Eleven-year-old Emmanuel Ngwenya dropped out of primary school two years ago following the death of his parents. Since being orphaned, Emmanuel has had to switch roles with his 77-year-old grandmother.
Instead of being looked after himself, he takes care of his grandmother who is almost blind and, due to old age and ill health, can barely walk.
Emmanuel has been forced to grow up before his time. AIDS stole his parents, his childhood and his extended family. Now he must also battle the drought currently ravaging his home district of Nkayi in Zimbabwe.
Despite his hunger, Emmanuel fights to cook and look after his grandmother each day.
For the last two years he has taken care of a neighbour’s cattle. In return, the neighbour has promised to plough his grandmother’s fields.
“At least if we harvest something in our own field we won’t be faced with hunger,” says Emmanuel.
“I will sell extra buckets of food and go back to school because I have always wanted to be a policeman when I complete my studies.”
Emmanuel explains that he cooks isitshwala (thick corn meal porridge) each morning, feeds his grandmother and then eats himself. This single meal of the day has kept grandmother and grandson going since May.
He sold the window frames from his grandmother’s hut to buy five buckets of maize. The family ate carefully to make the food last until September.
“Life was difficult then, and I thought that we would die of hunger.
“Neighbours got tired of helping us with food, as they knew we would be unable to pay them back in any way.”
Effects of drought
“This is the worst drought I have seen since 1992,” says Jennifer Madliwa Khumalo, the local chief’s wife.
The drought’s effects have been compounded by high HIV and AIDS prevalence rates in the district. There are many more orphans like Emmanuel.
Jennifer says that she is taking care of 15 orphans at her home.
“If we have poor harvests we find ourselves in a situation whereby we cannot give food support to those who were unfortunate and harvested nothing.
“The livestock has not been spared from the drought. Only last week three cows and a donkey from my herd died because of starvation and no water.”
World Vision Zimbabwe launched a feeding programme for vulnerable people in Nkayi District in October. Almost 58,000 people living in seven food insecure areas in the district are benefiting from the monthly ration of cereals and pulses.
Emmanuel and his grandmother are registered in the feeding programme.
World Vision Zimbabwe District Co-coordinator, Francis Madonko says, “This food has made a real difference in these people’s lives as most vulnerable families were relying on traditional fruits such as umkhemeswane for food.”
Emmanuel is relieved that he and his grandmother now have food each day, but the 11-year-old is worried about the future, and the promise made by his neighbour.
“It troubles me whether the villager whose cattle I herd will truly plough my grandmother’s fields.
“The animals are weak as there is no food and all the rivers and streams have dried up. I’m afraid they may die soon. And my dream of going to school will be shattered.
“I pray every day that it rains so that these cattle get water to drink and food to eat, because my future lies in these cattle ploughing grandmother’s field.”