By Mary Taruvinga
AT the height of a ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, when many lost their sources of income after government introduced containment measures to curb the disease, monthly stipends disbursed by UNICEF were a shot in the arm.
The Emergency Social Cash Transfer (ESCT) was implemented by UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and World Vision with financial support from the Government of Germany through the Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (KfW) Development Bank.
The programme targeted urban domains and was piloted in two districts, Gutu and Highfields before spreading to six districts, Beitbridge Urban, Bulawayo Metropolitan, Lupane Urban, Binga Urban, Mufakose Urban and Chitungwiza.
Beneficiaries who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com during a recent media tour said the programme has improved their livelihoods.
Soneni Ncube (38) from Lupane said she can now put food on her table and send her children to school.
Ncube and many others have started businesses using the money and she is now a shop owner.
“Now I can provide for my children and also and also take care of my extended family. The programme has stopped but left me in a better place and I am forever grateful,” she said.
A total of 25 000 households and 113 000 individuals have benefited from the programme.
In Lupane the programme supported 394 households while there were 637 households benefiting in Binga.
Deputy Director of Family and Social Protection, in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Joseph Tirivavi said the ESCT was meant to cushion vulnerable groups and households that had lost their source of income during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It targeted vulnerable households which are food poor, Labour constraint households which are households with no person aged 19 to 59 years of age who is able bodied to do productive work so as to fend for the household.”
He said the ESCT is part of the main program which is the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer.
According to Tirivavi, the labour constraint categories include child-headed, elderly-headed households as well as households with chronically ill or disabled members.
There is also another facility known as the Cash Plus component.
These are additional services to cash for example the nutrition component cushioning pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under two years provided they are in vulnerable households.
However, the two programmes have been temporarily put on hold and are in the last transition phases for continued support under the government Harmonised Social Cash Transfer (HSCT) programme, threatening to throw the lives of beneficiaries into a tailspin.
Meanwhile, life has become a constant uphill battle for Rumbidzai Muvengwa (32) a mother to five children from Lupane after the programme was temporarily halted.
Her husband left the family due of poverty, leaving her to provide for their five children on her own.
To make matters worse, Muvengwa only learned she was carrying their fifth child after the husband had left.
Before her husband left her, she was under the ESCT program.
Muvengwa told Newzimbabwe.com that she would receive a US$48 monthly allowance and for someone coming from a less privileged background, the money was enough to cover her basic expenses and support the same husband who ditched her after the programme was adjourned in the interim.
“I struggled to make ends meet before I joined the programme but my life drastically changed when I was included in the Emergency Social Cash Transfer(ESCT) program.
“Previously we struggled to have a single meal per day and would sometimes sleep on empty stomachs but it became a thing of the past when I started receiving cash. I was also able to send my children to school and pay my rent,” said Muvengwa.
Muvengwa lost accommodation and lived in the bush for some time before a good Samaritan offered her a place to stay at her unfinished house.
“Now life has become tough. After the project was withdrawn, I was thrown out of my rented house and started living in the bush with my five children until a well-wisher took me to this place.
“She had to put plastic in place of a roof so that my children could find a place to sleep. I pray that the programme resumes because it worked well for me,” she said.
Georgina Siamwana (68) of Intale Fishing Camp in Binga was another beneficiary who received US$39 entitlements for three members.
She said the ESCT program has really brought a positive impact in her home as she can now provide for her grandchild.
Siamwana has also received training from the Women’s Affairs ministry and received a donation of US$100 from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare which has helped a lot in securing a balanced diet for her granddaughter.
Although they have not started receiving support, the beneficiaries of the ESCT programme have been transitioned to the government’s HSCT programme for continued support.
Andrew Kardan, Unicef Zimbabwe’s Social Policy manager said they are happy with the outcome of the project.
“We are happy to note that the program had good outcomes and from the benefits received some households went beyond buying food and supported their children’s education through paying school fees, some also used the money received to pay for medical bills.
“We also witnessed some good initiatives from some benefiting households saving some of their benefits to start up livelihood projects through Mukando which is very commendable.
He said the ESCT programme in 2023 is extending to five rural districts of Mudzi Rushinga Makoni Binga and Mangwe supporting the government to re-target beneficiaries under the HSCT programme and giving them cash transfers for 6 months before they are handed over to government for continued support.