Pivoting from lawyer to chef is not a common career trajectory, but it’s the path Samantha Murozoki chose to cushion her community from the economic fallout of COVID-19 – which slashed incomes, disrupted supply chains and pushed families to the brink of starvation.
When the first Zimbabwean lockdown was announced in March 2020, it did not need a rocket scientist to tell of the hard times that lay ahead.
With 85 per cent of economically active Zimbabweans earning their living from the informal sector and with no social safety measures, a large number would immediately become food-insecure. For the thirty-six-year-old lawyer, Samantha Muzoroki, there was no time to waste.
An immigration lawyer by profession and a mother of two, Murozoki had worked for over 5 years in Cape Town, South Africa for an immigration agency assisting immigrants into South Africa and those emigrating from South Africa to Australia, Canada and USA. Now, COVID-19 demanded a major pivot in her life.
She decided to start preparing meals, using groceries from her mother`s pantry.
“When the lockdown started, the plan was to assist 15 people. The grocery we had at home, would last us for three weeks, so we decided to share,” Murozoki said.
However, what followed showed her the extent of the need for food assistance. “The numbers kept growing and we could not turn people away,” she said.
Her project to provide food for those who needed it in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town 25 kilometres east of Harare, was going to require more than the family’s groceries.
So Muzoroki turned to the internet for assistance, using crowdfunding on social media to fund the shortfall. Individuals and corporates were quick to step in, making material donations that assisted the kitchen to up the amount of food provided.
The programme nearly suffered a setback when the Chitungwiza Town Council attempted to close the outfit asserting it did not have requisite permits. Being a lawyer, however, saved the day. Murozoki quickly processed the paperwork in line with council by-laws.
The kitchen, now operating as Kuchengetana Trust (Kuchengetana means “taking care of each other” in Shona), has managed to go more than 500 days without skipping a day delivering breakfast, lunch and supper to the needy in the community.
Her work has not been without personal sacrifice, however. “The kitchen has changed my social life and the way I approach things. There are certain adjustments, I have had to voluntarily make. For example, I always tell my mother that I might have loved whisky back in the day but if I continue to love whisky I would not have been able to wake up around 4 am to prepare porridge because I would be hungover!” she giggles.
Murozoki has also contracted Covid-19 twice in the line of duty – first in January 2021 and then again in December. She now has a system in place that allows her to isolate without disrupting the operation and today, the kitchen serves more than 1000 people – predominantly young children.
With the increased feeding capacity, however, the operation needed more helping hands… which is where community volunteers like Janet Kapu have made all the difference.
In her mid-50s, Kapu goes by the name Gogo (grandmother). Her infectious smile and warm character have endeared even those who work around Chitungwiza, including garbage collectors who sometimes come to ask for porridge.
Rising at 5 am every day and braving the morning cold, “Gogo Kapu” ensures she is at work every day to help prepare the morning’s food. Children often pass through the kitchen on their way to school and this is what pushes Muzokori and her team to keep the programme alive.
Murozoki believes she got her philanthropic heart from her upbringing. “My parents played a big role in making sure that we also help others where we could. We lived a very minimalistic life, not because we lacked but my parents believed that enough should be enough and we should not have an excess which will blow away until it rots or until we no longer need it,” she said, with a smile.
Besides providing food, Murozoki has also ensured that there is scientific rigour applied to the work the trust is doing. The volunteers regularly record the health of the children under the age of 10, creating charts where they track weight gain, helping to ensure that the food being served is providing nutritional value.
“From the time we started, there has been an improvement in weight, ranging from 800 grams to 2 kilograms,” Murozoki explained.
While many other food kitchens emerged with the start of lockdown, few have managed to last as long as Kuchengetana.
According to UNICEF, COVID-19 has reduced income opportunities and food sources for more than half of all Zimbabweans, with nearly a quarter of the population unable to access basic commodities. So for the time being, the country needs kitchens like Kuchengetana to keep going. “Taking care of each other” may be one way to show how others can, too.