The Zimbabwe Girls COVID Quilt

Background

Group effort: The WAP team with some of their blocks.

 

Early in the summer of 2020, when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming clear, ten girls from the Women Advocacy Project (WAP) in Zimbabwe decided to describe their experience with the pandemic through embroidery.

Temperature check: Arriving at the training.

The virus was surging in Europe and the US at the time. It was not yet clear how Africa would be affected but everyone feared the worst. As we reported, the crowded communities of Harare seemed particularly vulnerable. Zimbabwe had almost not testing facilities and just one ICU. If the virus was allowed to enter communities like Chitungwiza and Epworth, there was a real fear that it could spread like wildfire.

WAP was already playing a leading role in supporting vulnerable families in Harare. Starting in 2018, WAP trained two teams of girls to make and sell soap as a way to reduce the threat from early marriage, and help cover the cost of the girls’ education. The project has generated over $6,000 to this point, and created a tightly-knit and highly effective team.

In 2019, eleven WAP girls produced blocks for the Zimbabwe Child Marriage Quilt, describing their experience of early marriage. Their blocks were assembled into an advocacy quilt by Allison Wilbur, from Rhode Island. Constance Mugari, the founder of WAP, took the quilt to Nairobi in November for the ICPD 25 summit on Women and Girls and used the quilt extensively to promote WAP’s child marriage program in Zimbabwe with delegates.

Concentration!

We were delighted, but not surprised, when the girls decided to use their stitching skills to describe the pandemic in May 2020. We asked WAP to come up with a budget and drew on our own COVID-19 community fund to cover the costs of training, transport, and material (around $1,500).

WAP had an additional reason to take on the new quilt. During the height of the pandemic WAP’s team produced over 1,000 facemasks and prepared emergency kits with masks, soap, and essential cooking material for over 100 vulnerable families and six medical centers.

The kits were given out by the girls, who took the opportunity to inform families about the importance of personal hygiene and face-masks.

Their COVID-19 squares tell a fascinating and deeply worrying story. As of September 18, Zimbabwe has reported 7,733 cases, which is less than was predicted and feared. Given the country’s limited testing facilities, the true figure may be much higher.

The designs emerge: Rosemary’s block shows women trying to fetch water.

The question is at what cost? Poor families in Chitungwiza and Epworth earn as little as $1,50 a day. The lockdown has prevented them from taking their goods to market and shopping for essential food stuffs. The regulations – on travel and masks – have fallen most heavily on poor families. Evelyn’s block warns of hunger. Vimbai is worried at the increase in domestic violence. Trish finds that rising costs are putting basic food commodities out of reach.

We will now seek a quilting guild in the US to assemble the squares. We are also working with students at a High School near Washington who are using embroidery to describe their own experience of the pandemic in the US. We expect the contrast with the Zimbabwe stories to be dramatic and instructive. The two teams have already have already been in touch and begun to build friendships.

Evelyn Sachiti, team leader of the WAP team in Chitungwiza, can be reached in Zimbabwe at evelynksachiti@gmail.com. We have also profiled Evelyn and the soap-makers in this video. Donate here to support WAP’s soap-making project and thank you!

We welcome your feedback!

 

 

Artists and blocks

Communal stitching: the girls discuss their designs at training.

 

Domestic Violence by Vimbai Ngwere, Chitungwiza 

The Covid-19 lockdown and high unemployment have increased the level of domestic violence and divorces in many Zimbabwean households.   Wives and husbands fight over the lack of provisions in their houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family headed by a child by Tanatswa Sachiti, Chitungwiza

Because of high unemployment, many parents decide to leave their children behind and cross borders to find job opportunities in neighboring countries. They then send money and food assistance to their children and families at the end of every month. However, during this lockdown all borders are closed. Many parents remain stranded in neighboring countries, while children suffer at home with no one to help.

 

 

 

 

E-Learning by Miriam Ruwaze, Chitungwiza

Miriam’s square shows how children are attending lessons using different platforms. E-learning is essential during the lockdown in Zimbabwe. Since the spread of coronavirus has deepened, the government announced that all school-age children should have access to internet lessons. This has become a reality for children and families who are able to afford it. But to others it has remained a dream. The majority of children and families do not use the Internet. Some do not even have a computer. This has brought many divides to the country’s educational system.  Some children now resort to learning through live radio while others remain at home with no lessons at all.

 

Hunger by Evelyn Sachiti, Chitungwiza

Many families in Zimbabwe are starving as a result of the lockdown. They have been forced to stay at home without having food. Evelyn’s square shows children crying for food. But no one can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking precautions at the local store by Prisca Matsiwe, Chitungwiza

As the number of COVID-19 cases has increased, every local shop in Zimbabwe is required to observe “precautionary measures” as defined by WHO. At every shop entrance we find someone with a temperature testing tool. No person is allowed to enter a shop without wearing a mask. All customers are checked before entering the shop. 

 

 

 

 

Hiking the Price of Commodities by Trish Makanhiwa, Epworth

During the lockdown, all movement from one city to another and country to another has been banned. Yet Zimbabwe depends on food imports for survival. This has prompted a steep rise in the prices of basic commodities in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

Arresting People For Not Wearing Masks by Bybit Mutuda, Epworth

As the pandemic spreads in Zimbabwe, the government has ordered everyone to adhere to the precautionary rules and regulations advised by WHO and other international health institutions. However, many poor people are not able to afford a mask which is required for everyone walking in public places.  Police are now arresting anyone found walking in public without a mask.

 

 

 

Police Dispersing Vendors by Lynes Vhayi, Epworth

As hunger has hit Zimbabwe during the lockdown, many people – particularly women – have been unable to stay at home. They need to visit the markets to sell whatever they can for their households, and to buy food. However the police do not give them a chance and constantly disperse them.

 

 

 

 

 

Theft by Lissa Jawa, Epworth

Because of hunger, many grocery shops in high-density residential areas are being attacked by thieves almost every night. The thieves steal food and other valuable commodities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police Officer Stops Women from Fetching Water by Rosemary Panashe, Epworth

Zimbabwe has been suffering from a serious shortage of water for some time now, forcing many families to fetch water from increasingly far-off water sources. During the lockdown, police officers and soldiers have stopped women and girls from going to fetch water.

 

 

 

 

 

Corruption in the Security Forces by Constance Mugari, Marlborough

During the lockdown, every person is required to produce a curfew pass or letter explaining the purpose of his or her movement to or from town in Zimbabwe. Failure to produce the letter the person is subjected to an arrest or being fined. Police and soldiers are now asking money from people who travel without these letters.




 

WAP’s Covid-19 Emergency Plan by Constance Mugari, Marlborough

During the lockdown WAP implemented an Emergency Plan that benefited over 100 families and served six health clinics in Epworth and Chitungwiza. WAP team distributed small food parcels, soap and masks to the people in communities.

 

 

Closed Schools by Trish Makanhiwa, Epworth

When the lockdown was announced all schools closed immediately. Students in ordinary and advanced levels became desperate. They could not believe that they might lose the whole year and be forced to  repeat the class. Some kept on checking at their school doors, thinking maybe their teachers would come back to the class.

 

 

 

 

 

People Fleeing Quarantine Centers by Evelyn Sachiti, Chitungwiza

During the lockdown, the Zimbabwean government has opened borders to all Zimbabweans from the diaspora who wanted to come back home. Returnees were required to spend 21 days of quarantine at different centers which were situated just inside the country’s borders. However, these quarantine centers did not offer a hospitable environment and many people decided to flee from them.

 

 

 

 

Curfew Pass – A New Norm in Zimbabwe by Constance Mugari, Marlborough

It is obligatory that every person going to work or town should produce a curfew pass/letter at a police road block in Zimbabwe. Police stop every vehicle passing by and ask people to produce their letters.