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Country analysis > Zimbabwe Last update: 2020-11-27  

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A Study of Child-Headed Households on Commercial Farms in Zimbabwe

The findings of this small study indicate that there is a clear need for appropriate interventions to address the immediate needs of child headed household in farm worker communities and to develop sustainable responses to these needs which can be both responsive and preventative in nature.

Although FOST has been working for three years in some of these communities to some positive effect, it is evident that interventions need to be long term in nature and to offer both material and psycho-social support for orphaned children and their communities.

The following interventions are suggested.

10.1 Mobilisation of the community: volunteers

It is clear that in any sustainable response it is necessary to "mobilise" the community to offer a supportive and enabling environment for child headed household and orphaned children in general. There is already a network of volunteers, neighbours and FHWs who do undertake this but the need for a more comprehensive response is necessary. This would involve community meetings in farming community not already involved in the programme and a system of supportive visits to these and farms already in the programme.

A clear system of identifying, training and supporting volunteers in the community will also reinforce this aspect to avoid overload and "burnout".

10.2 Psycho-Social Support (PSS)

This is an area that appears to be undervalued by the community in general and where the community underestimate the contribution they could make to improve the quality of life of the child headed households. PSS training should therefore be offered to:
  • The community in general. Covering basic skills in counselling and supporting traumatised children could be offered to key members of the community such as FHWs, Pre-school leaders, teachers, volunteers and any other community leaders.
  • The orphaned children themselves to enable them to talk about their experiences and develop peer support networks
  • Youth in the community. There is growing evidence that young people are able to offer effective psycho-social support for younger orphaned children, are often able to help them through problems and crises and are better able to talk to them about sensitive subjects such as abuse.
Training could involve topics such as:
  • Psycho-Social Support in general. FOST already has suitable materials prepared and tested with farm communities which cover topics such as "how children react to the death of loved one," "bereavement and children", "talking to children about death" etc.
  • Child protection and prevention of abuse
  • Dealing with traumatised children, as individuals and in groups
  • HIV/AIDS prevention
  • Personal identity and cultural belonging

In addition, a handbook for volunteers would reinforce the training process and help to improve and develop the psycho-social element of the intervention.

10.3 Material Support

Although it is unsustainable to offer long term material support for all orphaned children, it may be necessary to offer selective and targeted interventions for the most disadvantaged households in crisis situations. This support could be implemented in a number of ways:
  • Respond to specific requests: Offer material support as and when it is requested, with each request assessed individually. This would, perhaps, encourage the child headed household to remain as self reliant as possible and avoid the possibility that the child headed household and community will become over reliant on external funding. The disadvantage is that the child headed household may feel demeaned and ashamed to be constantly asking for help. In addition, communication problems in commercial farms may be a barrier to a swift response.
  • Support for "foster" parents: Encouraging households in the community to "foster" the children either by taking them into their homes as guests 18, or by undertaking to visit them on daily basis and offer the kind of support a parent would give (eg advice, guidance, help with chores, clothes, follow progress at school etc.) In return the "foster" family and the child headed household is given material support.
  • "Adopt a household": The project could source funds to cover the main expenses of a specific household such as food, clothing, school fees, medical expenses etc. This could be linked to external sources of funding whereby a church or group "adopt" the family and undertake to support them.
  • "Adopt a community": Instead of "adopting" a specific family, the whole community is supported in the development of systems to help child headed households such as income generating projects, safe places, volunteer networks etc. This is a response which potentially benefits all children in the community, not just the child headed household. In return, the community agree to care for the child headed household and all OVC. This has been FOSTs preferred approach to material needs to date and works relatively well in a stable social environment but tends to breakdown under economic or social stress. In current conditions it would need regular and thorough monitoring.
  • Supplementary feeding: The provision of supplementary feeding programmes in the current emergency situation which benefits all children in the community and enables the most vulnerable to obtain extra help.
  • Educational support: Covering school fees and other educational costs for the children or provision of vocational training for older siblings. This would complement the government BEAM programme.
There are a number of dangers with offering material support of the kinds outlined above. Firstly, by offering material incentives to the community it may destroy the volunteerism that has gradually developed in many farm worker communities. Once destroyed, this is immensely hard to rebuild. In the long term there will be growing need to cultivate volunteerism in order to respond to the growing orphan crisis. There is a need, therefore, to find ways to recognise the input of volunteers and build on it in a sustainable way.

Secondly, by offering support to child headed households only, it may encourage orphaned children to stay alone and extended families to abandon the household in the belief that the children will then have a better chance of getting material support.

It is very difficult to strike the right balance between encouraging community-based voluntary responses and offering material support. Linking material support to PSS is, perhaps, one way to achieve this.

10.4 Income-Generating Projects (IGPs)

Linked to the idea of material support is the possibility of offering opportunities for older siblings in child headed households to set up IGPs by facilitating vocational training and then offering start-up capital or seed funding. This is an area which could lead to a more sustainable response to the issue and have a trickle-down affect to the whole household and the community in general. It would, however, need thorough training, support and monitoring for the children.

One problem at present would be the stability of the communities in which these children live and the future prospects for these communities. It would also require a considerable amount of support and expertise which FOST does not necessarily have at present, but which could either be developed or acquired through relevant partnerships with other NGOs.

10.5 Advocacy

Advocacy work with local authorities and national forums to ensure that orphaned children on commercial farms are included on national, provincial and district agendas, which is crucial for a sustainable approach. Also to ensure that the children benefit from national resource allocations such as BEAM, National AIDS Council funds etc. In addition, to ensure that farm communities, and child headed households within them, are considered in the land redistribution programme.

10.6 Case work approach

This would mean FOST undertaking to help individual child headed households with specific needs eg family tracing and reunification, securing personal identity documents, counselling etc. Past experience shows that this is a very time consuming and intensive activity and the sheer scale of the problem makes it difficult to offer this type of intervention in a comprehensive way. FOST can, however, attempt to build the skills and capacity within communities to do this and to help communities link with the Department of Social Welfare who have role to play here.

10.7 Pre-emptive work

Awareness raising and training with the community at large to encourage communities as individuals and as groups to prevent child headed households, through preparing in advance for the future of children. This will involve work with communities about preparing for their death, making a will, talking to children about death, making plans for the children etc. This is a highly sensitive issue but an area where attitude change is necessary to ensure that all children have a safe and secure future.

  1. A culturally acceptable approach if the orphaned children are seen as household guests and not as formal members of the family.
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