Orphans battle for education, who is helping?

At 17, Tonderai Chari (not his real name) from Harare should be in school but circumstances have forced him to provide for his family.

Thousands of children are forced out of school to fend for themselves and their dependents.
Thousands of children are forced out of school to fend for themselves and their dependents.

While his peers are studying for their O Levels, Chari is on the streets playing a perpetual catch-me-if-you-can game with the municipal police as he struggles to earn money as a vendor.

The eldest of six siblings, Chari was forced to become a breadwinner before his time after he lost both parents to Aids-related illnesses.

“When my parents passed on, relatives chased us out of our parent’s house,” Chari said. “We had to be helped by neighbours through Childline to reclaim the house and since then, we don’t see eye to eye with them. I have to vend in order to support the family.’’

Childline is a Harare based non-governmental organisation promoting the welfare of vulnerable children.

Chari, who has lost all hope of getting back into school, is among thousands of children who have to prematurely enter the world of employment to fend for themselves and their dependents.

Unlike Chari whose parents died when he was in his teens, Tawanda Kumbirai (not his real name) does not even remember his parents, who died when he was three.

But he too is out of school and works as a cowherd for a neighbouring family, earning $40 a month to add to his grandmother’s scant proceeds from her small maize plot in Mhondoro, some 60km southwest of Harare.

It has become commonplace for the elderly, who need help themselves, to look after children left behind by parents succumbing to HIV/AIDS.

According to a report ‘Because I Am a Girl Campaign’ launched in September 2011, Plan Zimbabwe reported that HIV/AIDS has impacted negatively on older persons, with at least 60 percent of Orphans and Vulnerable Children under their care.

“It is a statistical fact that 60 percent of OVCs are under the care of the elderly but the government has not done enough to alleviate the plight of these people,” Elayn Sammon, Child Protection Specialist with Unicef, said.

With help from Unicef and other NGOs, the government’s welfare ministry runs the Basic Education Assistance Module, which pays school fees for vulnerable children and those orphaned by Aids. But the grant falls far short of the children’s needs, and has been dogged by rumours of corruption and incompetence.

Speaking at a conference organised by Help Age Zimbabwe in Harare recently, Sammon said Zimbabwe has over 7 million children, of which 3.5 million live below the food poverty line.

“The Food Poverty Line is well below the common Poverty Datum Line (PDL) because this is composed of the poorest of the poor some of whom have been taken out of the cash economy altogether,” she added.

A private welfare organization, Simbarashe Network of People Living with HIV and Aids, recently launched a humanitarian project to benefit hundreds of children who dropped out of school in Mhondoro.

Dubbed Out of School Programme, it has sent 150 children back to school. The founder, Richman Rangwani, said: “This is a vital program in the community because most of our children were herding cattle and now they can access education for free.”

Dr Elisha Kajese, head of the correspondence schools programme in the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture praised projects such as Simbarashe which he said “give a chance to OVCs who have dropped out of school for different reasons.”

The African Union Plan of Action Towards an Africa Fit for Children 2009 says “the future of Africa lies with the wellbeing of its children and youth…Today’s investment in children is tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy and sustainable development.”

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