Churches in Bulawayo, a Christian non-governmental organisation, is running development projects in the city’s high-density suburbs, aimed at increasing the community’s resilience to disease and food shortages by improving nutrition and access to water.

The projects are run in partnership with the Bulawayo City Council. Speaking to last week the Chief Executive Officer of the faith-based organisation, Mr. Elphus Mpofu said that the projects began in 2008 when the country was facing economic crisis as a way of helping the community.

“In 2008, we partnered with the Bulawayo City Council and local community representatives. The city council provided land for urban agriculture, creating 20 community gardens, each of about 2,500 square metres. Each garden was divided into household plots where families could grow vegetables and medicinal herbs to boost their nutrition and health.”

The gardens were located close to water sources, like boreholes, that had been vandalised. A key aspect of the programme, therefore, was to restore the boreholes to working condition, to provide a ready supply of safe water for drinking and vegetable cultivation explained Mr.Mpofu. “We removed debris from 20 boreholes, flushed them out, and installed new pumps.”

Mr. Mpofu said all the effort involved local government, Churches in Bulawayo and the community who worked together at all stages, from planning to implementation. 20 local communities set up water point committees and each appointed three pump minders per borehole, who then received training in pump maintenance and repairs.

The beneficiaries were selected by councilors, resident’s association groups and Churches in Bulawayo representatives, with a focus on the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the population, including child-headed households, widows, orphans, and people living with HIV. “We provided the beneficiaries with initial training on vegetable gardening, and local councilors arranged for agricultural extension workers to provide support for the beneficiaries in each garden. The beneficiaries followed a permaculture approach, minimizing the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and using organic manure and pest controls instead” added Mr.Mpofu.

“The process was deliberately depoliticised, to prevent local politicians ‘owning’ the gardens, helping to ensure that the project’s sustainability did not depend on any individual’s patronage.”

Churches in Bulawayo was founded in 2005 by Church leaders in response to Operation Murambatsvina to help those who were the victims of political violence. The organisation is supported by an UK-based development NGO Tearfund.