Makeshift school bridges gap for forgotten children

Investment in education may have increased enrolments at both primary and secondary level, but the sprouting of illegal settlements has denied thousands of children, especially in primary school, their right to education. SOFIA MAPURANGA meets a couple who are teaching against all the odds.

A pen and paper are precious things for this grade 2 pupil at Danho primary school.
A pen and paper are precious things for this grade 2 pupil at Danho primary school.

To reach some of these needy pupils, a couple from Dunstan Farm, on the outskirts of Harare is running a makeshift school called Danho Primary.

With only 10 narrow benches that can accommodate at most four pupils, two stools, one desk, a worn out brownish chalkboard and three crooked chairs for the teachers, Elma and Gilbert Mupenyu, with the help of Sandra Mupoperi, Alfred Hove and Edeline Jumo, are catering for more than 210 children.

Not deterred by having to use a dilapidated Seventh Day Adventist church as their only classroom, the couple said they decided to open the school after realising that children from the area were just roaming around the compound without any prospects of enrolling in school.

Said Elma Mupenyu: “We opened this school in 2009, but we had no idea we would be catering for so many children.”

Not yet qualified in the teaching profession, the Mupenyus told The Zimbabwean that they loved teaching the children despite the fact that they had to do this on a voluntary basis.

“It is my wish to one day train as a teacher but, for now, I am happy that I am filling the gap. The look on these children’s faces that they are going to school is reason enough for me to look forward to each brand new day at this school,” she said.

Committed to helping children on the resettled farms, voluntary teacher Edeline Jumo with her students.
Committed to helping children on the resettled farms, voluntary teacher Edeline Jumo with her students.

The couple said the idea of establishing a school began when Elma, then unemployed, realised that she was spending most of her time teaching the children the basics of mathematics, English and Shona whenever she met them in the compound.

“I approached the church leadership and asked to use their premises as a school and, when they agreed, I started the school with close to 22 pupils,” she said. On the second day, children started pouring in, as parents unhappy about their children roaming the fields were delighted that Dunstan Farm had a school.

The only country on the continent with a literacy rate of over 90 per cent, education in Zimbabwe is one sector where the country has made considerable achievements.

Since 1980, the Zanu (PF)-led government boasted of investing in 5,753 primary schools and 2,312 secondary schools, employing more than 70,000 primary school teachers to date, 90 per cent of whom have the required professional qualifications.

In his current budget allocation to the education ministry, finance minister Patrick Chinamasa confirmed government’s commitment to the ‘education for all’ agenda.

The education ministry was allocated close to $1m, in solidarity with Section 75 of the new Constitution, which provides for the right to education for every child.

However, since the farm invasions in which close to 4,500 white commercial farmers were thrown off the land and replaced by black families, satellite schools have sprouted up countrywide.

Elma Mupenyu in class
Elma Mupenyu in class

Unconfirmed statistics indicate that there are more than 700 satellite schools in Zimbabwe, the majority of which were established to bridge the education gap.

Gilbert Mupenyu added: “The compound is big because this is the only school that caters for everyone on this farm. Initially, we were charging $2 per week until we realised that the majority of the parents could not afford to pay this.”

He said because the children lived with either a single parent or grandparents, most of them came to school with no shoes. Others stopped coming because they couldn’t afford even the token fee.

Chipped in Elma: “The majority of the children enrolled without birth certificates. I think this one of the reasons why they were failing to enrol in government schools because the majority of the single mothers revealed that they cannot go and get birth certificates for their children because the fathers are not there,” she said, emphasising the need for a comprehensive awareness campaign on how single parents can get identity documents for their children.

Said Gilbert: “Our main challenge is that, as you can see, this facility is not a proper building. When it rains, we have to take the children inside to shelter against the wall until the weather clears.”

He said that if the rains were too heavy, the children couldn’t sit on the floor because of the mud.

“The other side of the shade fell down and water flows through that end, making it difficult for the children to sit on the floor. We don’t have enough benches a and cannot accommodate all of them,” he added.

On school stationery and textbooks, the Mupenyus said they had improvised.

The over-used blackboard had worn out and one end had fallen off.

“The children do not have textbooks but we managed to buy teachers’ copies for each grade,” said Elma.

Added her husband: “For the grade sevens, we photocopied the textbooks. Last year only three out of the 17 grade seven students managed to sit their final examinations at a Beatrice School.”

The couple said efforts to get help from well-wishers hadn’t been successful.

“This community is very poor, but the effort that parents have made to see their children come to school is just amazing. One of the parents is a carpenter, who gave us these benches as a way of paying school fees for his child,” said Elma.

Added Gilbert: “If only we could get well-wishers to construct a block as a starting point, because these children have nowhere else to go. We would be so grateful. They cannot afford to go to Hatfield primary school neither can they go to Manyame because it is too far.”

One of their teachers, Edeline Jumo, told The Zimbabwean that she was optimistic government would consider the plight of children on resettled farms.

“The children’s future is at stake. I’m a parent myself and this is why I spend my time teaching these children the basics of education,” she said.

Coming from the only Blair toilet at the school, one 10-year-old said he wanted to be a doctor when he finished school.

“If I am able to register for grade seven, I am sure that I will make it because I am working hard,” he said.

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