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Zimbabwean grandmothers help build a school for their community’s children

© UNICEF/2007/Elder
Waist-high in a pit of clay mud, Agnes Mutima (right) moulds bricks to help build a school for children in Nyamkuwara village, Zimbabwe.

By James Elder

NYAMKUWARA, Zimbabwe, 15 August 2007 – Standing in a ditch, her feet and knees hidden in soiled water, her face splattered with dried mud and her body tiring from the labour, 60-year-old Agnes Mutima looks like a worker in a diamond mine.

But her goal is richer than the coveted rock. Ms. Mutima is digging deep to mould bricks and build a school.

High in the hills of eastern Zimbabwe, 1,000 people who were taken to this isolated patch of forest two years ago, with nothing beyond what they could carry, have built a community and are now constructing a school.

“These are our children and they need a good environment to study in,” says Ms. Mutima, who has cared for her six orphaned grandchildren since their mothers died. “When it rained, these children were rained on, when it was cold they were very cold. This will now change and they will have a proper primary education.”

Support from Schools for Africa

As Zimbabweans are slapped by one crisis after another – with inflation above 4,500 per cent and more orphans as a percentage of children than any other country in the world – Ms. Mutima’s spirit can be seen across the country.

It is backed by continued support from the Schools for Africa campaign, a partnership between UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hamburg Society, with significant funding from the German National Committee for UNICEF and others.

This support is enabling, among many other activities, 20 communities like Ms. Mutima’s to construct more than 55 classrooms in all corners of the country by the end of this year. Launched in late 2004, Schools for Africa has thus far benefited more than 100,000 children across the continent.

“Through UNICEF, the people of Germany have been tireless supporters of Zimbabwean children and communities,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “From HIV assistance to emergency funds to early childhood development and education, they are a constant friend to those in need.”

Rising above economic adversity

Ms. Mutima’s family is one of 300 families in her community who were resettled during the government’s highly controversial ‘clean-up’ campaign of 2005, which the United Nations said left 700,000 people homeless. Since then, UNICEF has provided this community with wells for clean water, toilets, a temporary school, teaching materials and one textbook per pupil.

“Our houses on the farms were burnt and we were sent here,” says Ms. Mutima. “For three months we were in the open, but with help we are now really making a life for ourselves.”

Despite the nation’s unprecedented economic adversity, Zimbabweans have kept a large majority of their children enrolled in school. The challenge for this community is to provide them with a safe place in which to learn.

‘We have to build’

The four-classroom school that Ms. Mutima is helping to build will accommodate 280 children. Its construction will require 100,000 bricks. Working 12-hour days and utilizing local resources, the community can mould 1,500 mud bricks each day. After two days, they put 3,000 dry bricks in a kiln to fire, resulting in sturdy bricks that will soon shelter their children.

Waist-high in the pit of clay mud at midday, Ms. Mutima works side-by-side with her best friend Joyce Chapauka, 59, who has been digging since 6 a.m.

“You get tired,” says Ms. Chapauka, “but when you’re poor you can’t afford to be tired. We have to make sure our grandchildren are in school, so we have to build.”




July 2007:
Agnes Mutima tells the story of her community’s relocation during civil unrest in Zimbabwe and her involvement in building a school for its children.
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