Hunger drives children out of school

Children in food-scarce Matabeleland North are dropping out of school because they can’t bear to travel long distances on empty stomachs.

Parents and Ministry of Education officials who spoke to The Zimbabwean said children who did manage to make the journey were severely weakened by hunger and couldn’t concentrate on their studies.

“The problem of hunger affecting schoolchildren started in Binga in February this year. The whole province has now been affected and children are fainting in classes because of hunger. Children are coming to school with empty stomachs,” said Boithatelo Mguni, education director for Matabeleland North.

Mguni said hunger was now disrupting lessons and sports activities.

“There is no way teachers can carry out sports activities with hungry children. Most of the teachers are also stressed because at times they are forced to prepare porridge for those children who have fainted in classrooms,” said Mguni.

A teacher at Manjolo primary school in Binga added: “Most children at my school are weak and they always complain of hunger. Some just sleep during lessons, which is a clear sign of hunger. Some have confided to teachers that there is virtually nothing at home to eat.”

The teacher added that the situation was likely to lead to low pass rates for the province.

According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC), more than 2.2m people in half the country’s 10 provinces are facing famine. Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, the Midlands and some parts of Manicaland are the most affected provinces after another poor farming season characterised by a prolonged dry spell.

Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, recorded a meager 968,000 tonnes for the 2011-2012 agricultural season. Annually, the country needs 2m tonnes of grain to feed its people and livestock.

The country has placed an order for 150,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia as part of efforts to plug the grain gap, amid reports that grain reserves have plummeted to critical level. There are said to be only 23,000 tonnes of grain available.

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