Hope in a Barren Land

A phrase I often heard during the time I spent visiting the Dabane Trust: “We begin with water”. The Trust is a local Christian Aid partner organisation working with rural communities in arid parts of Zimbabwe who are struggling to grow crops as a result of limited water supplies. Dabane Trust’s goal is to alleviate water insecurity. This is surely a stark reminder of the importance of water and the extent to which I take it for granted every day at home.

Christian Aid is a faith-based organisation that works with people of all faiths or none in around 50 countries to empower communities to lift themselves out of poverty. All of Christian Aid’s overseas work is carried out through local partner organisations that are best placed to understand how to tackle poverty in their own situation. As part of my 10-month internship I was lucky enough to witness the work of three Christian Aid partners in Zimbabwe first-hand.

PHOTO/Chris Bright
Skha in the Bhejela nutrition garden

One major issue facing the country, which was immediately apparent, was the deep impact the changing climate is having on the landscape and lives of people living in drought-prone areas, such as Matabeleland South. River beds filled with sand not water, coiled through the dusty, sun-baked earth, and many communities stressed how crops are failing as a result of frequent droughts and erratic rainfall.

During the trip I met 47-year-old Sikhanyisiwe Ndlovu (known as Skha), who lives in a community that has been working closely with Dabane Trust to build a sand dam. Found on a dry river bed, the dam collects sand which contains water deep beneath the surface. The water is extracted using sand abstraction pumps, providing safe, clean water for drinking and agriculture.

I met Skha in a nutrition garden beside the Bhejela sand dam. The garden was a pocket of hope amidst an otherwise barren land, where vegetables are grown by the community. Skha described how she worked with other members of her community to build the dam, digging foundations and collecting rocks, whilst Dabane Trust provided water and tools to make the cement. The water is naturally filtered by the sand and so is safe to drink.

The dam took two years to build. Before the dam was built, Skha’s community used to excavate the sand river using their hands and it would take several hours to fill a single bucket. Through her involvement with the project, Skha displayed an inspiring level of determination by enduring extremely hot conditions and digging into solid ground in order to access a reliable water source, which in Oxford we all have readily available.

Skha is the Chair of the community’s nutrition garden, which has a total of 15 members. The garden was established shortly after the dam was built and a pump installed, drawing water from the sand, which is put into containers and used to irrigate crops such as onions and kale. Dabane Trust has provided Skha and the other gardeners with training in gardening techniques, pump service and maintenance, leadership and HIV and gender.

All the gardeners who manage the nutrition garden are also members of a nearby processing centre, where vegetables they produce are dried, which means that nutritional food is available throughout the year. The idea to establish the centre came from local community members, who worked to construct it alongside Dabane Trust. The centre also provides a market for any surplus food grown and some income for community members. Skha has spent her extra income, which she has earned from selling her own vegetables, on uniforms for her children and she is now able to send them to school.

When I visited Skha’s community, the pump was working but there was still a severe water shortage resulting from a drought which the area was experiencing. Patches of the garden furthest away from the pump looked dry because the water supply was low. Skha explained that her produce is usually taken to the processing centre, but her crops were not ready due to the heat.

PHOTO/Chris Bright
Skha standing with other gardeners in the nutrition garden

Dabane Trust appreciates that change is slow as a result of the climate, an ageing population, and no secure tenure which all pose significant obstacles to progress. It will take time to achieve water security, but Skha and her community have been encouraged by the partner to change their situation and they are determined to end poverty in their area.

Last year Christian Aid Week raised £12.5m. This Christian Aid Week (12th-18th May) we can work together again to help some of the world’s poorest communities to get enough to eat. Why not organise a quiz, a film night, an afternoon tea or an open mic night to raise money to support the work of Christian Aid? Christian Aid believes that we can end poverty, but only if we work together. Join them and let’s make it happen.