In the gentle warmth of a mid-winter African sun, Moffat Mpofu seeks shade beside his small thatched hut. Beside him his wife Sarah stretches out on a thin grass mat, their youngest daughter resting quietly across her knees. But the peaceful scene hides a distressing story.
Mr Mpofu, 49, tested positive for HIV in December 2008, and has since been struggling with his health. In impoverished southern Zimbabwe, poor health means no work and no pay, and no pay means lean times for Mpofu’s family. With six of his seven children still living at home Mr Mpofu says it has been difficult.
“I haven’t been feeling well for quite some time so I haven’t been able to save much money,” Mpofu said.
When in good health he manages to earn some income thatching the roofs of local huts, charging between 200 and 300 rand – about $25 to US$37 per hut. Providing for his family has been made increasingly difficult amid Zimbabwe’s ongoing economic crisis, which has plunged millions deeper into poverty and driven many others to leave the country in search of work elsewhere.
“I try to use that money to support the family, but it’s not enough,” Mr Mpofu said.
Caritas has identified the most vulnerable members of hundreds of communities in Zimbabwe and launched a massive campaign to provide monthly rations to more than 164,000 people.
Aimed at helping the most vulnerable families through the critical food-insecure months (generally before the April harvest), Caritas has been providing critically-needed rations of mealie meal, sugar beans and cooking oil to families like that of Moffat Mpofu.
For Mr Mpofu, who must have food in his stomach before he can take the powerful ARV medications he needs to treat HIV, the food provided by Caritas has had a dramatic personal impact.
“Before April my weight was around 50 kg,” Mpofu said during a visit to his home by Caritas staff in mid-July. “Now my weight is 53 kg. I feel better now.”
Having regained his strength, and with his oldest son sending a little money to the family from neighbouring Botswana, Mpofu and his family have been making some progress. Last year they managed to plant seeds, with the help of generous neighbours.
“We got assistance from neighbours for animals to help us plough,” Mpofu said. “We don’t have any animals ourselves.”
But as is often the case amid Zimbabwe’s rural poor, dark clouds are gathering as the year advances. Despite their harvest of peas, sorghum, millet and maize, says wife Sarah, they cannot make it through the year on the food reserves they now have.
In addition to 40 kg of peanuts the family managed from their small plot, “We also got 20 kg of cow peas from the field,” says Sarah, “so with all I have it can last three months.”
While the assistance provided by Caritas has been vital to the family and to Mpofu’s recovery from his most recent bout of illness, a current shortfall in funding means an end to that support for Mpofu and tens of thousands of others in Zimbabwe.
Though Caritas will continue to provide highly nutritious daily meals of porridge to more than 88,000 school children across Zimbabwe and rations to woefully underpaid teachers, the money simply is not available for the ration programme which helps vulnerable families like that of Moffat Mpofu.
For Mpofu, sitting in the shade of his home, he offers a simple summary of a concept so few of us in the Western world can even grasp, and yet one which has become commonplace for many impoverished villagers in rural Zimbabwe today.
“The food,” Mpofu said, “Is finished.”