Free Education in Zimbabwe
Upon gaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe mandated free education. Today, however, fees for education in Zimbabwe are at an all time high.

On August 18, nearly 2,000 women activists protested for free education in Zimbabwe in the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo. Only one day later, the protests moved to the Ministry of Education in Harare, the country’s capital. These protests come at a time when citizens are struggling to find jobs and children are being forced to drop out of school because their families cannot afford it.

Organized by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), the protests follow a string of public demonstrations that have occurred within the last two months. In Bulawayo, the protesters presented a petition to the resident minister, declaring the right to free education in Zimbabwe. A similar petition was given to Sylvia Masango, a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

Only 12 percent of the Zimbabwean government’s national budget is allocated to primary and secondary education, according to UNICEF. Of that 12 percent, most of the money only covers administration and teacher salaries. In August, the government reported it would not be taking new hires as it scrambles to pay the salaries of its current public workers.

According to UNICEF, over one million Zimbabwean secondary-school-aged children are not attending school. The number of school dropouts is increasing as the disparity in education grows. Children whose families rank in the top five percent of wealthiest people nationally are three times as likely to attend secondary school as children whose families rank in the bottom five percent.

Fifteen percent of children in Zimbabwe are not attending school due to the high cost of school fees, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Committee. Many impoverished people in Zimbabwe live in rural areas, and Zimbabwe’s rural population makes up 67 percent of the country’s total.

The international community is working to fight school dropout rates. In 2010, through the Education Transition Fund (ETF), UNICEF provided 23 million textbooks to students in Zimbabwe, helping the country reach a one-to-one student-textbook ratio. The fund also helped Zimbabwe create national school grants to help students overcome financial barriers. Through the Second Chance Education Program, the fund supported alternative education opportunities for at least 50,000 children.

In 2015, the U.K. announced it would give $37 million from its Department for International Development to support Zimbabwe’s education sector. Part of the funds goes toward providing quality education for children in rural areas through the School Improvement Grants program.

There are high hopes that support from the international community and pressure from its population will allow Zimbabwe to provide free education once again.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Zimbabwe

Thousands of children are facing starvation and hunger in Zimbabwe due to the worst drought in two decades. According to the World Food Programme, nearly four million Zimbabweans are struggling to meet their basic food needs.

Zimbabwe is considered a food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 on the Global Hunger Index. Although food insecurity affects people of all ages, it is even more detrimental to children.

Studies show that proper nutrition is critical to children’s physical and emotional development. Children struggling with hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in primary school, experience impairments in language and motor skills, or have social and behavioral problems.

In Zimbabwe, only 17.3% of children between the ages of two and six receive the recommended minimum diet for adequate nutrition. A child suffering from malnutrition is more likely to contract diseases, such as HIV, or suffer from stunting. Currently, one in every three Zimbabwean children suffers from chronic malnutrition or stunting. Stunting alone contributes to more than 12,000 deaths per year.

Hunger in Zimbabwe has become a major issue, particularly for low-income families and their children. Struggling families are often pressured to accept a dowry for their young daughters. This provides food for the rest of the family, as well as a potentially more food-secure situation for their daughter.

Approximately one out of every three girls in Zimbabwe are married before their 18th birthday. Girls living in the poorest 20% of households were more than four times as likely to marry before the age of 18 than those living in the wealthiest 20% of households.

Both poverty and hunger in Zimbabwe have resulted in an unsafe environment for children.

In order to combat hunger in Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme has implemented the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO). The three primary focus areas of the operation are disaster response, food assistance and nutrition.

The disaster response and risk reduction program are designed to support food-insecure households affected by severe drought during the growing season.

Food Assistance for Assets provides cash and in-kind transfers, along with activities that promote self-reliance. It empowers vulnerable communities to move away from a dependence on food assistance.

The health and nutrition promotion is responsible for the Moderately Acutely Malnourished treatment, which assists pregnant and nursing women and children under the age of five. A stunting prevention program was also established in the same district.

With the help of the World Food Programme and other international organizations, hunger in Zimbabwe is decreasing and children are able to live healthier and happier lives.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Flickr

Improve education

Many students living in poverty realize that education is important. Some living in the remote communities of Zimbabwe are even willing to walk several dangerous miles to get to school. These young students often face a difficult choice: leave home before dawn and risk being assaulted on the way to school or live in poor conditions and be closer to school. To improve education in Zimbabwe, the World Bicycle Relief has started distributing bikes to young students to help them reach school safely.

Transportation can be a huge issue that keeps children out of school or puts them at risk in transit. Girls are often the victims of sexual assault; on the way to school they run the risk of falling victim to sexual abuse and prostitution.

Getting to school by bicycle can help alleviate this danger, as a girl named Blessing states that her 7-mile walk becomes a bike ride of under an hour. Similarly, a girl named Ethel has said that her bicycle saved her enough time to keep up with her studies. With this new mode of transportation, she can even give rides to other students. In contrast, girls who cannot bike to school are forced to spend many nights in dangerous areas in order to get to school on time.

The World Bicycle Relief’s model of the organization is simple: bicycles are used as a method of empowerment. Moreover, the organization’s education efforts have not only been set up in Zimbabwe, but also in Zambia and in South Africa. At present, the World Bicycle Relief has distributed over 24,212 bikes. Students selected by their schools receive safety training and a bicycle. In exchange, young students sign a contract agreeing to attend school regularly.

The World Bicycle Relief also distributes bikes to entrepreneurs, healthcare providers, field mechanics and even ‘tree-preneurs’ (students who plant and nurture 150 saplings in exchange for a bike). Bicycles can therefore help the whole communities in ways beyond education in Zimbabwe, as they make it easier to get to necessary hospital services or to run other critical errands. Field mechanics are trained and given the tools to start their own bicycle businesses in order to multiply this effort.

The World Bicycle Relief has been providing transportation to many people throughout southern Africa. Their efforts to improve education in Zimbabwe as well as other countries are empowering children to take control of their education. By reducing the commute time and the risk involved in getting to school, the overall quality of life of youth living in remote regions improves.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Hunger_in_ZimbabweNineteen-year-old social entrepreneur, Farai Munjoma, was inspired to create Shasha iSeminar to help end poverty and hunger in Zimbabwe.

Shasha iSeminar is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individuals living in poverty in Zimbabwe with access to educational materials. Munjoma believes with the rise of knowledge comes the decline of poverty.

Shasha iSeminar bridges the education gap by using technology and broadband connection, which is prominent in the country, to connect with people. Munjoma’s vision is to end poverty across the continent and views empowerment as critical to achieving this goal.

The free online classroom offers high school students an online library, career guidance, notes and access to past exams to help guide them through the material. The website is divided into several sections, giving students the opportunity to check out a creative center, learn about recent news and events and learn about careers related to their interests.

Since its introduction in 2014, Shasha iSeminar has changed the face of digital platforms in Africa. The website has received acclaim from students all around Zimbabwe, and it has helped many achieve their academic goals.

Munjoma began collecting material for the website when he was 17 and decided to make it free of charge to help break the financial barrier that prevents many in Zimbabwe from receiving an education.

Recently, Munjoma was one of 12 finalists for the Anzisha Prize, an award given to young entrepreneurs in Africa working for the greater the good. Since being a finalist for the award, Munjoma has continued his education at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, receiving a Merit Global Scholarship. Munjoma hopes to use his newfound knowledge to further Shasha iSeminar’s progress and reach, to continue to attempt to end poverty and hunger in Zimbabwe.

In the future, Munjoma wants to expand Shasha iSeminar into Zimbabwe’s neighboring countries, like Botswana and Mozambique. He also hopes to expand the website’s reach by developing online classrooms and seminars, where students can meet and learn from actual professors and engage with students in real time. Although this idea presents several challenges, like a large learning curve and slow internet, Munjoma is determined to see it through.

Julia Hettiger

Photo: Flickr

USAID FundsIn the southern African country of Zimbabwe, according to Deutsche Welle, the number of individuals requiring emergency food aid has increased from three to four million, as the nation is caught in a severe drought, induced by one of the most forceful El Niño weather patterns of the last 50 years. In response to the crisis, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the U.S. government has contributed an additional $10 million adding to the $25 million contributed to drought relief since June 2015 via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

This extra emergency food aid will secure adequate supplies for 600,000 rural Zimbabweans who are experiencing their second straight year of drought due to the devastation generated by El Niño. $5 million of the donation, which was officially handed over to the WFP by U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry K. Thomas Jr., will be used to provide emergency food supplies and cash allocations for the most at risk Zimbabweans.

The supplementary funds from USAID will allow the WFP to reach more emergency food aid to Zimbabwe’s most at-risk individuals. The WFP noted that in addition to revitalizing existing operations in eight districts already receiving assistance (Zvishavane, Mudzi, Hwange, Binga, Chiredzi, Mwenezi, Kariba and Mbire) it will add three more districts: Chipinge, Mangwe and Uzuma Maramba Plungwe, to reach those most in need of emergency food aid. “With this funding, we will continue to pursue our goal to reach zero hunger in Zimbabwe by investing in resilience-building activities while meeting the immediate needs of the most vulnerable people during this difficult time,” said WFP Zimbabwe County Director Eddie Rowe.

The additional $5 million USAID funds will be used by the WFP to resume its Productive Asset Creation program. This will, said the WFP, allocate monthly food rations or cash transfers to the most disadvantaged Zimbabweans in exchange for labor on community possessions such as irrigation schemes, dip tanks and dams. The assistance will improve rural infrastructure and at the same time improve economic conditions for those rural populations.

In response to the emergency food aid crisis, the WFP also plans to extend its relief program for those who have been hardest hit by food insecurity in Zimbabwe.

The calamitous weather conditions in the country have been a major cause of the extensive crop failure and livestock deaths across the country. The WFP reports that Zimbabwe’s 2014/15 agricultural season recorded a 51 percent decline in maize production compared with the 2013/14 season due to drought, which was exceptionally severe in the south of the country.

These exceptional circumstances have thus propelled the WFP to adjust their relief program and extend it, due to the extreme and ominous impact of El Niño. WFP’s seasonal relief, intended to help individuals through difficult pre-harvest months, typically is in operation from October to March. This year, for the first time, food and cash assistance will continue throughout 2016 and into 2017.

Heidi Grossman

phd-graduates
According to recent statistics provided to UNICEF by the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education, about 2 million children are attending school throughout the country.

However, despite this seemingly good news, the classroom environment provided in the Zimbabwe education system suffers from a chronic lack of funding. In many classrooms throughout the country, they go without the proper facilities, materials and supplies for students to learn. In addition, the Zimbabwe education system’s curriculum is considered unbalanced and leaves students unprepared for higher education.

In response to this crisis in education, in 2013 the government of Zimbabwe instituted a series of reforms to revitalize the education system, including a review and overhaul of the curriculum.

An article titled “Education: Literacy is not enough,” published by the Zimbabwe Independent in 2014, states that the country maintains a literacy rate of approximately 90 percent, making the people of Zimbabwe among the most learned African scholars.

However, despite the growing literacy rate in Zimbabwe, very few people pass the national exams. The Ordinary Level Exams are the country’s measure of competence – roughly the equivalent of high school exit exams.

As seen in a report by UNESDOC, the United Nations Development goals for Zimbabwe for 2013-2015 show that education is a clear priority for development. The UN’s goals for the education system in Zimbabwe are to:

  1. Stabilize the teaching force
  2. Increase participation in education and training
  3. Increase participation in higher education and tertiary schools

But challenges remain. A story published by National Public Radio recounts the tale of a 14-year-old girl who was held back from attending school because of the fees. Government schools charge about $40 to $90 per child to attend. In poorer areas of the country, the families just cannot afford it.

An article by the African Report has the dropout rate at roughly 43 percent of students, forced out of school because they cannot not pay the government fees. This amounts to about 13,000 students in Zimbabwe last year.

Finding qualified teachers is yet another significant obstacle for the education system in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations is working closely with the government of Zimbabwe to help rectify these issues. The international community through the United Nations is committing $166.2 million to ensure that primary school children receive a proper education.

Robert Cross

Sources: African Economist, Education Zimbabwe, The African Report, The Independent, United Nations 1, United Nations 2, UNICEF
Photo: African Economist

Keeping the Little Guy Safe: Small Farmers’ Insurance in Zimbabwe
Less than 10 years ago there was little to no financial safety for African farmers. Planters, ranchers, herders and nomads were all subject to changing weather cycles and droughts, which could be detrimental to harvests.

If and when disaster struck, farmers and their families often had no access to bank accounts or emergency loans, and insurance was unfathomably expensive — if available at all. Then came the cell phone, and all of that changed.

Africa has seen one of the largest cell phone booms in the world. As soon as mobile devices became affordable, usage across the continent skyrocketed. Rather than trying to work within the poorly developed and expensive banking system, many Africans turned to mobile financial markets to apply for loans and open accounts.

Millions, (12 percent of mobile users) now conduct financial operations using mobile money accounts. This has spurred a huge increase in economic access, thus reducing poverty slowly but surely.

Though they now had bank accounts for emergency funds and access to loans for seeds and equipment, farmers still faced uncertain futures at the hands of Mother Nature. The increased effects of climate change did not settle any anxieties, either.

In Zimbabwe, however, small farmers have finally caught a break with the help of EcoFarmer, a mobile service that provides instant, low-cost crop insurance against droughts and floods.

Seventy percent of Zimbabwe’s economy is still agrarian-based, and the country has only recently begun to recover from a devastating recession. The need for economic stability and protection is crucial.

Users of the service pay the equivalent of 8 cents per day for 125 days and are then guaranteed protection for a harvest. The guarantee is about $100 for every 10 kilograms of seed planted.

The service makes it affordable to even some of the poorest in the world to be insured. Insurance will give these farmers and their families a safety net so that, at the very least, they will not sink into even further poverty.

EcoFarmer also serves as an educational tool to farmers who, until recently, have relied on out-of-date practices and information. Users receive weather updates and forecasts in addition to farming tips, and perhaps most importantly, current market prices for common crops.

With this information, farmers can increase their yields and thus, their incomes. Mobile money services are changing the way the world does business, and in Africa, they are spurring huge amounts of economic growth. With increased mobile money access and services like EcoFarmer, the goal of eliminating poverty once and for all is becoming an ever more feasible reality.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Econet
Photo: Flickr

Cruelest_DictatorsHere is a list of the top 10 cruelest dictators.

10. Vladimir Putin is the current president of Russia and has been in power since 1999. He spent four years as the Russian Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012, though most experts believe he was still calling the shots. Putin is a strong man who rules Russia with a fierce grip. His presidency has been lamented by human rights groups and Western governments. Putin maintains a terrible domestic civil rights policy, and viciously puts down political dissension and free speech. Moreover, under his command, Russia has engaged in military action in Georgia, Chechnya and most notably, Crimea, the invasion and annexation of which violated Ukrainian sovereignty.

9. Robert Mugabe is now in his seventh term of office as the President of Zimbabwe. Many political scientists and experts have cited massive electoral fraud and rigging in Mugabe’s favor during the 2013 election as the reasons behind his victory. According to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Mugabe’s government systematically violates the right to shelter, food, freedom of movement and political expression. In addition, Mugabe made all acts of homosexuality illegal in Zimbabwe.

8. Muammar Gaddafi was the self-proclaimed “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” of Libya for more than 50 years. Gaddafi was, at first, a widely supported leader after he led the September Revolution in 1969. However, as he consolidated power, his regime became more authoritarian. His calls for Pan-Africanism were greatly overshadowed by his pitiful human rights record. During the Arab Spring, Gaddafi ordered his forces to fire on unarmed protesters calling for his resignation. The United Nations Human Rights Council called for an investigation into war crimes. Gaddafi was deposed and killed at the end of the Libyan Civil War.

7. Idi Amin’s paranoid administration was marred by rampant violence toward his political enemies. U.N. observers estimate that 100,000 to 500,000 were persecuted and killed in Uganda under his reign. Amin’s victims were originally his direct political opponents and those who supported the regime he fought to overtake. However, extrajudicial killings began to include academics, lawyers, foreign nationals and minority ethnic groups within the country.

6. Kim Jong Il continued his father’s fearsome policy of official party indoctrination. North Korea currently ranks as one of the poorest nations on the planet, with millions facing starvation, disease and lack of basic human needs. Under Kim’s reign, North Korean military spending quadrupled, yet he refused foreign aid and did not invest in his country’s farms, thereby indirectly killing millions. Kim’s policy of mass internment through the use of labor camps and virtually no political debate makes him one of history’s worst despots.

5. Pol Pot was the dictator of Cambodia for 20 years, from 1961 to 1983, as the leader of the Khmer Rouge government. His regime is characterized by the Cambodian genocide and the infamous “killing fields.” Pol Pot began a program of severe nationalization whereby he forced millions of people out of urban areas into the countryside to farm and work on forced labor projects. Due to the forced labor, poor food and medical conditions, as well as the addition of massive amounts of state-sponsored killings, nearly 25% of Cambodia’s population died under Pol Pot’s rule.

4. Bashar al-Assad is the current President of Syria. Assad’s authoritarian regime was called into question during the Arab Spring and was cited for numerous civil rights violations, including suppression of free speech, corruption and political freedom. Assad ordered massive crackdowns and thus triggered the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Government forces only grew more violent towards protesting Syrian citizens, and there have been allegations of chemical warfare. Assad has been accused of numerous human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3. Joseph Stalin was the second leader of the Soviet Union. Though part of the original seven Bolshevik leaders, Stalin quickly consolidated sole power and became a tyrant. In the 1930s, he pursued a policy of political upheaval known as “the Great Purge.” From 1930 to 1934, millions of Soviet citizens were imprisoned, exiled or killed. Stalin also pursued a policy of massive economic reforms that led to the deaths of millions due to famine and forced labor in Gulag camps.

2. Mao Zedong was the first Chairman of the Communist Party of China, and in terms of numbers of deaths during his reign, he tops the list. Nearly 70 million Chinese died during his rule. Mao systematically broke down ancient Chinese culture and nearly ended political dissent and freedom in China. His revolutionary economic policies during “the Great Leap Forward” resulted in one of the worst famines in modern history. In addition, Mao also implemented forced labor and public executions.

1. Adolf Hitler was the Führer of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945. Hitler tops the list because of his disturbingly systematic genocidal policies. 5.5 million Jews and other “unwanteds” were deliberately targeted and executed in sanctioned ghettos, work camps and extermination camps. Hitler’s foreign policy and unrelenting desire to give the German people “room to live” were the major causes of World War II. Hitler also put down political dissenters and enemies and banned art, film, literature and teaching methods not sanctioned by the state.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Forbes, List25, The Atlantic
Photo: Flickr

Cecil_the_Lion
According to reports from The Telegraph, Cecil the lion, the most famous creature in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, was killed—rather, poached—by an American hunter.

The Telegraph reveals that Mr. Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, reportedly paid an estimated $50,000 to shoot and kill the lion. The weapon in question that was used to kill the lion was a bow and arrow. According to reports, Palmer used the bow and arrow in order to hide his tracks.

Palmer allegedly has a hunting felony history, which includes bears, deer, cougars and other various animals, some of which were endangered. Palmer faces charges from both the United States and Zimbabwe. The latter is seeking to extradite the dentist over the killing.

So, along with this tragedy and many others, what can happen when men like Palmer ignore the sanctity of wildlife preserves and poach for profit or “sport”?

Excessive poaching can lead to the degradation of natural habitats and eventually lead to a widespread state of environmental chaos. However, research has shown that it can also influence the lives of people living in poverty-stricken areas where the majority of poaching takes place.

In the past several years, the World Bank has expanded its understanding of how organized crime, corruption, illegal trade and money laundering affect development outcomes. In response, it has stepped up its work on issues such as stolen asset recovery, governance and anti-corruption work.

It has found that because of the lack of economic alternatives for people in the area, the poaching trade seems like the only alternative to provide a means to an end. Yet, what might seem like a lucrative venture can instead be the opposite. Many of these individuals are taken advantage of by the poachers, and they also do it at a heavy risk of prison time. All of these factors can lead to the degradation of their lives.

While fighting poaching by itself may only work to protect the endangered animals of the world, fighting the severe poverty in some of these areas may one day remove the incentive for poaching and the enabling of it, thus helping the impoverished communities, animals and habitats as well.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: World Bank, Borgen Project, IT News Africa, CNN 1, CNN 2, Telegraph, NBC News
Photo: Flickr

Solar_Power_Kits
When a bike accident left Pascal Kassongo injured, out of a courier job, and nearly destitute, his prospects looked grim. But thanks to the Amandala Project, Kassongo has found a new source of income with the Ecoboxx.

Lightweight and portable, each Ecoboxx can supply up to 50 hours of power and comes with a fan, hair clippers and charging ports for cell phones and other devices. Since launching in January of 2015, the Amandala Project, whose name means “power” in Zulu, has distributed 300 solar power kits to South Africans in need, with plans to distribute almost 600 more kits in the near future.

The goal of the project is to supply the unemployed, and particularly the migrant, residents of South Africa with the means to start their own small businesses, free of any charge past the initial investment. An individual can make up to 1,600 rand (about $128) cutting hair each week, and another thousand charging phones and other devices. The average income in South Africa for unskilled workers is around $500 per month.

While some choose to stick with running a barbershop with their Ecoboxx, others have come up with creative alternative uses. Janet Bete, who came to South Africa from Zimbabwe, rents out her kit for lights to local businesses and churches operating when it is dark. The enterprising woman also takes time to give back to her community. “Whenever there is a funeral in my community and there is no power, I donate my lights—it’s my way of paying [people] back for living well together,” said Bete.

Kassongo has also opted to put his solar kit to an alternative use. Rather than run a barbershop himself, Kassongo, a father of four, rents his kit out to neighbors who do own barbershops, sharing the proceeds with them. “It helps put something on the table,” said Kassongo.

The Ecoboxx, which retails at around 4000 rand, is being distributed by the Amandla Project, a subsidiary of the South African organization Community Chest, for a nominal fee of 200 rand. Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids said he hopes the kits will “electrify” rural South Africa, and when combined with creative entrepreneurialism, help generate income in the regions that so desperately need it.

Gina Lehner

Sources: All About Africa, EcoBoxx
Photo: EcoBoxx