Find out how your support is helping to change children’s lives in and around Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Back to all stories | Posted on 04/23/21

As the Covid-19 pandemic pushed communities to breaking point last year, we launched a new partnership with Mavambo Orphan Care in Zimbabwe. Initially, this partnership helped to feed 6,000 children who were facing starvation –the majority of them were also living with HIV. More recently, we’ve launched a larger program to deliver school feeding for thousands more children in the country. We caught up with Danny Gomwe from Mavambo Orphan Care to learn more about the impact he is seeing regular meals are having on these children and their communities in Harare and surrounding areas.

How are you finding the partnership with Mary’s Meals?

The partnership has put Mavambo on the map, as the supported children and their communities are delighted with the feeding program. Firstly, our beneficiaries can get at least one decent meal a day, which has helped them with their HIV medication (antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV are most effective when taken along with a healthy diet). The school feeding program has also meant investment and capacity building between Mavambo and Mary’s Meals, which has been extremely helpful.

At the beginning of our partnership, we were working with you to support 6,000 orphans and vulnerable children – many of whom are living with HIV – whose caregivers had found themselves without employment because of the pandemic. What is their situation now? 

Their situation has not changed much. Lockdown restrictions have been relaxed but there are no avenues for their source of income.  

A month after we started serving Mary’s Meals, we registered an additional 500 HIV positive children who are now benefiting from daily meals. Some of them are receiving meals through the introduction of the school feeding program, but others are still scattered all over Harare, Goromonzi and beyond. Our hope is that as we expand the Mary’s Meals into more schools, more of the original 6,000 children will receive Mary’s Meals through their school.

What has the situation been for communities during the coronavirus pandemic?  

Covid-19 has brought many challenges due to the lockdown restrictions. Caregivers who rely on informal work are not able to fend for their families as their sources of income were shattered. This is particularly difficult for children who are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment.  

At Mavambo, we have witnessed a high number of those who should receive ART not doing so because medication cannot be taken on an empty stomach. This was until the time Mary’s Meals help made such a difference, with the porridge for the children on treatment.  

The increased food insecurities were responsible for some cases of abuse, for example, children who are vulnerable to exploitation in return for food.

How have you dealt with the community distributions?

It was very challenging to manage large distributions as the Covid-19 regulations restricted gatherings of more than 50 people. However, as an organization, we brought the food closer to beneficiaries homes to help limit the number of people who were at the distribution sites at one time. In addition, trained volunteers from the local communities were extremely helpful in the staggered mobilization of communities and distribution of porridge and soap. Provision of the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Mary’s Meals was also helpful.  

We regularly updated our data to make sure people got the right food packs and the volunteers also helped within their respective communities.

How would you describe the benefits of Mary’s Meals?

In the community, the porridge has been pivotal for food security and promotes adherence to the medication and treatment that children living with HIV need. 

With this nutritious food, we have seen a noticeable change. We have seen a reduction in malnourished children and they are gaining weight. The food has also improved psychological wellbeing for both children and their caregivers as it has eased the stress caused by the food shortage.  

In schools, there are still plenty of less privileged children. The majority of them are not HIV positive but are vulnerable. Attendance has noticeably improved since the school feeding program began. Children are now lively and actively concentrating in class and this has brought  positive attitudes towards learning. Now, children eat together regardless of their background, helping avoid any stigma and discrimination associated with extreme poverty.

Mary’s Meals has recently expanded its program with Mavambo, to reach more children with daily school meals. How is that going?  

The expansion has been smooth, which was helped by the capacity building from Mary’s Meals and support for food handling training from the Ministry of Health and Child Care.  

Mary’s Meals are now being served to more than 12,000 learners in schools and we are currently continuing to feed more than 6,000 children with HIV in Harare and Goromonzi specifically.

How have the community reacted to the introduction of the Mary’s Meals school feeding program?

The community is appreciative of the school feeding program as it has alleviated hunger within their homes. The communities have reacted positively by embracing the project and this is demonstrated through all of the volunteers. They actively participate in loading and offloading the porridge, sourcing firewood when there is no gas and participating in tree planting in their respective schools. Local leadership has been in full support of the program and these include the Ministries of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and Ministry of Local Government. They are so delighted to have Mary’s Meals on board as this partnership has brought in a nutritious supplement to the children. 

One school headteacher told me:  “We are so grateful to the Mary’s Meals program as it has helped improve attendance and concentration in class as children are now learning on a full stomach.”

What are your hopes for the future of the school feeding program?

We have big hopes for 2021. We hope to serve Mary’s Meals to vulnerable communities within Harare (Epworth, Mabvuku, Tafara and beyond) and Goromonzi. We hope to reach an additional 30,000 children by the end of the year. Mavambo is ready, after the capacity building support we have had from Mary’s Meals, to expand to many parts of Zimbabwe, as resources allow. We have a dream to see all vulnerable children supported in their places of education!  

*Unfortunately, since we spoke to Danny there has been an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country and schools have had to close. As in many parts of the world, the situation can change quickly, but Mary’s Meals – with your support – is working tirelessly with partners to continue serving Mary’s Meals in whatever way we can.