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.
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.
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 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 email@example.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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.