Home » General » The Unsung Heroines in Slums

Sixteen-year-old Shuvai Chirau (not real name) sits by the small door of a plastic and pole makeshift cabin she calls home in the slum community of Hatcliffe Extension, 20 kilometres outside the capital, Harare.

She is the oldest in her family with five siblings, and takes care of an ailing 65-year old grandmother and an HIV-positive mother.

Her whitewashed face shows visible marks of exhaustion as she is burdened by the life role she has assumed.

In a household with people in despair, surviving on food hand-outs from well-wishers and non-governmental organisations, Shuvai as the eldest child and a girl in the family, has to assume all the parental duties of doing household chores — cooking, washing and taking responsibility of her siblings and very sick mother.

She dropped out of school at the age of 13 when she was supposed to be in Grade Seven, due to lack of money. The situation in her household also meant that she was needed more at home than at school.

“I dropped out of school to take care of my mother, grandchildren and siblings. I could not go to secondary school due to financial constraints and also that there is no formal secondary school here. I wish to have a better life and build my grandmother a proper house but I cannot,” Shuvai said.

Such is the life of many young girls in slum communities, whose lives have been impacted on by the effects HIV and AIDS.

According to 2013 statistics by UNICEF, one in four children in Zimbabwe has lost one or both parents to AIDS and other causes thus approximately 100 000 child-headed households in the country as many children now have to work to survive.

“The lives of children especially girls in these slum communities has been severely damaged by the effects of the deadly pandemic. Burdened by gender roles, these girls have assumed parental duties at a tender age,” said Justice Mbiva, the director of Vision HIVAIDS — an NGO that works with children affected by the pandemic in slum communities.

“Many have dropped out of school and the few that remain in school are burdened by their problems at home such that they cannot focus on their education and end up having lower grades and fail to attain better future prospects,” Mbiva added.

Imprisoned by their circumstances in life many young girls have lost hope for the future and have nothing to look forward to except the life bestowed to them — being the immediate caregivers and parents to their younger siblings.

“I cannot go to school and leave my grandmother and mother in this condition. I have to do all the housework and am obligated to take care of my young brothers and sisters,” Shuvai moaned.

Vision HIVAIDS in its efforts to improve the lives of young girls in such gruelling situations started working with the young girls and boys to give them vocational training. They offer dressmaking and wielding courses to equip the school drop-outs with manual skills that would help them in the future.

“We discovered that it is difficult to send them back to primary school because at their age (13-16), they would have matured and it affects their learning. We set up a training school to equip them with manual skills of dressmaking. However, many of them drop out of the program as a result of the prevailing situations at home which do not give them spare time to engage in the skills training,” Mbiva said.

Yet, according to NGOs though these young girls and boys are doing great strides for their families, they remain unnoticed.

“These young girls are young heroines who have accomplished a lot by simply dropping their plans for a better future, accept their situations assuming parental roles,” Mbiva added.

According to Vision HIVAIDS many young girls in the slum communities of Hatcliffe Extension, endure the long distances in search of firewood and water, at the same time sell bananas to raise money to feed the family. Gender Activists maintain that the girls are important to society and should those in the impoverished communities who are living with the effects of the deadly pandemic should be hailed for their sacrificial roles.

Women’s Trust, an NGO that works to empower women and girls, maintains that the girls are heroines as they sacrifice their childhood, education and future to take care of their parents and siblings.

“In our African culture the birth of a girl child is not highly celebrated compared to the male counterparts, yet girls are more important. They sacrifice their future for the well-being of the lives of their family members,” said Communications, Information and Aocacy Officer, Tendayi Garwe.

“Girls are an investment to society. They look back to their communities and they should be appreciated and celebrated for their efforts,” Garwe added.

While the role of girls and women is pivotal, they continue to be marginalised and gender activists maintain that girls sacrifice a lot for society yet they remain marginalised.

Source : The Herald