Mother and child from BulawayoAlso known as the “City of Kings” amongst various other names, Bulawayo is located in the Matabeland region of western Zimbabwe, though today it sits within its own province. With a population of 653,000, it is the country's second-largest city, and home to the the Mugabe government's strongest opposition.

Bulawayo has been badly affected by Zimbabwe's crippling economic crisis. High unemployment, combined with widespread poverty, have led to appalling living conditions. Today, the situation is compounded by a drinking-water crisis.

Rising joblessness

Poverty has risen since the economic crisis took off in the late 1990s. Unemployment has played a key role in this. Today, some places face joblessness levels of 80%, with nearly two thirds living in poverty. A lack of investment in infrastructure and key services means families often have little support, with resources such as hospitals and schools out of reach for many.

Growing up in the dump

Children are hardest hit by this. Many are forced to work to contribute to the family's survival. On the big tips on the city's edges, youngsters can often be seen scavenging for waste they can use or sell.

Children from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

The dangers of this kind of work are manifold. Not only does it impact on young people's quality of life, education, and life chances, it also leaves them vulnerable to numerous dangers from injury to disease. Such is the intensity of poverty in Bulawayo, however, that many families make their home in tumble-down houses on the edges of these dumps because scavenging is the only way to survive.

Water shortages

Drought and poor infrastructure have left Bulawayo with a shortage of drinking water. In a city ravaged by HIV/AIDS and other diseases, a good water supply is imperative. But in Bulawayo, some must travel many miles to fetch water, often making two or more journeys each day.

For the severely ill, making this journey is impossible. Consequently, the most vulnerable members of society often resort to drinking dirty or contaminated water. And with latrines running dry and unusable, waste further contaminates the water supply, leading to spread of diarrhoeal infections such as dysentery and cholera.

Two boys playing, from BulawayoWhat is SOS Children doing to help?

We have been helping families throughout Bulawayo since 1995.

Lifelong care for the most vulnerable children

Our Children's Village in Bulawayo provides care to children who have lost parental care. Each child lives in an SOS family under the care of an SOS mother. They benefit from the best education at our nursery and primary school, where they learn alongside children from the most vulnerable families in the neighbourhood. We support them right through to adulthood, providing long-term support as they make the challenging transition to independence.

Building stronger families

Our social centres in Bulawayo and the suburb of Nguboyenja provide families in the community with the support they so desperately need. We make sure children get the right healthcare, providing vaccines to keep them healthy and providing treatment when they get ill. For those who cannot afford an education, we offer a place at our SOS primary school alongside pupils from the Children's Village. In total, we are able to provide over 700 places at any one time.

Our support goes far beyond the basics. A self-sufficient family is able to provide the best environment as children grow up. This is why we focus on equipping parents with skills for work and help them start their own businesses. We also provide guidance on good parenting, helping overstretched families better understand and fulfil children's rights and needs.

Families in Bulawayo want to stand on their own two feet - but years of deprivation means they need help getting there. We will be there for vulnerable families in Zimbabwe's second city as long as they need our support.


Did you know? In Africa, where often thousands of people share one doctor, SOS Children builds medical centres for the community to use.