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'Better to send the food than money'

A man shows the new $200,000 note unveiled by the Zimbabwe central bank in Harare in August.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Refugees flee Zimbabwe by the thousands every month. Most of them settle in South Africa or Botswana. As many as a million have made it to the United Kingdom. A bit more than 100,000 live here. No matter where they wind up, Zimbabwean ex-pats try to find ways to help feed their relatives at home. Relying on some high-tech help. Marketplace's Jennifer Collins has that part of the story..


Jennifer Collins: Zodwa Hwende moved from Zimbabwe to California eight years ago. As soon as she landed, Hwende began sending money to her family in Africa. But back home inflation is out of control. A loaf of bread that used to cost her family a few Zimbabwean dollars, now can cost more than $100,000. If Hwende wires cash, the money can become worthless overnight.

Zodwa Hwende: With the situation back home . . . like sending money . . . people complain the money's not enough. And I think I was talking to one of my friends and they told me that you can buy groceries online.

That's how Hwende discovered Sadza.com. The website allows Zimbabweans in America to order groceries online and send them to their families back home. Here's how it works: Whenever Hwende wants to buy food for her family, she scrolls through Sadza's site.

Hwende: It seems that they have 100 kg's of rice for $93.

One hundred kilograms is about 220 pounds. Hwende doesn't take long to decide.

Hwende: So we click on that package . . .

With a click and a credit card, Zodwa Hwene places the order. Sadza's owner takes over from there.

Anesu Manjengwa: I would get an e-mail and that e-mail is what I would forward to provide the food.

That's Anesu Manjengwa. In the eight years he's been running Sadza.com, he's developed a list of trusted contacts in Zimbabwe. Manjengwa forwards the orders to them. They buy the rice and deliver it, usually the next morning.

Whenever they can, his contacts buy food outside Zimbabwe where costs are more reasonable. That helps because Manjengwa promises his customers that he won't change his prices in the course of a deal.

Manjengwa: If you want to guarantee that your family has something to eat, it's better to send the food than money.

Manjengwa's idea has caught on. As many as 30,000 people use sites like his. And it's not just food. People can send anything from generators to payment for doctor's visits. Some websites are less reliable than others. But Hwende says Sadza has always delivered for her.

Hwende: When you talk to people, they really don't have food. They are like, really struggling, like we don't know where the next meal is going to come from. So you can imagine, you send them 100 kg's of rice . . . that's really a lot.

That bag of rice will support her family for a month, maybe longer.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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