|© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006|
|Winnie Farao, 26, who works with the Campaign for Female Education in Zimbabwe, the same organization that prevented her from dropping out of high school.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 20 November 2006 – “For most girls in Zimbabwe, access to an education is really a privilege and not a right,” says Winnie Farao, 26, explaining how the high cost of education, exacerbated by hyperinflation, has made girls’ education a “second priority” in her country.
“With so few dollars, what would you use it for – to send your child to school or to buy food?” she asks.
Ms. Farao knows the situation well. When she was 14, she nearly dropped out of school because her parents could no longer afford the fees. But she was lucky. She received support from the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), which paid for her schooling. Today, she works as a programme manager at CAMFED in Zimbabwe.
Safe haven for girls
Launched in 1993, CAMFED began by supporting education for 32 girls in rural Zimbabwe. Now the organisation fights poverty and AIDS by helping to educate nearly 250,000 girls in some of the poorest regions of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania.
CAMFED supports girls’ access to education by raising community awareness about the importance of schooling, and in a number of other ways.
“Their fees will be paid for and their uniforms will be provided,” says Ms. Farao. “A community environment is made for the girls’ safety, to ensure they are safe at home, safe along the way and safe in the school system.”
‘We want to be educated’
Aside from promoting girls' education, UNICEF, in partnership with CAMFED, has been setting up Girls’ Empowerment, or ‘GEM’, clubs.
These are particularly valuable in Zimbabwe, a country where an estimated one in six females aged 15 to 24 is now living with HIV. Orphaned girls in Zimbabwe are three times more likely to contract HIV than their peers.
The GEM clubs play a key role in HIV prevention, providing valuable information and life skills that are essential to girls growing up in Zimbabwe. At the clubs, girls are trained in sexual negotiation skills (‘how to say no’) and learn about abstinence and condom use.
“I can say that the GEM clubs are working really hard to make the girls there speak out – and to say no to HIV/AIDS, no to rape, no to abuse,” says Ms. Farao. “We want to be educated. We want knowledge. The girls themselves have been given the opportunity to speak about what's really in their hearts."
National plan of action
Girls’ education has become a national issue in Zimbabwe. In October, the United Nations – in collaboration with the Government of Zimbabwe and other partners, including CAMFED – launched a ground-breaking National Girls’ Education Strategic Plan to increase Zimbabwe’s likelihood of achieving universal primary education and ensuring that girls can stay in school.
For Ms. Farao and countless other girls, this represents a major step in the right direction.
“The strategic plan is really conscious to a great extent of girls’ predicaments,” says Ms. Farao. “It looks at girls’ education as a priority, to say, ‘We've neglected the girls for a long time and this is their time. We need to put them on the programme. We need to put them on the national agenda.’”
15 November 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny tells the story of Winnie Farao, who got help to finish school and now works with Campaign for Female Education in Zimbabwe.