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Zimbabwe Artist Paints Brighter Canvas In Spite Of HIV

Award-winning Zimbabwean artist Rogers Makunda at work. Copyright: WFP/Victoria Cavanagh

When award-winning Zimbabwean artist Rogers Makunda discovered he was HIV-positive in 2009, he wanted to keep living and working as he had before. But that proved impossible, especially after his brother died and he found himself providing for several more children. Now enrolled in WFP’s Health and Nutrition Programme, Makunda is back at work – and looking ahead.

HARARE - Rogers Makunda is hunched over a canvas, brow furrowed and humming quietly, almost oblivious to the bone-shaking African beats coming from the street outside. He’s painting a set of apartment blocks near his home in Harare’s crowded, low-income neighbourhood of Mbare.

Today, Makunda is not working from home, but from the art school where he completed two diplomas in the late 1980s. The students around him one recent morning are gossiping and brainstorming about their creations – and listening to Makunda’s advice, accumulated over two decades spent working as an artist.

“I used to sell my paintings through the National Gallery (of Zimbabwe) and some buyers took them back to Kenya and the UK,” Makunda recalls in an interview a few hours later. In 1987, his paintings even won a national award. 

Those were the good days. Then, four years ago, Makunda found out he was HIV positive, joining the ranks of 1.2 million other Zimbabweans with the virus. This past September (2013), his brother died from diabetes. Weak and strapped for money, Makunda nonetheless took in his brother’s family, swelling his household to seven.

“I was so worried, because I knew it meant more food, more school fees and no one else to help pay,” says Makunda, who began skipping meals to make ends meet. “I knew I had to keep working, but I wasn’t strong enough.”

Help recovery

In October, Makunda enrolled in WFP’s Health and Nutrition programme.  Over a six-month period, he receives a nourishing and fortified corn-soya blend to help his recovery. WFP’s programme, which reaches some 180,000 of the country’s most vulnerable people and their families this year, also provides household rations of maize, pulses and oil.

But in the cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru, those enrolled in the programme like Makunda, receive vouchers to buy selected foods they like at supermarkets. They also receive US$5 to purchase additional items they need. About 8,000 vouchers are being distributed each month thanks to support from Switzerland and Canada.

“Last month, I spent the $5 on milk and potatoes. I hadn’t drunk milk for a long time,” he says. “WFP’s food is helping me so much because I’m getting stronger.”

Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence rate is 15 percent, but HIV cases are decreasing. The rate has fallen by 3 percent since 2006.

In recent years, Makunda has branched out from painting to tie-dying textiles – shirts, skirts, jackets and even wall hangings. He works in a neighbour’s yard, using sliced-off coke bottles as paint containers. Customers are charmed by the textiles’ bright colours.

But Makunda has bigger plans. He wants to export the textiles to other southern African countries. And he wants to get back to painting – once he can afford to buy more paint.

Learn more about how WFP uses food assistance to protect the lives and livelihoods of people living with HIV. Go to www.wfp.org/hiv-aids or download the WFP HIV fact sheet.