Mental Health in Zimbabwe
The Friendship Bench has revolutionized the field of mental health in Zimbabwe and beyond. Due to its great localized success, 32 Friendship Benches have undergone installation around stadiums at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Mental Health in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, with 70% of the population living below the poverty line. This economic state has caused many struggles for the citizens, such as inadequate nutrition and the prevalence of diseases. Mental health is also a major issue, but many often neglect it. Legislation regarding mental health policy is outdated, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that “There is a shortage of human resources for mental health in Zimbabwe, in part a result of the emigration of locally trained professionals due to economic instability.”

Mental health is an important issue for the citizens of any country. Therefore, mental health care and support are a necessary part of a nation’s health system. UNICEF Zimbabwe has called for more assistance for youth and adolescents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the country lacks the resources to address the issue in its entirety. This challenge has required creative solutions from local NGOs, an example being the Friendship Bench Project.

The Birth of the Friendship Bench

Since 2006, the Friendship Bench has trained more than 600 mentors to offer support on benches in communities around Zimbabwe. These volunteers offer assistance using techniques based on cognitive behavioral therapy and are often from the communities in which they practice. This connection allows a deeper understanding of the struggles that community members face. Citizens engage in positive dialogue with these volunteers, usually in 45-minute segments. In the past 16 years, the project has extended to Malawi, Zanzibar and New York City. In the future, it plans to expand in order to offer more care for youth and adolescents.

Proven Success

In 2016, JAMA Network produced a clinical trial regarding the potential impact of the Friendship Benches and the care they provide. Results indicated that “the group from the Friendship Bench had a significant decrease in depressive symptoms, compared to the control group.” These impacts on mental health in Zimbabwe prove that projects like this may be effective in countries with poor mental health resources.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup

Due to the success of the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe, several groups have worked together to install 32 benches at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. They will be located around the different stadiums, and will each represent a different participating international team. Organizers hope that the benches will spark a conversation around the importance of mental health care and focus. The colorful details of these benches are an added feature to catch the attention of players and spectators to spread awareness in a creative and positive format.

The success of the Friendship Bench Project on mental health in Zimbabwe is clear, and its impacts internationally suggest a positive future for growth in mental health care, even in nations with limited resources.

– Hailey Dooley
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Support Education in Afghanistan
On August 12, 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced its $40 million partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support education for children in Afghanistan, particularly Afghan girls.

The Issue

The Taliban regained control in Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, it has placed a ban on girls’ education in Afghanistan, restricting school access for millions of Afghan girls. Tens of thousands of teenage girls cannot access public secondary school (high school), even after the Taliban promised to reopen their schools. Meanwhile, the Taliban has authorized all primary school-aged children to go back to class, including girls, but schooling remains segregated by gender. The Taliban has allowed women to continue their degrees at universities under the condition of  “a strictly gender-segregated system that will dramatically lower the range and quality of women’s options.”

Past Achievements in Afghan Girls’ Education

Previous to the Taliban takeover, support for children’s education in Afghanistan was increasing. Before the ban, 1.1 million girls attended secondary schools. From 2003 to 2017, secondary school attendance for teenage girls increased by 32%, and by 2018 there were 3.8 million female students in the country. This number increased dramatically from the 5,000 girls enrolled in schools in 2001. This increase was also accompanied by a rising number of women in higher education, decreasing the gender disparity in university enrollment.

The Taliban Takeover in August 2021

Following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, “access to safe, quality, and relevant education is no longer a reality for many Afghans.” In Afghanistan, the Taliban has scaled back women’s rights. Countless women are losing their jobs or ability to enter the workforce, and tens of thousands of girls losing their right to an education. “Women are being deprived of their dignity… status at home and in society.” While the Taliban has allowed the reopening of primary schools for both boys and girls, they are to attend gender-segregated classes. In September 2021, the Taliban reopened public secondary schools only to boys, claiming that girls could only return to class under “a safe learning environment.” While some private secondary schools reopened in 10 out of 34 provinces, allowing a limited number of girls to re-enroll, the majority of teenage girls have lost their rights to education in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Block on Girls’ Education

“In October 2021, Afghan officials announced that girls would be able to resume attendance in government secondary schools but only after the development of a new educational framework.” In January 2022, the Taliban announced plans to reopen schools for girls aged 13 and up in late March. Yet, when the deadline to reopen came earlier this year, the blockage of girls’ education in Afghanistan Only continued. “On March 23, the first day of the school year in Afghanistan, eager female students arriving for class found closed gates and armed Taliban guards who told them to go home.”

The Good News: Afghan Girls’ Dedicated Pursuit for Education

Despite this ban, many Afghans still have the determination to receive an education. An estimated few hundred young female students have decided to continue their educational lessons in secret, whether that be through online resources or in hidden makeshift classrooms. Code to Inspire (CTI) is Afghanistan’s first all-girls coding academy, and the CEO/founder Fereshteh Forough announced the academy’s creation of encrypted virtual classrooms. Through CTI, Forough has helped Afghan girls pursue their right to an education by uploading online courses and providing “laptops and internet packages to about 100 of her students.”

The Aim of the Agreement

The $40 million agreement between USAID and UNICEF will “provide hundreds of thousands” of Afghans with “cash assistance to keep their children in school.” USAID will fund the project while UNICEF will supply the resources needed to assist students during Afghanistan’s “ongoing humanitarian, economic, and political crises.” More specific information about the agreement and the resources it intends to supply is to come. This agreement to support children’s education is especially significant for Afghan girls and women amidst the Taliban’s blockage of schools. USAID did announce that the project intends to support the learning of “foundational skills, such as reading, writing, and math.” In the same press release, USAID emphasized the importance of girls’ education in Afghanistan. When girls in Afghanistan have access to education, they gain access to “resources and tools [that will] support their safety, social, and economic well-being.”

– Ashley Kim
Photo: Flickr

Early School Dropouts
Education is one of the most fundamental rights a child must have, no matter where they live. A free, equitable and good-quality education is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations designed. Education allows a student to be literate and articulate, and gain proper knowledge of various subjects. Unfortunately, many students experience early school dropouts drop out of school due to financial, social and political reasons.

Rates and Statistics

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, more than 64 million primary school students dropped out of their education in 2020. The rates are even more extensive in low and middle-income countries. For example, in Ethiopia, more than 2 million students dropped out of primary school whereas, in India, more than 6 million left primary schools. The dropout ratio between female and male students differs in countries. Boys in India abandoned school nearly two times more than girls in 2020, while female students were two times more likely to leave school in Ethiopia in the same year.

Reasons Why Students Drop Out

There are several reasons for early school dropouts in developing countries. The most common causes are:

  • Child Labour: Based on UNICEF estimations, one in 10 of all children around the world are victims of child labor. COVID-19 has worsened this crisis by forcing them to work for longer hours.
  • Child Marriage: Even though marriage under the legal age of 18 is a contravention against human rights, almost four out of 10 teenage girls marry before 18 in West and Central Africa. Female child marriage rates are lower in Eastern and Southern Africa (32%). Boys also face early marriages. Based on the reports, 115 million young males marry before the age of 18 around the world, with Belize, Suriname and Nicaragua having the highest child groom rates in 2022.
  • Conflict: Schools should be a safe place for pupils to study and learn, but this is not often the case in developing countries. In fact, many students miss out on school due to periods of conflict.
  • Funding: There is a substantial issue regarding low prioritization and underfunding of the education sector in countries facing a crisis. Only 2.6% of humanitarian funds go to education. Moreover, government funding related to education is distributed inequitably, with children of poor households receiving as low as 10% or less of the public education spending. This funding crisis will deprive students of the opportunity to study in developing countries.

Addressing Early School Dropouts

Many organizations, charities and institutes are raising funds and implementing strategies to prevent and end the global education crisis. UNICEF, UNESCO, Education International and The Global Partnership for Education are some organizations that serve and support this cause. UNICEF is currently working with various partners and officials to remove current barriers along girls’ education paths. UNICEF’s priority is to enable girls to complete their secondary education.

Keeping Girls in School Act

Keeping Girls in School Act is a bipartisan (H.R.4134 / S.2276) to employ and direct the U.S. government to create solutions to address the global education crisis and barriers in the way of female students. The Keeping Girls in School Act empowers girls around the globe by increasing educational opportunities and economic security.


Even though many efforts are helping girls obtain an education, there is still much work to do. Every little contribution can improve the educational crisis that girls face. Moreover, free education can give equal opportunities to the future community of girls who can be the leaders of tomorrow. Equality in education can lead to stable and civilized communities around the globe and put an end to early school dropouts.

– Hasti Mighati
Photo: Flickr