A nurse Chipo Janu, (not her real name), attached to Highfields Polyclinic, broke down and wept uncontrollably after receiving a few hand-outs from her colleagues.
The small hamper included toiletries and basic foodstuff to take her through a few days.
For three weeks she has been surviving on “unhealthy takeaways” from a nearby backyard canteen after she was thrown out of her rented one-room apartment.
This was after the Highfield community shut her out because of her son, Tafadzwa (29) who has been entangled in a drug abuse mess.
The issue of drug abuse in Zimbabwe continues to grow with some young people now making backyard concoctions using diapers and other substances as intoxicants.
Drug rehabilitation centres are full, and unable to cope with rising demand to accommodate new patients. The centres are estimated to be holding or treating about 5,000 people at any time, with tens of thousands of others either not coming forward for, or getting any assistance.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) 2019 report, Zimbabwe has the highest rate of 15 to 19-year-olds engaging in heavy “episodic drinking” in Africa, with 70.7 percent of males and 55.5 percent of females participating.
Janu’s son is currently admitted at a rehabilitation centre which is gobbling up all of his mother’s earnings.
These are struggles affecting most parents with children like Tafadzwa.
After Janu was thrown out, her employer, Harare City Health got the wind of it and rushed to remove her belongings from the roadside to avoid embarrassment.
Her household property was dumped in a veranda at Highfields Poly clinic which has been her home for the past four weeks.
The property has become a home for stray cats, flies and mosquitoes while it is blocking the way to another office which has seen some of her colleagues nagging her to remove the staff so that they can get entry into that office.
When Newzimbabwe.com visited the clinic, it observed that Janu had no place to sleep and was using another room packed with medical sundries as her bedroom.
The family health nurse sleeps on the floor, with a tattered dirty foam rubber mattress shielding her from the coldness of the cement floors.
She uses a public toilet used by patients at the clinic and this, she says has “degraded and traumatised her.
“Life has become so difficult for me and these past days have been a nightmare. I have been having insomnia episodes and I barely eat. I have lost a lot of weight and my mind is in turmoil. I pray I will get a lasting solution to my situation,” she said in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com.
How she got there
Janu says the main problem has been her son who is well-known in the area for drug abuse.
It is however her confession that the son never had altercations with neighbours and members of the community although they decided to shut her out.
“He would have confrontations with me. At one time he broke a window while trying to attack me. He has sold a lot of my property so that he can buy drugs.
“I would leave him with my grandchildren but I never heard any complaints. The only issue I can complain about is that he would sell my household property.”
The situation has made it difficult for her to get a place to stay in the suburb.
Janu once moved to her mother’s place but was also thrown out after upgrading the family house.
“My relatives also complained about my son and alleged that he would take over my mother’s properties because I had developed the house. This is how I ended up moving to Highfield where I stayed in one room with my son and two grandchildren before the landlord threw me out.
“Currently, my grandchildren are staying with my daughter’s friend and I’m worried about them,’ she said.
“I have sacrificed my salary on the rehabilitation of my son which leaves me with nothing in my pocket.”
The nurse is paying US$800 towards the rehabilitation of her son per month.
She prays that her employer avails her residential stand, already paid for since she has become an outcast in the community.
“I wish I could have a place of my own so that I won’t have to bother my neighbours and people in the community,” she said.
Simbarashe Tafirenyika, the president of the Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Union (ZURCNU), urged the employer to give the nurse a place to live.
He said things would have been better for Janu if she had her own property.
According to Tafirenyika, nurses were not paid in 2016 and the employer promised them stands to cover up for the arrears but they are still waiting seven years later.
“In 2016, we never received our salaries and the council came up with the idea of offering us stands but to date, we haven’t received anything.
“We are still waiting for these residential stands.”
He said many are in similar or worse situations.
“This is giving the city of Harare a bad image and we always tell the city of Harare management that you must always feel for your workers because we know corruption is rampant,” he said.
“What we need is just for her to be allocated her stand because she has already paid for it,” he said.
“We visited her so that we could give her social support and we implore the employer to pay these workers so that they can actually pay their rent. They need food on their table, they need transport, they also have extended families who they want to look after.
Contacted for a comment, Harare City Health director Prosper Chonzi said his office was still looking into Janu’s situation.
Despite the hardships she is going through, Janu says she loves and would always prioritise her job.
A proud and dedicated nurse, Janu had always believed that her profession was a calling.
She said she has always been passionate about helping people.
However, her life had taken a turn for the worse in the last few months and she found herself struggling to make ends meet.
Janu has been a nurse for over a decade working for the city health initially as a midwife.
At first, Janu thought it was just a temporary glitch. However, as days have turned into weeks she fears things may not get better anytime soon.
She is still working at the hospital, hoping that her employer will eventually help her have an alternative accommodation.
Her story is a reminder of the struggles parents with children who abuse substances face.
“She is not the only one in this situation, we have had many similar cases and for now we are pushing for her to be given temporary accommodation at any of the city health properties while the employers sort out her stand issue. We want to make sure that she is prioritised,” said Tafirenyika.