By Tapuwa Mutseyekwa
December 2008- Epworth; Harare: Fourteen year old Hazvinei Musariri is passionate about her school and enjoys every moment she spends at Maulana School for Orphans. The classroom structures of pole and tent that stand amid large rock boulders and the old dilapidated building that serves as the administration block do not deter Hazvinei from recognizing this as the place which will inevitably map her path for the future. Each day, the sixth grader, disregards what is apparent to all who visit this site for the first time – the need for better buildings, the need for better sanitary facilities and the need for more learning materials for this to be “a school” like any other.
“Although I do not like the appearance of this school, I am happy that at least I am able to be in school” says a cheerful Hazvinei.
The oldest of three orphaned siblings, Hazvinei has stayed with her grandmother since 2004 when both her parents passed away. Staying in Epworth, a poor informal settlement 15 km away from Harare, life has not been easy for Hazvinei. Daily they make do with one meal while there is no guarantee for school fees from their unemployed elderly guardian. She had to miss out on a full year of schooling for lack of fees; a feat she says drew her back a lot in life. Hazvinei’s path to education was however reopened when she was enrolled at Maulana School for Orphans in 2005. Together with over 1 630 other orphans and vulnerable children, school lessons are undertaken beneath makeshift structures of pole and tent which represent the school.
“Every other day is okay, but when it rains, we cannot learn because we will all become wet,” says Hazvinei, as she enthusiastically walks towards the she shares with 90 other sixth graders at Maulana.
With an orphan population of more than 1.4 million and inflation currently surpassing 231million %, the vulnerability of children in Zimbabwe increases daily and going to school is placed as secondary priority ahead of food and shelter. Maulana School for Orphans was set up in 2004 by local resident Mr. Tony Maulana to accommodate the many children from Epworth who had failed to continue with school for lack of fees. Eighteen volunteer teachers daily take the students through lessons, oblivious of the absence of proper learning structures or learning materials, but conscience of the fact that a change of fortunes for these children is possible with an education. Yes, the enthusiasm to learn is high at Maulana, but in the absence of enclosed structures and proper sanitary facilities, this enthusiasm will soon wear away. It is for this that UNICEF has pledged to make improvements to the conditions under which the children are taught at Maulana and to continue to spur the zeal to learn which already exists in these children.
Maulana is one of 67satellite schools being supported by UNICEF in the construction of new buildings and adequate sanitary facilities for the children. With Support from the Netherlands National Committee and Japan, UNICEF is set to give Maulana School for Orphans a new face with the building of a new classroom block and sanitary facilities which include a borehole, toilets and hand washing facilities.
So far, UNICEF has assisted Maulana by having the centre registered as a school through the Ministry of Education; Sport and Culture and ensuring the availability of a clean source of drinking water through the drilling of a water pump.
More than half the students attending school at Maulana are orphans. The administration therefore accommodates the difficulties these children have in accessing school fees and in most cases, getting a birth registration and does not make this a prerequisite for admission to school.
“As a child, I was as disadvantaged as most of these children and there was no one to help me out,” says Mr. Rwatirinda Mazire, a volunteer teacher at the school for the past four years. “All the staff members here do not get a pay, but they realize that if these children spend their days loitering for lack of fees, their lives will amount to naught.”