APOSTOLIC WOMEN EMPOWEREMENT TRUST AND SHURUGWI TOWN COUNCIL UNITE AGAINST COVID 19.
On the 9th of February 2021 the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust which was founded in 2016 donated disinfections to Shurugwi Town Council in an effort to fight Covid 19.They also donated 5liters of disinfections, 6 hats, 6 t-shirts and 10 boxes of soap each to WARD5, 7 and 10.The donations were officially handed to Shurugwi Town Council and 6 representatives of WARD 5, 7 and 10.
Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust has been active in 27 District of Zimbabwe including Shurugwi District, mainly responding to Covid 19 Gender Based Violence. The current Covid 19 Activities they are holding across the country are founded by UNICEF. The main objective of the current Covid 19 program is mainly advocacy for adherence to Covid 19 regulations so as to reduce the spread of Covid 19.These objectives include the following:
Staying at home
Washing of hands
Commenting on the issue Shurugwi Mayor Cllr W.Gwinji cited that residents should stay safe and fight Covid 19
International Women’s Day: Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow
This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) was tainted by the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET), which received support from UNICEF as part of the Global Spotlight Initiative. As the world celebrates women, eight districts throughout Zimbabwe turn orange.
My Future My right: Child marriage rise among the Apostolic Community
As more children turn 15 years old, most of their parents or guardian are struggling through thick forests and grasslands. With the coming of the pandemic and trying to make ends most families of the income is no longer viable.
After delivering 7 babies at home and suffering a miscarriage, Maria is now an advocate for safer deliveries at health facilities.
Maria Zhangazha, a 36-year-old mother of eight, quivers as she recalls how a failed home birth resulted in a miscarriage that almost killed her due to excessive bleeding.
From the town of Shamva in Mashonaland Central Province, she explains how she fainted due to bleeding and the grief and anxiety that followed the traumatic experience.
“Delivering a baby at home can be a life-threatening experience for many women like us hindered from accessing safe delivery services due to our religious beliefs,” shared Maria who is a member of an apostolic religious sect that often refuse medical treatment of any kind, even in the most severe cases of injury or illness.
Maria, like most women from her religious sect had never experienced a safe facility delivery.
“I delivered my seven children at home with the assistance of traditional birth attendants. This is normal for us who belong to my church (apostolic faith). In 2018, I suffered a miscarriage for my eighth pregnancy and that almost claimed my life,” Maria said.
The trauma she suffered following the miscarriage changed her mind about home delivery.
However, two years after the miscarriage, she conceived again: “I was stressed and often imagined that I would die and leave my other children.”
Thanks to the UNICEF trained Village Health Workers now embedded within her apostolic community who have helped in increasing knowledge and awareness on Maternal Neonatal Child Health (MNCH) and social issues, she felt compelled and received an early antenatal booking at a healthcare facility.
“The Village Health Workers selected from within our religious sect came to our community and shared the benefits of early antenatal bookings and facility deliveries with us, specifically on safe delivery and childcare, hearing the message from one of our own ,I felt empowered and confident to make decisions about my sexual reproductive health” Maria added.
She visited her local clinic for antenatal care, for the first time and received counselling.
With the presence of qualified and experienced birth attendants and health workers, safe deliveries are now possible for mothers like Maria, who were among the 7,659 pregnant women reached with the VHWs health education activities in Mashonaland Central last year.
“When I was nearing my expected delivery date, my husband took me to Shamva town together with my youngest two-year-old children to stay with his sister close to the hospital. He was also worried considering my previous delivery. He kept praying for me and the baby,” stated Maria.
‘‘I became motivated after my first delivery experience at the health facility and made regular visits, to ensure that all my children get other services such as vaccinations, which my other seven children did not get before,” she added.
Maria is now an active advocate for young women within the apostolic sect to register early for antenatal care, to deliver their babies in the facility, and to access healthcare services to keep their families safe from diseases.
“I feel happy that my child is healthy. The services are good at the hospital. At home I would deliver on a dirty sack, the traditional birth attendants would use unsterilized razor blades and thread. This time I had all the support from the nurses, and I felt at ease compared to what I used to do while delivering at home.”
Maria is now urging women to stop the risky and potentially harmful practices and visit health facilities to avoid unwanted outcomes. She is one of the thousands of women who were supported by UNICEF with support from The Australian Government and the Health Development Fund (HDF), which is funded by the EU, UK Aid, Sweden, Irish Aid, Gavi and
Shamva District Community Health Nurse, Netty Nelson said that UNICEF is working with health facilities in Mashonaland Central and across the country for better quality health care services.
“The programme helps improve facilities, train the health workers, and provides essential medicines and medical supplies,” he said.
One of UNICEF’s key partners – the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET) is providing support through engaging hesitant communities to address social norms that hinder young women and girls from the uptake of MNCH services for young women. It is also working on changing behaviours in Apostolic communities around COVID-19 prevention as well as prevention of Gender-Based Violence.
“Before AWET came here a lot of people did not understand COVID-19 and the measures they can take to prevent it.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in rural Mashonaland West, councillor Bernard Chidhakwa feared for the worst.
Chidhakwa, as a community leader in the Magunje area, is compelled to attend gatherings such as funerals and says he was always alarmed about lack of awareness about the disease.
In most Zimbabwean cultures as soon as death is announced friends and relatives pour into the bereaved family’s home.
A typical funeral can attract as many as 500 people and can stretch for several days.
There is a lot of singing and dancing in memory of the dead with mourners staying at the homestead until after the burial.
When the government first introduced a national lockdown to stop the spread of the pandemic, the number of people who can attend funerals was capped at 30, but in remote areas the regulations were seldom adhered to.
“People, especially at funerals, were not observing regulations to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as wearing of face masks, social distancing and washing of hands,” Chidhakwa said.
“There were even shocking incidents where people coming from other areas to bury their relatives, who died of COVID-19, will demand to see their bodies contrary to advice by health authorities.
“We had cases where people were arrested for opening coffins of their relatives who would have died of COVID-19 as they did not understand why there was no body viewing.”
But Chidhakwa says attitudes in the community changed dramatically after the Apostolic Women Empower Trust (AWET) started deploying behaviour change facilitators (BCFs) drawn from diverse faiths to raise awareness about the disease.
AWET, supported by UNICEF with funding from the Health Development Fund (HDF), is complementing the work done by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in fighting the pandemic at the grassroots level in 52 districts.
“Thanks to AWET and its partners we now feel safer,” Chidhakwa said.
“Before AWET came here a lot of people did not understand COVID-19 and the measures they can take to prevent it, but now there is a lot of awareness.
The councillor said he was organising mobile vaccination teams to visit his ward to bring the services closer for the elderly and for people living with disabilities.
Adaptations to community and religious gatherings
Headman Rangwani Rangwani, also from Magunje, said people now appreciated that they can still mourn their loved ones without taking part in large gatherings.
“Funerals were our biggest headache because everyone wanted to gather in one place as per our traditions,” Rangwani said.
“The awareness campaigns by AWET have helped our people understand the importance of protecting themselves through social distancing, washing of hands and sanitising.”
Ephat Machokoto, a leader at the Zion Apostolic Church (1923) in Karoi, said they had to introduce a lot of changes in the way they organised their services after community engagements with AWET.
“Traditionally, we sing and dance a lot during our services and for proper voice coordination we have to be close to each other, but after our interactions with the BCFs we have changed the way we do things,” Machokoto said.
“We now organise ourselves in a way that there is social distancing during church services and we observe other measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The church leader said he also had to lead by example in becoming one of the first people in the community to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We got a lot of information about COVID-19 from AWET and village health workers and I felt it was prudent to get vaccinated and also to encourage our church members to enrol for the vaccination programme so that we can feel safer when we come to church,” Machokoto added.
AWET is targeting community leaders as influencers in shaping individual behaviour and shifting practices that can increase COVID-19 transmission such as traditional gatherings.
Sharon Chiringa, the AWET focal person in Hurungwe, said they had deployed BCFs in 36 rural wards and six urban wards.
“These people are drawn from the local communities and are from diverse faiths,” Chiringa said.
Following the national roll out of the vaccination programme, the BCFs have been actively involved in increasing community knowledge and building vaccine acceptance.
Chiringa added: “We had a lot of traditional churches that were against COVID-19 vaccination because of their doctrines, but we are now seeing their leaders coming forward to seek assistance because of our awareness programmes”.
Covid-19 has not deterred many individuals from returning to their rural homes for the Christmas and New Year Vacations. Despite the epidemic, travel to rural households increased throughout the December festive season in Zimbabwe.