Centre for Research on Families and Relationships

In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Harare’s Street Youth Experience COVID-19

by Janine Hunter


Janine Hunter has worked as a Researcher on Growing up on the Streets since January 2013 at the University of Dundee. She is also in the first year (part-time) of a PhD on the love relationships of street youth in Accra, Ghana.


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The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has had unprecedented impact on all our lives. In Zimbabwe, where two-thirds of the population live in poverty (World Food Programme, 2019), lockdown has exacerbated water and food shortages and seen curfews, roundups and forced removal of young people living on the streets. Growing up on the Streets research project has been working with Street Empowerment Trust (SET) and a network of street youth there since 2012; we knew how hard conditions were there under normal circumstances, how much harder would it be under COVID-19 lockdown?

In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Harare’s Street Youth Experience COVID-19 is a freely available ‘story map’, launched on 30 June. Made with visual data recorded by street youth in Harare, it includes films, photos and details of lives lived on the streets under lockdown.

In late May and early June 2020, street youth collected the videos, images and stories around the low income settlements, alleyways and areas of disused land around Harare where young people eke out a living in the informal economy, for example collecting and selling plastics – earning them less than half a pence (GBP) per kilo. The story map includes the story of Mai Future, a young pregnant woman who shows us the shelter she has put together on wasteland where she and her young child live; Denford, who demonstrates how he and his friends sleep in a new socially distanced manner, no longer able to huddle together for warmth; and Zviko, who cooks up mopani worms in discarded paint tins used as cooking pots.


The cover image for the story map shows (L-R): Jude, Ralph, Jojo, Madnax, Mathew. The photo was taken by Nixon.

Our earning has reduced… Help us get jobs, and help us with food.”
16-year-old Mada describes life under COVID-19 lockdown in Harare.
Still image from a film recorded by Yeukai.

Making the story map was challenging for participants, because ongoing curfews meant that street youth weren’t supposed to be in the city centre at all; groups were confined to the secret alleyways or ‘bases’ (effectively their homes) or in the low income settlements outside the centre. Unable to move across the city, different participants captured visual data in the areas they lived, on a borrowed mobile phone.

The story map is a Zimbabwe–UK collaboration; Shaibu Chitsiku from SET worked with street youth in Harare to capture the visual material; while at the University of Dundee (which provided ethical approval as well as the licenced web application), the visual and context data were edited and the online resource created using ESRI’s ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Harare was one of three cities (alongside Accra, Ghana and Bukavu, DRC) in the Growing up on the streets research project, which took place between 2012-2016 and involved 229 core participants and hundreds more in networks and focus groups. Growing up on the streets legacy funding from Backstage Trust enabled the 24 street youth (9 of whom were original participants) to visually capture what life is like on the street as young women and men try to survive under COVID-19 lockdown in Harare.

Growing up on the Streets original methodology used a capability approach, drawing on Sen (1999) and Nussbaum (2000), where participants defined their own capabilities on the street and are seen as experts in their own lives. The project aims remain – to change the discourse around street children and youth and their right to make lives of value while living on the street. This story map is a continuation of that approach, and a unique and timely resource on how the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns are experienced by homeless young people living in urban poverty.

It’s the project’s second story map; in 2017 the University of Dundee Stephen Fry Award funded an online showcase created with street youth in Accra, Growing up on the Streets: A Story Map by Accra’s Street Youth includes sections built around the ten capabilities the street children and youth had defined as key to their lives. Other outputs from which are freely available online include Briefing Papers in English and French and the award-winning Knowledge Exchange Training Pack.

The films from the Harare story map are available on YouTube on the Growing up on the Streets channel. After seeing the final result, Shaibu said: “I participated in the collection of the pictures and videos, so I obviously have more information about the happenings and context; however, the story moved me, even though I was there when it was created. My verdict is ‘bolato’! (It’s great!)”

The story map was created by Growing up on the Streets:

Participants and visual creators: Arnold, Claude, Denford, Fatso, Fungai, Henzo, Jojo, Jonso, Jude, Mada, Madnax, Mai ‘Future’, Mathew, Mavhuto, Ndirege, Nixon, Ralph, Ranga, Tarwirei, Taurai, Tobias, Tonderai, Yeukai, Zviko. Please note all names are pseudonyms, chosen by the participants.

Project Manager, Harare: Shaibu Chitsiku, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Story map editing, construction: Janine Hunter, Geography, University of Dundee, UK.
Film editing, subtitles: Victor Maunzeni, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Directors of Growing up on the StreetsProfessor Lorraine van Blerk, University of Dundee, UK; Dr Wayne Shand, EDP Associates, UK; and the late Fr Patrick Shanahan, StreetInvest.

NGO Partner: StreetInvest, UK. Funding: Backstage Trust, UK.


Nussbaum, M.C. (2000). Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
World Food Programme (2019). Country Brief. WFP Zimbabwe, January 2019.