Zimbabwe, as per estimates, is home to over one million orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs), most of whom are being looked after by their relatives.
Conversely, due to the increase in OVCs, the challenging socio-economic situation and limited support from the state, the kinship system is under severe strain, says social worker, Munyaradzi Muchacha.
The number of OVCs in the country is on the increase due to the impact of economic demise, high prevalence of extreme poverty, unemployment and HIV and AIDS.
These challenges increase the vulnerability of OVCs, in the process affecting their care as well as access to social services such as health care, social assistance and education.
Fourteen year old Zvisi Matara from Murewa in Mashonaland East Province was forced to leave primary school in order to help her grandparents following the death of her parents.
“My grandmother struggled to provide me and other nine children with basic needs such as clothes, food and education. As the oldest of the children, I was forced to quit my primary school education in order to help her,” he says.
Gogo Mavis Matara (80) says because of her age, she is now struggling to provide for her 10 grandchildren.
“Age is now taking its toll and my children are bearing the brunt of that,” she says, adding that Zvisi is not doing piece jobs to help her feed the family.
Education is a threatened right for Zvisi and other vulnerable children in Zimbabwe and other African nations, says Faith Nkala of Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), an international non-profit organisation tackling poverty and inequality by supporting marginalised girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.
Speaking during a “Girl Child Indaba” coordinated by the Women Coalition of Zimbabwe Education Cluster, Shamwari Yemwanasikana, Centre for Development of Women and Child, Child and Youth Care, The Girls Legacy, Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe Chapter in partnership with Higherlife Foundation and Tag a Life International at Crowne Plaza recently, Nkala added that poverty, drought, early child marriages, poor infrastructure and lack of proper Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities are some of the reasons that hinder OVCs from completing school.
“OVCs in rural areas are the vulnerable of the most vulnerable as they are mostly affected by poverty,” says Nkala.
The Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas, 2015, says poverty in Zimbabwe is mainly a rural phenomenon and the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a nationwide socio-economic barometer in Zimbabwe, indicates that two-thirds of OVCs in the country live below the poverty datum line.
Saul Murimba of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) says on top of dropping out of school due to lack of fees, OVCs are also exposed to neglect, abuse and exploitation.
“Orphaned and vulnerable children are more likely to experience abuse, sexual exploitation and psychosocial distress than children who are not orphaned,” adds Murimba.
However, Higherlife Foundation – a philanthropic organisation co-founded by the Chairman of Econet Group, Strive Masiyiwa and his wife, Tsitsi Masiyiwa, is making optimum use of technology as a delivery and enabling tool to keep OVCs in schools.
The foundation’s biggest impact is not only in Zimbabwe, but also in Lesotho and Burundi where beneficiaries and the surrounding communities access educational and other learning and research resources online for free.
In these three countries, Higherlife Foundation has reached over 240 000 children as well as teachers through close to 50 online learning hubs and fully connected and equipped computer learning centres.
Thanks to Econet Group, the foundation’s anchor partner when it comes to funding, Higherlife is using a platform called “Ruzivo”, to basically bring the entire primary and secondary school curriculum and digital teaching aids to students on their mobile devices.
Camfed, an international non-profit organisation, has also developed a new alert technology within its programme as well as financial database to help ensure that vulnerable girls in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Ghana stay in school.
If a girl is absent, teachers can report it immediately using cheap mobile phones or tablets and local community activists can find out where she is and why she is not in school.
Camfed, just like Higherlife Foundation, believes the technology is not just about getting OVCs to stay in school, but also to impart them with life skills and knowledge; as such, they are supporting graduates with additional training so that they can become economically independent.
Zimbabwe Teacher’s Association (ZTA) Public Relations Officer, Tendai Zambuko, says Zimbabwe has a long way to go in achieving quality education, especially for orphaned and vulnerable children.
She, thus, calls the government to be clearer on policies and strategies on how technology can be used, especially mobile phones to access content and keep children in schools.
She also says at least 20 percent of the national budget must go towards education so as to empower OVCs.
“We need to build young girls who are value-driven and futuristic in their nature. For this to happen, more resources need to be made available to improve infrastructure in schools, especially in rural and resettlement areas,” she says.
Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda applauds the work of Higherlife Foundation and urges the government and other stakeholder in the education sector to invest in technology, as a measure of rapid response intervention for orphaned and vulnerable children to continue with their education.
Humanitarian Information and Facilitation Centre director, Virginia Muwanigwa, says the National Orphan Care Policy, the policy framework for the care and support of orphans in Zimbabwe, is clear that the best place for all children, including orphans, is within a family.
Accordingly, she encourages the government, as the biggest stakeholder, to economically empower communities as well as support education if the country is to achieve gender equality and as well as enhance the use of enabling technologies, in particular ICT, to promote women’s empowerment as provided by the Sustainable Development Goal 5b.