In the wake of Cyclone Idai, Higherlife Foundation is doing its part, along with the rest of the Econet Group, to provide immediate relief and long-term recovery to the thousands of affected families. We caught up with Econet Chief of Staff Lovemore Nyatsine who has been on the ground in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, leading the group’s relief efforts.
- Can you describe to us some of the scenes you saw upon arrival in Chimanimani? What moved you the most?
Nothing could have prepared us for the devastation and sheer humanitarian crisis that met us upon arrival. As we drove into Chimanimani two weeks ago, sad faces greeted us along the roadside; and we could see the deep pain and loss in every person’s eyes. Our first stop was at the Skyline stabilisation camp , which was serving as an emergency medical centre for the injured. There we saw masses of people streaming in: some were brought in on stretchers, others walked in with less serious injuries. Many had come to the centre from as far as 20km away, looking for their missing family members. During those first 48 hours, we were still hopeful that those who were trapped or marooned would be rescued. Unfortunately those hopes died quickly as the hours stretched into days, with no sign or news of loved ones. In the midst of all the sadness, what struck me was that people were still able to smile and tell us their stories, and stories from the survivors are memories that will stay with me forever.
- We have heard many of the stories of loss and grief across the communities affected by Idai. In the midst of all of that, what gives you hope?
The communities truly have lost so much. Parents have lost their children. Children have lost their parents. Despite the gravity of the situation, I was inspired by the determination of these men and women – many who were wrestling with their own grief – to keep moving forward and contribute to the relief effort. All hands were on deck as the different players on the ground worked together to provide relief to as many people as possible. It was that collaborative effort that galvanized us and gave us a sense of hope, a sense of duty, that we could and should rise to the occasion and make a difference in this distressing time.
- The Econet group is mounting a massive response to support these communities. Can you share with us some of the work underway, both for short and the long-term?
Sure. Our response efforts will unfold over 6 phases:
Phase 1 was the Search and Rescue effort, targeting those most in need during the first critical 48 hours. So we did medical evacuations by helicopter, assisted by experts who came from South Africa to help us mount a speedy response and perform critical rescues and evacuations, particularly in the remote and difficult to reach areas where people were marooned.
Phase 2 is focused on Relief. People have lost virtually everything and some villages have been razed to the ground, or completely cut off from communication. Our priority has been to deliver food and clean water to these communities, using the warehouse and distribution centre we established at Silverstream. This center has become the focal point for all relief groups operating in the area. To date we’ve made 160 trips to 47 areas to distribute food, and we also brought in a 30000 litres bowser to supply clean water. We have 10 trucks delivering food every single day up to 70 tonnes per day. In addition we have tractors that are also mounted with bowsers to deliver clean water.
Phase 3 focuses on Recovery. A lot of bodies were buried in the mudslides or washed away as far as Mozambique. We feel it is essential to give our people a dignified burial and most importantly to provide the survivors with a sense of closure. We are working with Ecosure to donate coffins where needed, and we have also mobilised 16 rescue specialists who brought sniffer dogs to aid in the retrieval of dead bodies. We are also using our databases at Econet to help in the identification of bodies that have been washed away into Mozambique, so they can be returned to Zimbabwe for a proper burial. We are also bringing in a highly specialised team from Israel that can help with advanced DNA matching techniques to help with exhumations and repatriation of bodies from Mozambique.
Phase 4 is a Cleanup exercise led by our own ThisIsMyHome volunteers who came to the forefront during the cholera outbreak in 2018, through the Arise and Shine Clean Up Campaign. Today as we speak we have 400 volunteers on the ground, helping clean up debris and fix broken roads. The communities are joining us in these cleanup efforts; we believe this exercise will both galvanize the community into action and serve as a therapeutic exercise. Therapeutic in the sense that the frustration, grief and other pent up emotions people are holding on to will hopefully be released, helping enable a sense of closure. It’s more than cleaning up physically, it’s also a mental clean up; engaging hearts and minds for a fresh start and laying the foundation for the fifth phase – Reboot and Build Better.
Phase 5 is the Reboot and Build Better phase. We will rebuild these affected communities – focusing on homes and businesses – enabling them to be stronger and more resilient in the future. Together with other Corporates across Zimbabwe we have launched the Reboot and Built Better fund, with USD $10 million committed so far from the Econet Group towards this effort.The fund running under the theme; ‘if not now, then when, if not you, then who?” is an initiative which is meant to complement Government in the restoration of services in Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland East. We hope the fund will unlock 100 million in funding from Corporates across Zimbabwe to support this effort. At the launch of the Reboot Fund, Higherlife Foundation, pledged $10 million through its CEO Dr Kennedy Mubaiwa.
Lastly, Phase 6 is about ReImagining Future. Earlier this year, our Chairman announced a $100m investment fund that aims to support rural entrepreneurs across Zimbabwe. Part of this effort will include the activation of mini-grids in Chimanimani, spearheaded by Ugesi Energy. 10 mini solar grids will be strategically placed across the region, in line with our Reimagine Rural vision to provide electrification in our rural areas. Entrepreneurs need reliable power if they are to build modern and sustainable businesses, thus the Ugesi Energy initiative, along with other efforts that we are launching will all work together to reinvigorate and rejuvenate our rural areas which are so critical to our nation’s future.
- Any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
The work we are doing in these communities, is really the work of the heart. People are engaging wholeheartedly with their hearts and not their heads, and there’s been amazing commitment and collaboration coming from across the entire Econet Group. We have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to really make a difference and help these communities in a situation that nobody would ever want to befall upon them. I say to myself: If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?