MATAGA, ZIMBABWE — HEBRON MOYO is a man with a purpose as he pushes the wheelbarrow of newly baked bricks toward a neat stack at the building site of the Vutsanana Secondary School in Mberengwa district.
"On a good day we can mold 2,000 bricks, and we get at least 70 kg [154 pounds] of maize for 1,000 bricks," says Mr. Moyo, a member of a youth group of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe.
Apart from sustaining the morale of food-aid recipients, the food-for-work principle is also improving community facilities and infrastructure.
Moyo is part of a church cooperative of youths from 40 families who benefit from this food-for-work program in the southern tip of Midlands Province. He said that his family - mother, three brothers, and a sister - would go hungry if it was not for the food he earns by making bricks.
"Some of the youths are doing construction work in return for maize and others are making the bricks," says Andrew Phiri, a senior teacher at the school.
The atmosphere here is vastly different from the mood of resignation one encounters from the recipients of government food aid, who must endure a labyrinth of bureaucracy and line up for hours to receive a meager 5 kg (11 pounds) per person per month allocation of grain.
Under food-for-work plans, communities select the type of work that will be most beneficial: road repairs, building latrines and wells, digging or de-silting small dams and irrigation canals. The work is carried out under technical supervision.
The food-for-work principle, although used only sporadically in Zimbabwe, forms the basis of drought relief in neighboring Zambia, which a year ago underwent a peaceful transition from one-party rule to multiparty democracy. In Zambia, food handouts are given only to those families who cannot participate in the food-for-work projects, and to malnourished children, the sick, and elderly.
In stark contrast to Zimbabwe, where it is under tight party control, drought relief in Zambia is run by development agencies jointly supervised by a committee of aid and development workers and government officials - known as the Programme for the Prevention of Malnutrition - and the United Nations World Food Programme.
In Zimbabwe, where only 15 percent of drought relief is donated food aid, relief organizations - such as the ecumenical Christian Care, the Lutheran World Federation, the Roman Catholic relief agency Caritas, and the Organization for Rural Assistance Programmes - have been well received by the local community.
"I would like to see government officials keeping out of drought relief," says Makhatini Guduza, a veteran community leader in Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North Province, where members of the minority Ndebele tribe have alleged political discrimination in the distribution of water and food.
"Politicians appoint their friends to distribute food. Nongovernmental organizations are doing an excellent job," Mr. Guduza says.
"I approve their bypassing the councilors and the politicians and working through the traditional leaders and headman who are the ones who know their people and who should get the food," he says. "The international community has a responsibility to ensure that their food reaches the right people."