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A community builds a school for its children with help from the UK and UNICEF

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006/Elder
Mavis Chanakira (right) passes bricks down the line with other community members who are participating in the school construction.

By James Elder

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 19 June 2006 – She has built a family. She has built a business, and built her own home. And now 72-year old Mavis Chanakira is building a school. As bulls heave a cart spilling with sand, builders give free instructions, and men mix and lay cement, Mrs. Chanakira and scores of women act as a conveyer belt, passing bricks down the line.

With friends, neighbours, husbands and wives, the Goromonzi community on the outskirts of Harare is working long days constructing the school their children will attend.

Zimbabwe’s passion for education is well documented – despite unemployment of around 70 per cent and school fee hikes of 1000 per cent – more than 80 per cent of primary school children are still enrolled at school.

With the assistance of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF, Mrs. Chanakira’s community is rallying round to ensure the current crisis does not exclude their children from the classroom.

“Nearby schools are full and transport is just too expensive,” said Mrs. Chanakira. “Our idea was to build right here – in our community. With help we’re doing just that. Look around you – the whole community is here. And we’ll be here ‘til it’s ready for a teacher to teach.”

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006/Elder
Students in the Goromonzi community of Harare, Zimbabwe who will benefit from the education grants. Bertha Mpundi (middle, with phone around neck) is a orphan whose school fees are paid in full by the grant.

Providing the basics

The assistance – known as block grants – provides for building materials, text books, and importantly school fees. Inflation of more than 1000 per cent has severely restricted Zimbabweans ability to provide the basics for their children, with fees, uniforms, and transport becoming out of reach of an increasing number of people.

A recent survey implemented by Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and UNICEF found that 13 per cent of 10-14 year olds were not attending classes. Children who lost both parents were even less likely to attend school. Block grants target these most vulnerable of children.

Bertha Mpundi’s mother died in 2004, three years after her father passed away. Always in the top three in her class, 14-year old Bertha had been unable to pay fees since her mother died. “With no one to pay for me the school had no choice but to send me home,” she says. “It was an awful, awful day. School was the one thing that kept my mind off my parents.”

Early this year Bertha became another beneficiary of DFID’s block grant scheme. Her school fees are now paid in full. Bertha may be shy to express her gratitude but it can be seen in her results. Bertha is now top of her class.

Memory Gunara is another who can now concentrate on school, not suspension. “For the past five years, I was afraid of coming to school during the first week. Our names would be called out during assembly time and we would be told to go back home and get our school fees. My grandmother rarely had the money and I would stay at home till I could pay. Now I’m in! My grandmother cried when I told her.”

The grants are part of DFID’s massive support to help deliver a national plan of action for orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe. Earlier this year DFID gave £22 million to UNICEF in a bid to improve the plight of orphans and vulnerable children across the country.

Back at the school construction site, Mrs. Chanakira continues to slide bricks across her cracked and callused hands as the classroom takes shape. “These are hard times in my country,” she says, “but I think we are showing that with a little help we can do big things.”



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