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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” These are the words of the revered and iconic late African statesman Nelson Mandela.

Even the United Nations acknowledges the importance of education that it has not only put it among the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but is actually goal number two with the aim to “achieve universal primary education”.

Education offers one an opportunity to better not only themselves but also their community. As the popular Maimonides adage says “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Education is teaching one to fish.

With this proverbial saying in mind, Youth Reach International (YRI), an organisation comprising young passionate Zimbabweans, has embarked on a primary school children enrolment programme in the Mutasa and Bingaguru districts of Manicaland Province. The project is meant for the underprivileged in the district, most of whom have dropped out of school due to the current economic hardships.

The programme hopes to enrol 500 children back into school by year-end.

Seven-year-old orphan Nigel Nhidza is one of the beneficiaries of the YRI initiative. Nigel lives with his grandmother Loice Nhidza who laments their poverty and her inability to send her grandson to school.

“It is difficult for us here because we have no resources. My children passed away and we are without a breadwinner. I am old and do not work and I cannot afford to send any of the five children here to school,” she said.

Mbuya Nhidza, from Musewe village in Mutasa District, takes care of her deceased son’s children, the oldest of whom is 16 and the youngest five.

“Nigel was meant to start Grade One beginning this year but there was no money to send him to school. He would just go with the other children from the area but we cannot buy him books or a school uniform.

“I am grateful for what YRI is doing here. I do not have to worry about his education any more as he has been enrolled in the programme. At least the little we have can be used to feed his siblings.

“I am elated that at least he will get a chance to be educated and hopefully live a better life,” Mbuya Nhidza said.

Nigel’s situation is not unique as many children in the district were unable to afford the $22 per term school fees at Mutasa Primary School.

Mbuya Esther Matambo, who is over 90 years old, lives with six grandchildren. She says her daughter left her children as she went to live with another man.

All the children have different fathers.

“It is difficult for me because I can hardly see or move. These children do not have anyone to look after them properly or send them to school.

“The three boys who were supposed to be in Grades 6 and 7 have dropped out of school and have joined gold panners. I now have to take care of the young girls in Grade Two and Three but I have no source of income.

“I am grateful to headman Chimbadzwe for chipping in with maize otherwise we should have died of hunger by now. Nothing is coming from the gold panning. I want to thank YRI for coming to our aid. At least the two children can go to school,” she said.

Sofia Hatinawedu (8) from Ziteya village is also an orphan who lives with her grandmother. Like the other children in her position, Sofia is unable to attend school because she cannot afford school fees.

“Mutasa Primary School is a few kilometres from where we stay. I look after my grandchild and cannot afford to send her to school,” her grandmother Mbuya Hatinawedu said.

Mutasa Primary School headmaster Mr Mademutsa said of the 557 pupils at the school from ECD to Grade 7, only about 200 were up to date with their school fees.

“It is truly a difficult situation for us here because the directive from Government is that no child must be sent home because they cannot afford school fees. More than half the school struggles to pay fees and so we do not have enough resources to adequately teach the children.

“This YRI initiative is welcome because it means that we will be able to provide for a lot more children here. The situation for some of these families is dire because most parents are out of work or absent and the children live with their grandparents,” he said.

Mr Mademutsa said that although other programmes such as BEAM and Capernaum assisted in enrolling children in school, there had been a late disbursement of funds as well as cumbersome and lengthy paperwork which at the end of the day disaantaged the school.

The executive director of YRI, Langton Mujati (29), says that having assessed the communities in Mutasa and Bingaguru districts it was evident that there were a number of impoverished families who needed assistance and one way to provide it was to ensure their children were enrolled in schools.

“Education is said to be the greatest equaliser and as such as an organisation we thought that one of the best ways to assist poor families was to find a way to make sure that their children were enrolled in school,” he said.

Through the help of community-based operatives as well as records from Mutasa Primary School and Nyakatsapa Primary School, YRI surveyed which children were most in need of assistance.

The target was to enrol 90 children at Mutasa Primary School and 100 at Nyakatsapa in the second term.

“Our goal is to have 500 children enrolled by the end of the year and a target of 1 400 in 2016. Right now we are considering extreme cases where kids have absolutely no means but the information we are getting from the schools and from our door-to-door surveys is that most children are in similar circumstances,” said 25-year old YRI director of administration Ms Nyasha Kanyuchi

“Funding is one of our biggest challenges. Aside from donor funds which we are currently sourcing, we are looking at creating income generating projects for the people in these communities in order to benefit their specific lives and for the programme to remain sustainable.

“There are also individuals who originate from this area such as Mr Lincoln Mutasa who have taken an interest in what YRI is trying to achieve and have shown a desire to support our initiative,” she added.

Zimbabweans take pride in the high literacy rate, 92 percent in young women (aged 15-24 years) and 86,1 percent in young men, according to the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS). In order to keep this rate high it is important that there be full enrolment of children in schools.

The MICS shows that in 2014 there was a 73,3 percent net intake of children of primary school age entering Grade One. What is of concern is the 26,7 percent who were left behind as the ripple effect affects future generations.

The same survey shows that a child was more likely to enter Grade One at the correct age if their mother had been educated. The chances increased from 54,4 percent if the mother had no education to 90,3 percent if the mother had higher education.

The year 2015 is the deadline to meet the MDGs. Where universal education is concerned, MICS 2014 shows that Zimbabwe has a total of 93,3 net attendance ratio of children of primary school age attending primary or secondary school.

Although the percentage of those in school is considerably, high there is 6,6 percent of children that are out of school that the country should worry about.

However, with school enrolment initiatives such as the one taken up by Youth Reach International, there is hope and a way to achieve MDG 2 and use education as a weapon to change the world and combat poverty.

Source : The Herald