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Uncle Bravo and his team of children grow food for the poor amid Zimbabwe lockdown

Uncle Bravo and his team of children grow food for the poor amid Zimbabwe lockdown
Mbare kids and Uncle Bravo. Photo: Fazila Mahomed.

Coming from one of the oldest and most impoverished townships, Mbare in Harare, Uncle Bravo has for more than two decades worked on various community development projects, including children’s music concerts, teaching music, arts, mental health training and now the children’s community garden.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Many Zimbabweans grappled with adjusting to the first Covid-19 lockdown back in March 2020, but Kurai Tinoziva Mukaro volunteered to teach school syllabuses and music lessons to young children in his neighbourhood for free when schools were closed.

Mukaro mobilised the more than 70 primary school children from his classes to clear mountains of garbage at a community soccer field and to grow vegetables while keeping the environment clean.

Known in his community as “Uncle Bravo”, Mukaro and his pack now distribute fresh produce from their community garden project to vulnerable and elderly people in the area.

Realising the great need for sustainable food sources in the growing and predominantly poor urban population, Mukaro extended the community garden project to at least 100 households.

“Raising young responsible urban farmers for tomorrow is one of my biggest dreams. We are always going to need food, especially now that we are under lockdown with virtually nothing to eat, no money, but [with] soil and water,” Mukaro told DM168.

Coming from one of the oldest and most impoverished townships, Mbare in Harare, Uncle Bravo has for more than two decades worked on various community development projects, including children’s music concerts, teaching music, arts, mental health training and now the children’s community garden. He has also worked with more than 30 Early Childhood Development centres in Harare to nurture artistic talent.

Zimbabwe entered its first Covid-19 lockdown just a few months after the government put out an international plea for emergency food aid. More than 60% of the country was food-insecure because of the El Niño drought phenomenon and economic hardship.

“Even as many poor people seriously need food handouts during this lockdown, I personally believe that children should not grow up expecting only to receive but must learn to give,” explained Mukaro.

Supported by a local NGO, Frontlinezw, Mukaro and his team of energetic young children – from three to 13 years old – have planted more than 5,000 vegetable seedlings, including lettuce, beetroot, red cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, culinary herbs and common brassicas such as covo and rape.

Speaking to DM168, Frontlinezw Communications Officer Cornelius Tanunurwa said: “No doubt Uncle Bravo has got an amazingly beautiful hand for young children. We came in to assist with seedlings, but he helps them with just about everything – school, music, discipline and now gardening.

Uncle Bravo at Mbare with kids during seedling collection day. Photo: Fazila Mahomed.

“We are always happy to work with him and hope that he inspires other communities with such great work. It will be hard to find a replica of him, but I’m sure others can learn the power of coming together as communities to survive and, more importantly, be brave to collectively face problems such as in the current Covid-19 situation,” said Chengetai Guta, Frontlinezw’s sustainability co-ordinator.

Such is the power of the silent message transmitted by Uncle Bravo and his team of young gardeners that no one touches the unfenced vegetable gardens, even though they are not guarded during the night. This is a sign of how much respect and participation Mukaro gets from the community for the work he does.

One of the beneficiaries from the Mbare community, 88-year-old widow Kanyemba Chinamhora, told DM168: “These children touch my heart and I’m reminded of when I was their age. We were taught to respect and help our elders even if not related to them. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. God bless them and everyone behind this.”

Dumpsite turned into a vegetable garden with a borehole. Photo: Fazila Mahomed.

The parents of children who are involved in the community garden project are now also growing vegetables for their homes to sustain themselves, under the close supervision of Uncle Bravo and his young team.

“We discovered that many families were struggling to make ends meet because of the high unemployment rate in the country, compounded by this lockdown. A lot of them have never experienced being in a limited space. As a result, many children and adults alike have become victims of verbal and physical abuse, but the community gardening project has delivered hope to them,” said Mukaro.

Zimbabwe is currently under an indefinite lockdown that began on 5 January 2020, following an unprecedentedly ruthless second wave of coronavirus infections, which has so far claimed *917 people, including high-ranking government officials.

According to the Ministry of Health and Childcare’s official statistics of 26 January, Zimbabwe had 32,004 confirmed cases, including 23,413 recoveries and 1,103 deaths.

The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in many societies around the globe, but, for the Mbare community, Uncle Bravo and his pack, a special memory of the birth of a community garden may go some way towards consoling their broken hearts into the sustainable future. DM168 

*This figure now stands at 1410 people, as at 16 February 2021. 

Disclosure: Fazila Mahomed and fellow journalists working in Zimbabwe founded Frontlinezw during the first lockdown in March 2020. Seeing the need for PPE and basic food supplies to vulnerable and poor families, the group took to crowdsourcing under the #CitizensInitiative on their Twitter handle @FrontlineZw. Realising the need for continuity, Frontlinezw joined Uncle Bravo to facilitate a community garden initiative, which has benefited more than 100 households in Mbare.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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