In the Shadow of the Pandemic

Lockdown began in Zimbabwe on 30 March 2020, and a few days before the Zimbabwean government conducted roundups of street children to remove them from the streets. Since lockdown began, young people remaining on the streets have been struggling to survive in a country where two-thirds of people live in poverty.

Growing up on the Streets research project has been working with Street Empowerment Trust (SET) and a network of street youth there since 2012; we knew how hard conditions were there under normal circumstances, how much harder would it be under COVID-19 lockdown?

Thankfully, as part of the legacy of Growing up on the Streets, some funds were available from Backstage Trust which enabled an exciting project: an online story map co-created with street children and youth.

In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Harare’s Street Youth Experience COVID-19 is now freely available online: https://arcg.is/1q4WvH

Shaibu Chitsiku, from Street Empowerment Trust and Harare project manager for Growing up on the Streets worked with street youth, many of whom have been involved in the project since 2012. In the UK, Janine Hunter at the University of Dundee (which provided ethical approval for the project as well as the licenced web application) edited the visual data and context detail to create the story map using the ArcGIS StoryMaps.

In Harare, gathering the visual data for the story map by chance took place alongside the distribution of essentials for young people to help survive the COVID-19 lockdown, thanks to a donation through StreetInvest. SET, with help from street youth Ralph and Mathew, took food, washable masks, sanitizer and advice to street children and youth living in hideouts and alleyways across the city.

We know from the data we have gathered through Growing up on the Streets that in the past in Harare young people might have sold on donations, simply because they have nowhere safe to store items. Shaibu, however, is convinced that this will not happen this time: “The streets of Harare are very quiet; there is nowhere to find food, except in bins, so the young people were very happy to be provided with some essentials to help them survive.”

Filming for the story map was chiefly by six street youth; Arnold, Mathew, Ndirege, Nixon, Ralph and Yeukai. Eighteen further participants feature in the short films and photographs – which cover six areas highlighted by the participants; such as keeping safe, hunger, and shelter. It is dedicated to the memory of Blessing, a research assistant for Growing up on the Streets from 2012-18 who died during lockdown; he had been due to work on the story map.

The team were anxious that the lockdown experiences of young women as well as young men would also be told; ‘Mai Future’s story’ recounts a young woman’s experience – she has been left a single parent when abandoned by her partner, who lost his income due to the COVID-19 lockdown. She is pregnant – hence the ‘Future’ nickname. Sadly her future is now far more uncertain in the shadow of the pandemic.

Mada, was filmed by her friend Yeukai talking about collecting plastics – an important source of income for young women and men in Harare – which earns them less than half a pence (GBP) per kilo.

The films are available on YouTube on the Growing up on the Streets channel. The visual data was collected over two weeks in late May and June, followed by the app’s creation in the UK. After seeing the final result, Shaibu said: “I participated in the collection of the pictures and videos, so I obviously have more information about the happenings and context; however, the story moved me, even though I was there when it was created. My verdict is ‘bolato’! (It’s great!)”

By Janine Hunter, Researcher for Growing up on the Streets at the University of Dundee, UK

The story map was made by Growing up on the Streets:

Participants and visual creators: Arnold, Claude, Denford, Fatso, Fungai, Henzo, Jojo, Jonso, Jude, Mada, Madnax, Mai ‘Future’, Mathew, Mavhuto, Ndirege, Nixon, Ralph, Ranga, Tarwirei, Taurai, Tobias, Tonderai, Yeukai, Zviko.

Project Manager, Harare: Shaibu Chitsiku, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Story map editing, construction: Janine Hunter, Geography, University of Dundee, UK.

Film editing, subtitles Victor Maunzeni, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Directors of Growing up on the Streets: Professor Lorraine van Blerk, University of Dundee, UK; Dr Wayne Shand, EDP Associates, UK; and the late Fr Patrick Shanahan, StreetInvest.

Growing up on the Streets funded by Backstage Trust, UK.