In late March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic closed the doors of every business in Victoria Falls overnight as the Government of Zimbabwe instituted a nationwide full lockdown. As a town of 35 000 people based almost completely on tourism, we realised that we would need to change the focus of Jafuta to community COVID-19 relief and that we would need to work hand in hand with all other local NGOs, governmental bodies and private business.
On the 21st March 2020, it was resolved by the Hwange District Ministry of Health and Child Care Acting DMO Dr Fungai Mvura, Hon Godfrey Dube MP Hwange West, various local government bodies, the Municipality and Council of Victoria Falls, local business owners, associations, locally based NGOs and NPOs and concerned citizens to form a united group to fight the threat of COVID19. The Victoria Falls COVID19 Taskforce therefore came into being.
The immediate concern of the group was to set up a COVID-19 treatment centre, as no such facility existed at the time in the country. Of equal importance was the need to have food banks ready as we foresaw food issues. Vital information on prevention and treatment needed to be distributed and plans made to assist returning Zimbabweans who would be quarantined in the town. Taskforce sub groups were created and the entire population of Victoria Falls came together to fight the effects of the pandemic.
Mass layoffs across the tourism industry quickly began and soon it was estimated that up to 80% of the workforce was unemployed. In a world totally unprepared for a mass pandemic, we were very much on our own and knew we had become our brother's keepers.
All of these things would need large amounts of funding so, as a group, we set about appealing to anyone we could reach for assistance through social media, crowd funding, WhatsApp groups and direct appeals, as well as appealing for physical and expertise donations. So many wonderful donors answered the call from $5 to $100 000, along with builders, medical experts, translators, chefs and religious leaders to name a few. The scale of what was achieved over the next 10 months was quite astounding, all thanks to the incredible support of the residents and the wonderfully generous friends of Victoria Falls. To read an in-depth report of achievements to the end of January 2021, please download the PDF link to a full report. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who made this possible and we cannot thank every person enough.
"Together We Can" became our very apt motto.
In a brief summary, the following was achieved:
To follow the daily journeys, please take a look at the social media platforms set up:
We are still battling the effects of COVID-19. Victoria Falls as a community was targeted as being an essential group to vaccinate by the Government of Zimbabwe as the tourism industry had collapsed, so a mass vaccination program was undertaken to allow the area to open under special tourism lockdown rules. It is estimated that 67% of the adult population is now vaccinated. This has provided much relief and lessening of symptoms but sadly cases still increase with the Delta variation prevalent in the current third wave.
Jafuta has undertaken to continue to support the incredibly hardworking and dedicated medical teams and provides essential oxygen and medication supplies to the Treatment Centre, assisted by community donations. Residents continue to supply the medical team with a daily meal as a thank you for the massive task they undertake daily, working many hours of overtime to save lives. There have been deaths, but we have maintained the lowest death rate in the country and we now receive patients from nearby towns such as Hwange needing assistance.
Tourism is returning very slowly and fluctuates as new variants and waves rock the world. We continue in a small way to assist with food donations where possible through the Pastor's Association and would very much wish to do more. World Vision has been on the ground since October 2020, distributing a monthly amount to families in an effort to assist with food relief and to stimulate small economies and we cannot thank them and W.F.P. enough. USAID is assisting lactating mothers with children up to the age of 18 months with food packs, again with grateful thanks from our community. The pandemic is far from over as we are still in lockdown, but we have hope, thanks to the lifeline extended by our wonderful donors and we now focus on rebuilding our community and equipping the many unemployed with new skills for job creation. Just as importantly we are developing online learning platforms to try to get the children of Victoria Falls back to school, to have a hope of a future.