Sista2Sista Club Empowers the Women of Zimbabwe
Gender inequality is a crippling factor that debilitates women and young girls in impoverished countries, such as Zimbabwe. In response to the increasing rate of dropouts and sexual abuse that is prevalent in Zimbabwe, the Sista2Sista club was established in 2013 to assist in empowering Zimbabwe women to learn about personal rights and advocate for themselves.

Stories like that of  15-year-old Shamiso Nyamutamba are far too common in Zimbabwe. By age 5, both of Shamiso’s parents had passed away and she was sent to live with her uncle, who planned to force her hand in marriage and send her to work instead of pursuing an education. Shamiso’s time with her uncle included abuse and discrimination and though she was fortunate enough to eventually escape the harmful environment, she was still required to make work a priority in her life in lieu of an education. Soon after her transition, Shamiso heard of the Sista2Sista club that offered a safe place for vulnerable girls, such as herself.

Shamiso eventually learned she was HIV positive since birth. Through the advocacy and empowerment that Sista2Sista provides, she continues to grow with their health services and school programs. She has “proven to be academically gifted,” and as described by Shamiso, Sista2Sista “taught [her] that early marriage is wrong… and to report cases of abuse right away.”

Since the organization of Sista2Sista started, 10,388 Zimbabwean girls have joined the club. The U.N. Population Fund provides financial support and advocates for the initiatives of promoting sexual and reproductive health rights. UNFPA works to reduce maternal mortality rates, provide family planning education and prevent new HIV infections and gender-based violence. The UNFPA supports the need for an informed “understanding of population dynamics and using an integrated, rights-based and gender-sensitive approach.”

Ongoing support for women through organizations such as Sista2Sista has created a movement in Zimbabwe that continues to invent new methods needed to advocate for furthering women’s rights. As outlined in the Girls and Young Women’s Empowerment Framework, the Government of Zimbabwe plans to increase accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services. Additional goals include increasing female participation in the decision-making processes and equality in all levels of education, as well as increasing the rate of violence reporting experienced by girls from three percent to 50% by 2020.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

The Elders Support Zimbabwe Through a Letter to SADC
The Elders, a group of global leaders unified by Nelson Mandela, have urged the heads of state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to support Zimbabwe through an upcoming transitional period.

In a letter to the SADC, they point out that Zimbabwe is “on the verge of an important transition.” The advocates behind the letter, including Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, note that with the support of the SADC, Zimbabwe could experience a shift to democratic leadership and a boost to their economic and social development.

Zimbabwe has been rife with protests recently as a result of displeasure with President Robert Mugabe’s rule, as well as various economic problems that have developed in the country.

There are cash shortages throughout the country, the government is planning to reintroduce bond notes as legal tender and civil servants are lacking several months of pay. Civilian anger about these facts has led to multiple protests that police have broken up through the use of batons and tear gas.

Government authorities are attempting to subdue civilian protests, many of which have been organized through social media, by drafting a law that will punish civilians with up to five years jail time for “abusive” use of social media.

The Elder’s letter comes at an auspicious time considering the current tumult within Zimbabwe. Additionally, the letter prefaces the upcoming SADC group summit in Swaziland.

In the letter, not only do the Elders support Zimbabwe but they also make clear that aid to Zimbabwe will be beneficial for the nation as a whole and should, therefore, be something that SADC thoroughly consider in their impending meeting.

The letter states, “The Elders believe the upcoming summit is an important opportunity to reflect on how best SADC can help Zimbabwe manage the complex challenges ahead.”

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Zimbabwe Refugees
Here are 10 facts about Zimbabwe refugees:

  1. It’s estimated that 3.4 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population have fled their country as refugees. Most of them have gone to three countries — South Africa, Australia and Britain. Britain houses the majority with over 400,000.
  2. Zimbabweans are leaving their homes as a result of the repressive government in the country. For more than 40 years, President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly violated human rights. Amnesty International called on the government to “end the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders.”
  3. Most Zimbabwean refugees flee to South Africa, the bordering country. South Africa is actually one of the busiest borders in Africa, and the number of Zimbabweans entering has been increasing since President Mugabe escalated his brutal regime. Once in South Africa, local churches are able to provide Zimbabweans with the food and education they have to give.
  4. Thousands of Zimbabweans apply for asylum, yet only a tiny fraction is granted. Since South Africa does not officially recognize the human rights violations of Mugabe’s regime, the majority of Zimbabweans crossing the border are deported back to their country, 14,000 are deported every week.
  5. Many Zimbabweans attempting to seek refugee status in South Africa face deadly diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV. The Mugabe regime has been unable to provide any type of health care system.
  6. Zimbabweans crossing the border to South Africa at Beitbridge are forced to swim across the river. Unfortunately, many don’t make it. There are frequent reports of drowning or being eaten by crocodiles.
  7. The vast majority of Zimbabweans that flee to South Africa are children. Between 350 and 400 cross the border without passing official checkpoints, many travel without an adult. Criminals know this and take advantage of the situation — robbing, enslaving or sexually abusing Zimbabwean children.
  8. The large influx of Zimbabweans entering South Africa has lead to backlash from the local population — the lack of jobs has created xenophobia.
  9. Doctors Without Borders continues to be a huge help for refugees, yet their only location in South Africa near the Zimbabwean border was closed. This location was crucial in providing 2,000 medical consultants for Zimbabweans each month, protecting them from danger while awaiting their legal papers to enter into South Africa.
  10. Much of Zimbabwe is maintained and financed because of the money that these refugees are sending back home; small amounts of money are consistently sent each month to many families who then use that money to pay for school, groceries or housing.

Marcelo Guadiana

Photo: Flickr

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

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