Immigration lawyer Samantha Murozoki did not plan to be still cooking for her neighbourhood two years after she first gave out some spare sadza porridge to hungry children in her street.
Murozoki made headlines at the start of the Covid pandemic when the number of people queueing outside her small home kitchen in Chitungwiza, a town on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, quickly reached the thousands.
Now, even though the number of people struggling to find food each day has eased in line with Zimbabwe’s lockdown measures, which have allowed people to return to work, Murozoki, 34, continues to feed nearly 800 people daily.
“I feel like I cannot just start something like this and close the doors,” she says. “I do not know how I am still going on after so many days.”
After an initial rush of small donations from well-wishers, providing a plate of sadza (Zimbabwe’s porridge-like staple made from boiled maize flour, also known as mealie meal) and beans to everyone in need every day has not been easy, and Murozoki has used her own and her mother’s money to feed people.
“People have donated and have done their part, now they wait on us to do something bigger,” she says.
“Last month, we had two consecutive days when we did not serve because we didn’t have mealie meal. We also have days where we have to cut the number of people we serve based on what we have.
“Right now the only help that I get is from regular citizens from Zimbabwe and in other countries. It might not be on a regular basis but whenever they can, they bring something through.
“We have a few companies that come and donate food. When we do not have anything to give, my mum and I make the financial input to make sure there is something. Whenever we do not have it completely, we close our doors and do not serve.”
Last year more than 2 million Zimbabweans in cities struggled to buy enough to eat as food prices rose and businesses closed. As the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt, many families still rely on food aid.
Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has now partially opened up the manufacturing and mining sectors, but millions of informal workers face restricted business hours.
While feeding the hungry in Chitungwiza has made an impact, Murozoki wants to do more for the community where she was born.
“I need for us to graduate to the next level. I want to say I fed people and ended up empowering those people. I do not want this memory to end after serving two meals a day, but I want to be able to give people an education and empower them,” she says.
It is 1pm on a Tuesday in Chitungwiza and Murozoki is supervising volunteers making lunch. An elderly woman is stirring sadza in a big pot helped by 17-year-old Martin, who pours in the grain.
Martin dropped out of school in grade seven when his parents split up. He wants to become a driver and Murozoki has offered to fund his return to school.
Martin is one of 19 young people who came under Murozoki’s care via the relief kitchen, she says, and now she is appealing, through the organisation she set up, the Kuchengetana Trust, for land to build a place to house abandoned children.
“Someone needs to buy into the vision of how I want to remodel Kuchengetana Trust. The relief kitchen should stand as an emergency plan. We want to deal with recurring cases of poverty,” she says.
“The reason I want a piece of land is for our piggery and fish project so they can raise funds to build a home for children that I am taking care of. I want them to stay under one roof so that I can help them effectively. From these 19 children will grow a new crop of Zimbabwean, someone who is enterprising.
“But we do not have a ladder to move to that point. All we want is [to be] self-sustaining,” she says.
Murozoki has had Covid twice. “The second time was quite bad. I thought it would be mild but it hit me pretty hard so I was out for about three weeks because of it but luckily my mum is always here. She made sure that people had something to eat. I lost quite a number of donations too.”
Taking time out to rest was tricky; her mother is old and the number of volunteers is falling.
“We have had a huge drop in the number of volunteers due to lack of incentives. People want to go out there and get something in their pockets.”
She misses spending more time with her two sons. “I struggle to balance my personal life and the trust. I don’t have a social life. If I’m not here, I will be out there looking for donations. This has affected the time that I spend with my children. I feel bad, for example if my child gets sick, for committing to nursing them, it will be difficult to ignore the work,” she says