked them out of their tent every day with no food or water. We went back to find them and amazingly, after much negotiation with their Uncle and children’s social services, we were able to bring Esther and Tino into the care of SOS Children’s Village Bindura, where orphaned children are provided with a safe new home and an SOS family to care for them. Within a few days their lives were completely transformed. The girls love their new home and get on well with their foster mother and 5 new brothers and sisters.

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Catching up on missed education was essential for Esther, who was behind in her learning, so she had to start school from the beginning even though she was quite a bit older than the other children. She was also given private tutoring to help her progress. Today, Esther attends an outside community school (the best in the district) and continues to improve and advance every day. On a recent visit to see her, she told us she loves school and her favourite subject is Maths, which she is passing well. When we asked her what she likes to do in her spare time, she said “I still love to read books – the bible and novels”.

Having the comfort of a caring guardian and mother means that Esther has been relieved of the burden of looking after her little sister. She is taking her ARV medication and receiving good nutrition to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS which was passed to her by her mother. Fortunately Tino did not contract the disease and is in good health.

Both girls have a very bright future ahead of them and hopes are already high for Esther to attend the SOS University in Ghana

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