“It’s not easy to contain her when she is going through the episodes,” says Flanel Zwanga, Kester’s mother.
“She will leave home anytime and sometimes may not come back. Taking care of a person with a psychosocial disability is not easy.”
Kester Mushabati was diagnosed with a psychosocial disability in 2005. Her husband deserted her and left her with their four children when her illness deteriorated. She returned to her mother’s village in Kazungula District and conceived three more children. At 76 years of age, Kester's mother takes care of her daughter, Kester’s seven children, and a host of other children and grandchildren. The family survives through farming though the recent harvest was spoiled when elephants destroyed much of the crop.
Things were not always like this. Before Kester was diagnosed with the disability, she was the pillar of her mother’s life. But when her illness intensified, Kester would go missing for days, and stop eating.
With the support from the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, Kester was enrolled in the Social Cash Transfer programme. Then with the COVID-19 pandemic, Kester also benefitted from the COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer (C-ECT) with a total sum of 2,400 Zambian kwacha.
To respond to socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services with technical support from UN agencies (UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, WFP) has been implementing the C-ECT programme to support over 200,000 households in 25 districts in Zambia.
The COVID-19 social economic impacts have been felt nationwide. The C-ECT programme was launched to address these challenges and help families avoid negative coping mechanisms such as removing children from school, selling property or reducing on the number of meals.
“Most of the money is used to buy food and other basic items for Kester and her children,” says Flanel. “The support from the Social Welfare team and partners really helps ease the burden.”
Kester’s two oldest children completed Grade 12 and obtained good results. However, they cannot proceed to tertiary education due to financial constraints. Her oldest son got two distinctions and two merits but opted to venture into a curio business to support his grandmother.
Mental health remains an issue that raises a lot of discussion and uncertainty in Zambia. Many cases are understood locally as being linked to witchcraft and superstition.
The C-ECT provides stabilisation support to affected families and helps reduce deprivation and combat stigmatisation. This is much needed relief while initiatives to strengthen mental health services at local level remain minimal.
Working closely with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities, UNICEF and other implementation partners prioritised persons with disabilities as beneficiaries of the COVID-19 ECT programme, as they are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 amidst other existing inequalities.
The UN programme is financially supported by the European Union, the governments of Germany (through the KFW development bank), Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.