The shelves are bare except for what Zimbabwe's limping factories produce - baked beans at the cost of a month's salary, crisps rationed to two packets per shopper and all the cleaning fluid you want.
The petrol pumps dried up a month ago. Water and electricity are off more often than they are on. The national currency has an expiry date of July 2007 stamped on it but it's worth hardly anything anyway, so nobody seems to care.
Some Zimbabweans find a perverse comfort in all this because they believe, as the American ambassador put it, that Robert Mugabe is committing regime change on himself with his mad economics. It cannot get any worse, they say, but it can.
It's easy for those outside Zimbabwe to think the situation is hopeless and nothing can be done -- nothing by anyone outside Zimbabwe. This is not actually the case. Camfed has been running a programme for the last 12 years offering full scholarships to girls, enabling them to complete their secondary education -- a programme that now helps members in a country on the brink of famine. Camfed concentrates on girls' education because very poor families, if they must choose, will pay a boy's school fees and keep a girl at home; women's education has been shown to reduce infant mortality and improve children's chances of education, so undereducating girls is damaging not only for the girls themselves but for the society they live in.
NGOs whose programmes rely on foreign staff have long since had to close down operations in Zimbabwe as a result of the escalating violence. Camfed has, from the start, made a point of setting up an organisation of graduates from its programme, CAMA, which provides a support network for those still in the programme and also runs a micro-credit scheme enabling members to create employment for themselves -- something of crucial importance in rural districts with depressed economies, where there may be few opportunities for employment. Camfed has also made a point of involving parents, teachers and local leaders in running the programme. The result is that it has not had to shut down operations at the very time when support is desperately needed; it continues to give girls a chance to break out of poverty at a time when the country is falling apart.
It's easy to think there's no point sending a one-off, small donation, because it can't make a difference. Believe me, in a country whose currency officially expired at the end of July, five bucks in a hard currency, now, can make a difference. The link is here.