Garden gives lifeline to grandmothers

A gardening project has transformed the lives of a group of grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren in Shangani, reports BRENNA MATENDERE.

Project members in their vegetable garden, Alice Ngwenya,  Illen Sikheta and Farasiya Ndlovu.
Project members in their vegetable garden, Alice Ngwenya, Illen Sikheta and Farasiya Ndlovu.

The lives of disadvantaged elderly women in Shangani’s ward 2, Dorset, have changed from being full of hardships generated by poverty and the HIV scourge to one of hope for the future – thanks to a gardening project.

The Tirivamwe gardening scheme was started by the Midlands Aids Service Organisation a couple of months ago and has become a lifeline for over 65 families headed by grandmothers taking care of orphans whose parents were claimed by the HIV pandemic.

A visit to the garden recently revealed that lush green vegetables sold at several markets in the cattle ranching district of Shangani and neighbouring cities like Gweru come from this little-known project. When this reporter arrived on a rain-swept Wednesday afternoon, hordes of customers who had braved the chilly weather brought by the early down-pour could be seen queueing to buy the fresh vegetables. The area is surrounded by a traditional-style security fence of tree twigs and logs.

All changed

“We were really humbled by the initiative done by MASO to help all of us elderly women in the district who were left to take care of our grandchildren, who were left orphans by the HIV and AIDS disaster that claimed our children,” said Alice Ngwenya, 58, the community leader of the project.

“Before this we had been reduced to mere paupers as we could not afford to put food on the table for ourselves and our grandchildren or foot other basic living expenses. But now that has all changed and we have become aged mini-business persons,” she added.

Illen Sikheta, 60, another project beneficiary, told The Zimbabwean the scheme had also given them the chance to provide their grandchildren with the nutritious food necessary for keeping them healthy.

“It is the desire of every woman to see her children or grandchildren leading healthy lives. There could be happiness among the siblings in a family set up but without that aspect, the woman taking care of them will always have a heavy heart. So after having been given starter packs and funding to buy gardening equipment by MASO, one of our achievements is raising of healthy grandchildren,” she said.

True to her words, visibly healthy children, aged between eight and 16, could be seen helping out with gardening chores like watering, weeding and harvesting of some crops. Simelinkosi Nkomo, 18, said her grandmother had raised money to send her to High School for advanced level studies, and explained that the project ha become a beacon of hope for many disadvantaged children in the community.

Management skills

MASO’s ward 21 facilitator, Elizabeth Dangaiso, said the intervention of her organisation in putting together the Tirivamwe Project went beyond the provision of inputs and equipment to include training of the beneficiaries in a bid to equip them with necessary technical know-how and small business management skills.

“Despite the general economic hardships affecting everyone in the country, the aged women beneficiaries at least now have a source for making ends meet. Accordingly, they are now also helping out orphans and other vulnerable children in the area – so we feel heartened by that,” she said.

Though the project already seems to have achieved a lot, the women feel that with a little more help, there is room for further expansion.

“At present we are concentrating on growing green vegetables for sale but we feel we need help to increase our production of crops like carrots, cucumbers, beetroot and sugar beans so that we can reach large-scale farming. That would be very useful,” said Farasiya Ndlovu, 74.

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