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In Zimbabwe, school grants provide equal learning opportunities to girls

UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2011/Mutseyekwa
© UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2011/Mutseyekwa
After receiving a school grant, Ellen Mbedzi was able to return to classes at Mafeha Primary School in Bulilima, Zimbabwe.

By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa

The Global Partnership for Education has helped more than 19 million children go to school for the first time. A campaign to renew support for these efforts will culminate in a pledging event in Copenhagen on 7-8 November. This series of stories seeks to highlight the Partnership’s work in the lead-up to this event.

BULILIMA, Zimbabwe, 7 December 2011 – After completing the fourth grade at the top of her class, 13-year-old Ellen Mbedzi was forced to drop out of Mafeha Primary School in Bulilima, a district in south-western Zimbabwe. Her unemployed father did not see the value of spending the family’s limited resources on a girl.

Instead, Ellen, the youngest child in a family of five, was made responsible for caring for her blind mother. “All my brothers and sisters had left home, and I was the only who could be with mama at the time,” she said. “That was a difficult time for me, but I had no choice.”

Longing for an education

For three years, Ellen watched her peers make their way to school each morning while she performed household chores and cared for her mother. Still, her determination to get an education never waned.
 
“Each time I met with my former teacher, Mrs. Kafata, I told her how much I missed school and how I longed to be back in class,” Ellen said, speaking about a teacher who had recognized her potential.

UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2011/Mutseyekwa
© UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2011/Mutseyekwa
Ellen dreams of one day becoming a teacher in her native Zimbabwe.

Others saw her potential, as well. Ellen became a recipient of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) programme, a school grant programme that helps disadvantaged children stay in school, or, in Ellen’s case, return to the classroom. Her school also received support from the Education Transition Fund (ETF), which provided textbooks in four core subjects – math, English, environmental sciences and a local language – to every student in the school

Today, Ellen attends classes at Mafeha Primary School, her arms full of ETF-provided textbooks, and she is working hard to pursue the top marks she received before she left.

An equal chance for girls

ETF, an innovative partnership of the government, UNICEF and the international donor community, offers large-scale support to the education sector, and provides much-needed resources and textbooks to every primary school. So far, 15 million textbooks were distributed around the country, and an additional distribution of 7 million is planned.

“There are lot of girls in our community whose academic excellence never comes to fruition because they are not given a chance,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama. “Through undertakings such as life-skills development programmes and training camps, we are working to ensure that every girl child not only attends school, but also that she recognises the tremendous opportunities she has to do the science and maths subjects which are traditionally viewed as boy’s subjects.”

Ellen is on track to be one of those girls. And she wants to help others achieve these goals, too: When she grows up, Ellen wants to be a teacher, just like Mrs. Kafata.

 

 
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