Child Friendly Schools Initiative – Creating learning opportunities for the girl child
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
22 February 2012 – Zaka, - Clad in her worn out attire, Gogo Jimisai Dick sits underneath the shed of her mango tree, resting and awaiting the return of her 12 year old great-granddaughter Lister from school. The 91 years she has lived only show in the wrinkles and her fragile walk, the strain and fatigue of the bitter years that have passed are craftily concealed by her warm and humble smile.
“At my age, most people would be resting and being looked after by their children,” says Gogo Dick as she narrates the epic task she has of trying to ensure that her orphaned great-granddaughter remains in school. “I am the one who put Lister’s father and grandfather through school so I am not going to fail on Lister.”
Her superb courage and determination to give Lister a good education, has however been marred by her inability to plough her land or work to raise the school fees required for Lister’s attendance at Chipezeze Primary School in Zaka district, located 500km from Zimbabwe’s capital. In the absence of substantial external support, Gogo Dick has often watched with a heavy heart as Lister failed to go to school.
“Lister has been in my care since she was seven years when her mother passed away, I am the only parent she knows and I have really struggled to maintain her in school and buy the books needed, I was happy when they told me that she was now to receive her school fees would now be paid for, it has been a huge relieve for me.”
This story of struggle and lack is not peculiar to Gogo Dick. Throughout Zimbabwe, grandmothers are getting out of retirement to resume parental duties as thousands of children have been left orphaned. Zimbabwe’s HIV and AIDS prevalence has contributed immensely to the growing population of orphans as more than 2 300 Zimbabwean adults die each week due to an AIDS related illness. More than 1.3million children are today orphaned and are living with their elderly grandparents or alone in child headed households.
At Chipezeze Primary, more than half of the 515 pupils are orphaned and many, particularly the girl child, fail to continue with school, opening up wider channels of vulnerability and potential abuse.
It is such circumstances which today are being circumvented as UNICEF, with support from the National Committees of Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland; United States of America continues the roll out of the Child Friendly Schools Initiative. Within 250 pilot schools throughout Zimbabwe, efforts have been boosted to ensure that children like Lister, are not stopped from advancing with their education because of the unpleasant life experiences such as deaths of parents or the lack of their aged guardians.
This initiative has enabled the fulfilment of every Zimbabwean child’s right to good quality basic education through facilitating an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling. Further to this, the initiative aims to prop the position of the girl child, many of whom have been made vulnerable after the deaths of their parents.
Throughout Zimbabwe, more than 1 400 orphaned girls have had an equal chance of attaining an education as they have been fulfilled with the provision of school fees support, while classroom blocks have been erected to provide conducive learning environments. For the girl child, critical life skills lessons are also taught to ensure that they are well prepared to respond to the challenges and dangers which approach them daily.
Apart from the provision of school fees support, the Child Friendly School Initiative also relieves caregivers such as Gogo Dick from the strain of providing learning resources for their children. Schools have been supported with provision of stationery and books, the construction of classroom blocks, toilet blocks, hand washing facilities and a play centre.
Chipezeze is one of the 197 pilot schools which today stands as an example of a school with at least the minimum child friendly expectations which include stationery for every pupil, 1:1 textbook pupil ratio in four core subjects (Mathematics, English, Science and Vernacular language), segregated latrines for boys and girls, a water source and hand washing facility, aerated and well lit classrooms, an ECD centre. The School Development Committee has also been actively supporting OVC in accessing basic education.
“Despite the social and economic challenges of the previous decade, Zimbabwe’s education continues to have a lot of potential to be the best in the continent,” says UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama. “The Child Friendly Schools Initiatives plays an even more critical role of enlarging opportunities for every child, particularly the girl child, to attend school and educated.”
Upon her return from school, Lister is happy to be in the company of her great-grandmother. She prepares the afternoon meal of sadza and okra and shares her experiences of the day. Between them, there is the awe-inspiring agreement that Lister will one day be a doctor and she will buy a lovely dress and shoes for this unsung heroine, Gogo Dick.