Tryphine Chikabida lost her father when she was seven years old, then her house at age 12. But today, still just 14 years old, she is striving to persevere despite the considerable difficulties of life in Zimbabwe. Mercy Corps is connecting her to the help she needs to overcome the challenges thrown her way at such an early age.
Tryphine lives on the outskirts of Mutare, a sprawling city in eastern Zimbabwe that is the country's fourth-largest urban area. She said that life was once "rosy" for her and her family, because her father was employed and able to provide the food, school fees and housing to take care of the family. But illness took him in 2000, leaving Tryphine and her mother to fend for themselves in Zimbabwe's worsening economy.
They managed to make ends meet, living alongside hundreds of other poor families in Sakubva township, an agglomeration of makeshift houses and shelters on Mutare's periphery. Life wasn't easy there, a place teeming with migrants and street children, but they had a roof over their heads.
Then, in 2005, they lost even that small measure of security. Zimbabwe's government began carrying out Operation Murambatsvina - a local-language word that ignominiously means "drive out rubbish." Thousands of shantytowns on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's cities were bulldozed with little warning, leaving their already-poor residents with neither shelter nor anywhere else to turn.
The United Nations estimates that Operation Murambatsvina has affected at least 2.4 million people - including Tryphine and her mother, Juliet.
After their home was razed, Tryphine and her mother moved to the courtyard of a local bar. They did not have anywhere to go nor did she have the money to rent a room for her family.
Meanwhile, Tryphine was forced out of school because of inability to pay school fees and other related costs. In the last few days before she left, the school's mentor indicated that Tryphine's performance at school was poor - similar to other vulnerable children in the area, who often perform poorly at school due to stress, fatigue and hunger.
Rebuilding their lives
In 2006, after a visit to the area by Mercy Corps field staff, Tryphine was registered for the Mercy Corps Education program under the Joint Initiative for Urban Zimbabwe. Seven global humanitarian agencies, led by Mercy Corps, are working in Zimbabwe's cities to restore the dignity and reduce the suffering of 12,000 households. Mercy Corps oversees implementation of the project and also manages the project's educational component, which is directed at helping 1,400 orphans and vulnerable children.
Tryphine now receives a school fee waiver, which allows her to attend her school for two years. Her school receives textbooks, supplies and other material support. The addition of new textbooks, in particular, improved the quality of education at Tryphine's school: previously, up to 12 students in a class had to share a single textbook.
Tryphine is also a regular attendee at a Mercy Corps-funded support center in the neighborhood, where she receives counseling, homework tutoring and other services. Her mother, Juliet, has joined another program component, a savings-and-loan group. With training and other assistance, she recently opened a small vegetable stall and now brings in a steady family income.
Today, Tryphine is striding past the obstacles of the last several years. Juliet is ecstatic about the programs they have been able to access through Mercy Corps.
"Mercy Corps' intervention came at a time we had lost hope," Juliet says, thoughtfully. "The feeling that there are concerned people who use their precious time and resources to help the most disadvantaged members of the community raises hope and makes the world a better place for children to live in."