Thirty year old Brenda Sakala is one those identified as a beneficiary: she is a single mother and she is HIV positive.
Ms Sakala is divorced and has an eight-year old daughter, Dexter Mwenda. She lives with her mother who is a widow, her two sisters and five orphans who are her late brother's children. Brenda says she went as far as Grade Seven in school.. "I had to stop when I failed to make it to Grade Eight", she explains with a wistful look in her eyes. "Shortly after that I met a young man who wanted to marry me. I was not in school so I agreed to get married in 1992. It seemed like a good idea at the time." Unfortunately the marriage lasted only four years and in 1996, they went their separate ways.
After the divorce Brenda and her daughter went to live with her mother. She says Dexter's father has never given any kind of support to his daughter. "He would not even recognize her today because ever since we divorced he has never set his eyes on her. It is like she was never even born. If it were not for the food rations we receive, I do not know what I would feed the child on," cries Brenda.
Even though she vowed never to have anything to do with men after her divorce, she fell in love with another man and in 1998 she had a son with him. The child only lived for a year and then died from chest complications. In 2000, she had another child with another man, and this child suffered the same fate as his older brother.
"At that time I never dreamt that there could be anything wrong with me. I just thought someone was bewitching my babies," Brenda says. Shortly afterwards, her own health deteriorated. She had to visit the local Rural Health Centre constantly. Finally last year she decided to get tested for HIV. No one advised her to get tested but she felt she had to know what the problem was. She tested HIV positive.
"I was devastated but after a number of counseling sessions I accepted the result," says Brenda. "Right now my main worry is staying alive for as long as possible. I have learnt from my counseling sessions not to blame anyone. The nutrition monitors from C-SAFE have told me that I must eat nutritious food in order to prolong my life," she says.
Amid all that, the drought has taken its toll on the family. Last year they had planted some maize but they only realized one 50kg bag, clearly not enough to feed the family. Brenda grows some vegetables, and when she is feeling well, she tends to her vegetable garden on the banks of a nearby stream. Unfortunately, when she is not feeling well she cannot do the gardening; she suffers from headaches and persistent coughs. The other older members of the family are not in a better position; her mother had a stroke earlier this year and one of her sisters is also sickly. However, Brenda says because of the C-SAFE food rations, the family still manages to have three meals everyday. "They give us beans with sorghum or bulgur wheat once every month. This helps us because sometimes we have completely nothing to eat."
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with her daughter