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Education promises a better future for marginalized girls in Zimbabwe

UNICEF Zimbabwe/2013
Audrey (13 years) in rural Zimbabwe is determined to finish school and become a fashion designer. Her family is poor and cannot afford to provide her with basic shoes or a good uniform – but she says this is not a deterrent in fighting for her dream.

By Richard Nyamanhindi and Judith Chinamaringa

3 September 2013 - In this rural district of Mutasa in Zimbabwe, everyone takes part in farming on some level, whether you are a child helping your mother weed the fields or an old woman harvesting the produce in a field. However for Audrey Mushunje (age 13), farming is not just about putting food on the table. It is about her education.

Audrey stays in Nyamukwarara village – a frontier outpost on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border hacked out of the deep forests of the Eastern Highlands to accommodate the more than 200 families displaced by Operation Murambatsvina/Clean-Up campaign in 2005.

In the aftermath of the Clean-Up campaign, Audrey’s family found themselves left without a choice but to become farmers or perish. Having been used to a city life, this was not an easy feat.

When her father passed on in 2008, Audrey had to take a couple of years away from school because her unemployed mother could not afford to pay for her school fees. The fact that Audrey lives with albinism did not make things better in a community that stigmatises her condition.

“But I said to myself, I will go to school – I will force myself to go to school,” recalls Audrey.

Not to be deterred by the various challenges they were faced with, Audrey and her mother cleared out some bushes outside their homestead and began farming to pay for her school fees. They planted maize, sugar beans and groundnuts which they sold in the community. However due to the low economic base in the area, the prices they are paid are low. The poor road network to the city depresses prices further.

Audrey is set to graduate from Primary School next year and she is very optimistic about her future. “When I finish school I want to be a tailor and take care of my siblings,” she says.

However, Audrey is quick to note that should she pass her primary school the major challenge is that of finding a nearby secondary school – the nearest secondary school is about 20 kilometres away. Questions remain as to whether she will be able to afford to travel and pay for her own way through secondary school. At least she is happy that her mother is now employed as a para-professional, teaching an Early Childhood Development class at Nyamukwarara Primary School. 

Despite its poor infrastructure and a severe lack of trained teachers, the Nyamukwarara community is striving to improve education for its children. The optimism brought about by the assistance provided by UNICEF through the provision of books, furniture and building material is giving hope to the current generation of girls in the district.

 

 
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