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Zimbabwe, 8 May 2018: Community outreach programme gives vulnerable children a second chance at education

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2018/Gwatiwa
Linda Balaka (14) attends school thanks to the UNICEF-supported Community Outreach Programme in Masvingo province, southern Zimbabwe.

By Joneck Gwatiwa

MASVINGO, Zimbabwe, 8 May 2018 – Linda Balaka has come a long way from the days when she would sit begging by the roadside with her mother. The 14-year-old who was out of school for five years, was identified and readmitted back into the formal education system through the Community Outreach Programme and, she is now in Grade Five at the Mashava Primary School in Masvingo Province catching up on her missed education. Linda, who has albinism and a visual impairment, spent her early years in South Africa, where her condition was exploited to earn sympathy and donations from pedestrians.

“Every morning we braved the cold weather just to be at our usual spot in time,” said Linda. “Mum made sure that we left early enough to catch up with those who passed by on their way to work.”

Linda’s divorced mother had taken her from Zimbabwe to South Africa in search of a better life, but she was never able to afford the fees to support her daughter beyond two years’ elementary education.

Linda was eventually sent back to live with her father who is also visually impaired, his second wife and three cousins in the small mining town of Mashava. “Ever since my dad got blind, [my step mother] was the one who did everything for us,” said Linda.

Supporting the family is challenge. Linda’s stepmother, Winnety, occasionally finds short term work in the informal sector where she polishes art-works for small sums. “Most of the time I get two or four dollars a day just to subsist, “said Winnety. “[I] can’t even buy lotion for the kids.”

Community outreach makes a difference

In Mashava, Linda is benefiting from a Community Outreach Programme designed to track vulnerable children, including those with disabilities, and enroll them in school. The programme is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) and other child-welfare-centered organizations. Her school fees are paid through Zimbabwe’s Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), a large-scale education initiative to improve attendance rates.

Linda attends remedial classes to help her catch up on the education she missed. Masvingo District Remedial Tutor Lovemore Mudhumi says, “Remediation is basically a clearly defined and structured programme for learners with learning difficulties.” This Inclusive education approach aims to create equitable access to quality education and quality learning outcomes for all, regardless of socio-economic and disability status. Through the community outreach programme Linda also receives guidance and counselling to help her adjust to life after her experiences in South Africa.

Linda aspires to be a sought-after interior designer. “I used to do bedding and other household chores together with my mum so that’s when I developed an interest in designing decors” Linda says. “I want to rank among the best [and] now that I am back in school, my dream is more likely to come true.”

Editor’s Note: Albinism is a genetically inherited condition. Children with albinism have little or no pigmentation in their eyes, hair and skin owing to a lack of melanin. They are sensitive to bright light and have a higher than average risk of skin cancer from sun exposure. Most people with albinism are also visually impaired.



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