Bopoma Villages is a faith-based organization providing clean water, food security, and orphan care in Zimbabwe. Strengthening a community strengthens families within it, and this organization is able to provide direct and indirect care for orphans and vulnerable children within their communities and families.
Bopoma Villages works in 10 villages in or just outside of Zaka, a rural area of Zimbabwe. Unemployment in this area is estimated to be over 80%. Many children and families lack the most basic necessities and live in severe deprivation. Child-headed households and those headed by elderly grandmothers are common.
Bopoma Villages works in partnership with a local charitable trust called Bopoma Village Trust, which is overseen by a local Board of Trustees. Together, they work to help strengthen and support local families in a variety of ways. In addition to ensuring access to clean water, they help enable families to feed their children healthy food by offering training in nutrition and organic farming, as well as assistance with developing community and individual “keyhole” gardens (small, elevated vegetable garden beds that are highly productive, easily maintained, and can be constructed almost anywhere).
The work of Bopoma Villages is supported by a team of local volunteers chosen by their community to serve as care facilitators. These individuals are often caregivers of their own children as well as orphaned relatives. “Our care facilitators are the link between Bopoma Villages and the families in the community caring for orphans,” say Randy and Natalie Watson, Founders and Directors, Bopoma Villages. “They know their communities best and are in the best position to identify the families that have the greatest and most urgent needs.”
The caregivers make regular visits to families in their villages that are caring for orphaned and vulnerable children to offer support and identify those with the greatest needs. They offer support such as physical care, food, counseling and links to resources in the community (ie: HIV/AIDS testing or obtaining a birth certificate). They also help with the construction and maintenance of community and keyhole gardens.
Elsa Munyaka is the social worker that oversees the care facilitators. She is from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Although she is only in her early twenties, the Bopoma Villages team says she is wise, spiritually discerning, and capable beyond her years. She works with another member of the orphan care team, Epiphania, a woman who has years of volunteer experience with children and is known in the community as Mama Epi. These women make a dynamic team and they travel from village to village together, often spending the entire day out on foot.
The care facilitators produce a monthly report to Elsa, identifying the children at greatest risk in their communities. She then visits those children and their families and provides assistance such as counseling, emergency food aid, clothing, and blankets. She also ensures that these families are involved in the community garden and are given priority for receiving a water filter and assistance developing a keyhole garden.
Elsa has also organized caregiver support groups in each of these villages that she meets with monthly to develop strategies to meet the needs of the children in their care. Some of the topics they discuss include: how to manage with very limited resources, conflict resolution, child abuse and neglect, health and nutrition, and parenting skills. She also meets with the children in each village to identify those who require additional assistance or counseling as well as to play games and discuss issues together.
In these rural Zimbabwean communities, there is no lack of desire to care for the most vulnerable and orphaned children. “We have been impressed and impacted by the care many grandmothers and aunties provide for orphaned children when they can hardly provide for themselves and their own children,” says Natalie Watson. “We support and increase the capacity of these grandmothers, aunties, and others to care for orphaned relatives.”
By providing nutritious food, clean water, and good hygiene, these communities enable children to flourish. Training families to grow their own food not only builds capacity, but also dignity and hope for a brighter future. Providing caregivers and children with emotional support and strategies for parenting, strengthens their ability to overcome the daily challenges. “Communities that work together to support their most vulnerable members” says Watson, “replace despair with hope, vulnerability with resilience, and isolation with belonging.”