BY MARKO PHIRI
Zimbabwe in recent years has promoted early childhood development, or ECD, making it mandatory for every child to attend such classes before they are accepted into the first grade.
This policy, however, has not been without its challenges, including a shortage of ECD educators and few government-run schools that offer such classes.
That has led to a flourishing of fly-by-night unregistered schools offering preschool lessons.
It has been particularly tough in rural areas, long left behind in the country’s development agenda where children often fail to go to school because of a lack of education facilities and parents’ failure to pay for tuition.
To fill that gap, a diocesan congregation of Catholic sisters has set up two early childhood education schools in Lupane, a poor rural district about170 kilometres north of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.
Lupane is a small farming and livestock rearing hamlet with a population of about 200,000 people.
At its centre can be found modern conveniences such as banks, supermarkets, bars, and long-distance buses and truckers going as far as the tourist city of Victoria Falls, 223 kilometres west.
Lupane’s centre is a hive of activity that belies the poor rural incomes found in some villages stretching more than 20 kilometers into the hinterland.
The congregation has about 70 sisters whose apostolate straddles teaching, nursing, communication; general pastoral work; and working with the Bulawayo archdiocese and its rural missions spread across the country’s southwest.
Local government education officials have hailed the early childhood education development programmes run by the sisters as a first in the region with state-of-the-art facilities.
There are two early childhood programs, one in Lupane centre and another at the primary school about two kilometre in Matshiya village.
“All children must attend ECD classes. We want to produce well-grounded citizens and the best place to start is in early childhood education,” said Sr. Praxedis Nyathi, who heads the AMR Primary School, from early childhood education to grade seven.
She specialised in early childhood education after having made her final vows as a religious in 1998.
According to Nyathi, the school opened in 2018 in Matshiya village with just over 100 children, from early childhood development classes to grade seven.
That number has since grown to about 500, highlighting the ever-present need to provide education in the country’s rural areas.
At the AMR Primary School, where more classrooms are still under construction, Nyathi says it is challenging to persuade families in rural communities to enroll their children in ECD.
“Some parents try to cut corners and delay enrolling their children and attempt to bring them straight into the first grade.
“But we have made it clear that we will not accept any child who has not attended ECD classes,” Nyathi told GSR.
In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, it is not unusual for parents to choose to send sons to school and keep their daughters at home, believing that the investment in their education will be lost once the girl marries.
Nyathi says the sisters are trying hard to change that attitude.
“We have such cases but ever since we opened the ECD classes, we have been hard at work convincing families to enrol the girl child too.
“We are making small strides but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Nyathi said.
That need to enroll more children at ECD is emphasised by Sr. Midlred Chiriseri, an AMR sister who teaches at the nearby AMR Secondary School, which offers what is known as Form 1 through Form 4 classes for students ages 13 to 17.
Students from the ECD and primary schools run by the congregation feed into the secondary school.
Actually, there is a need to enroll more children at all school levels, Nyathi said.
Parents must be persuaded to bring their children to school, follow up on their schoolwork and be involved in their children’s education.
“It’s a real challenge here in the rural areas where up to 80% of students are non-readers, meaning they cannot articulate themselves as other literate learners of their age would.
“So we have to start them early at ECD to address that,” Chiriseri told GSR.
“What we also need are more religious in Catholic schools if we are to fulfil our mission to instil Catholic values in learners,” Chiriseri said.
The irony is that while some parents remain reluctant to enrol their children, Nyathi says the existing ECD classes are oversubscribed.
“We have a situation where ideally we should have 20 children in one class, but we in fact have up to 42 children, which is a strain on our teachers,” Nyathi said, because the school doesn’t have enough teachers.
The country faces a shortage of teachers , including ECD educators.
Nyathi said that her congregation and other religious congregations send some sisters for teacher training, but it is still the government that deploys them after they graduate, often sending them to government-run schools.
Zimbabwe is celebrated as one of Africa’s most literate countries, and the education ministry says that such gains since the country’s independence in 1980 would not have been possible without the contribution of the Catholic Church.
The country’s education officials say more than 3,000 primary and secondary schools are required to meet Zimbabwe’s education commitments, with rural areas being particularly in need.
Bulawayo Archbishop Alex Thomas has praised the sisters, calling on them to be “educators of life.”
The journey ahead will include ensuring that learners who pass through the AMR schools are well equipped for life as adults, Nyathi said.
She would like to see not just academic excellence but also aptitude in practical subjects that ensure self-reliance in a country where there are few formal jobs.
“Catholic schools should be a place where children find Christ, and by starting them early at ECD, we try to produce self-respecting learners who will make meaningful contributions in their respective communities,” Nyathi said. – Global Sisters Report
Victoria Falls based lawfirm donates football kits to Division Two teams
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
A Victoria Falls based law firm has donated football kits to twelve Division Two soccer players in Hwange West district in an effort to fight drugs and substance abuse among youths in the communities.
According to the law firm’s director Thulani Nkala, of Dube Nkala & Company Legal Practitioners, the donation aims to promote a healthy society where teenagers can engage in sports even after school.
Division Two falls under the Zimbabwe Football Association and it comes after Division One which is also below the premier league.
“As you are all aware that drugs are causing problems in our town, we felt that we can make a difference to counter this by donating some football kits and other equipment for our youths to use as they play,” Nkala said.
“We hope that this will be an ongoing partnership, but for now we will only be sponsoring for this upcoming season which is about to start and we shall renew as the next seasons approach on condition that we have mutual understanding which is based on respect because we will not want a situation where teams fight each one another.”
He said apart from the kits and trophy, the teams will play for a prize money at the end of the season.
Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) Matabeleland North provincial acting chairman Clevious Ncube said the gesture will go a long way in nurturing young talents in the Division Two league, whom most of them are school going children and teenagers.
Prosper Neshavi, provincial ZIFA board member, lamented lack of interest in football sponsorship even at national level.
He said this has been part of the reasons why the country has been kicked out of the Federation Internationale Football Association (FIFA).
FIFA President Giovanni Infantino last year said the association had to suspend Zimbabwe and Kenya for government interference in the activities of the football associations.
“They know what needs to be done for them to be readmitted or for the suspension to be lifted. “Infantino said last year.
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to introduce sports tourism in Victoria Falls, tourism operators and other sports officials have joined hands to form a committee that will spearhead the allocation of land by the Victoria Falls City Council for sporting activities such as the football, tennis, boxing and rugby among other sporting disciples.
This was revealed by the committee chairperson Mthabisi Ncube who lamented lack of sporting facilities in the city.
He revealed that through their negotiations with the council, a certain portion of land has been set aside for the project.
Their end goal is to see the town hosting local and international teams, which will inturn boost the country’s tourism GDP.
“As we say that we are the tourism capital of Zimbabwe and possibly the better capital of Africa and we fail to have a 10 000 seater stadium,” he said.
“We can not fail to host training matches such as the rugby, football where teams such as the Kaizer Chiefs Football Club can decide to come to Victoria Falls as they prepare ahead of the season, so their coming will help us a lot because all the businesses from accomodation to the salons and vegetable vendors will benefit from their presence, but it cannot happen when we do not have the facilities.
“Our vision is to have a complex where we can host international games, international meetings for cricket, rugby, tennis. We want to be like what Capetown (South Africa) does where they have no free weekend in arts and sporting activities.”
Gaseous coal substances exposes Hwange residents to TB
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
In the scorching sun, Litha Ncube and her nine-year-old daughter are armed with hoes and shovels as they make way to a dumpsite to scavenge for a precious by-product of coal, coke.
The poverty-stricken widow from Hwange’s Madumabisa Village says she has no option but to scrounge for the product in a life-threatening environment that has claimed the lives of many. This is her only means of survival.
As she digs the dumpsite without any Personal Protective Clothing (PPE) such as the surgical mask, her daughter’s task is to pick and separate the coke from the chaff and fill a 50-kilogramme sack. This quantity of coke fetches US$5, which she says helps to sustain her family.
Her husband died at the height of Covid-19 pandemic in 2021 after he was diagnosed with Tubercolosis (TB) which he contracted due to inhaling of coal dust at the same dumpsite.
Ncube was also diagnosed and it took her over 12 months to fully recover.
“If I stop, who will support my children?” Ncube quizzes as she continues to dig.
Ncube is among the many women in Hwange who have resorted to trespassing into the Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) dumpsite in search of coke, which they resell to make ends meet.
TB is one of the leading causes of death in Zimbabwe.
According to Community Working Group on Health, about 6 300 Zimbabweans die of TB each year despite it being preventable and curable.
The African region has the second-highest tuberculosis burden worldwide, after Southeast Asia. under the World Health Organisation End Tuberculosis Strategy, countries should aim to reduce TB cases by 80% and cut deaths by 90% by 2030 compared with 2015.
According to National Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe president Kurebwa Javangwe Nomboka, gaseous substances from coal dusts have left many Hwange villagers and residents exposed to TB, although many are not documented.
‘The prevalence of TB is very high, but undocumented in the areas we have done programs which are around the mining community of Hwange,” Nomboka told VicFallsLive.
“Coal is the commonly mined mineral in the area and is well known for its combustible nature and the emission of dangerous poisonous gases.”
Nomboka says apart from residents such as Ncube, the scourge is higher in the mining companies, largely Chinese owned.
He says the mostly affected are underground miners and even those involved in the processing of coal to coking coke.
” Examples of areas with a high risk of TB which my team have visited are HC, Hwange Coal Gasification and South Mining,” he revealed.
“The environment in these mines is heavily embroidered or engulfed with coal dust and gaseous substances which causes a high risk of TB and other related diseases like Pneumoconiosis.”
These heavy dusts and gaseous substances, Nomboka says are also evident in the residential areas and thus posing a risk to the families of miners.
” At Hwange Coal Gasification at times the whole complex is engulfed with gaseous substances to an extent that you won’t even be in a position to see buildings or people around you,”
“Besides the dust and gaseous substances there is immense heat that comes out from the furnaces and the personnel working such under environments are spotted with improper and inadequate PPEs and the issue in these mines has become of lesser priority as it is only acquired when we raise a red flag as a union.”
Nomboka said the PPEs being acquired does not meet the standard required under the Mining industry safety regulations leaving workers vulnerable to contracting TB and other related diseases.
” As a trade union we have reigned in on these defaulting companies to comply with the mining safety regulations and those found not to be in compliance with the regulations have had to be litigated against in order for them to comply,” Nomboka revealed.
“The country needs to adopt stern measures on those who fail to comply with mining safety regulations by enacting laws which provide for hefty fines for companies who fail to provide safety nets for their employees and proper and adequate protective clothing.”
Engage communities in TB planning, Government urged
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has called on the government to engage communities in planning and implementing of strong, integrated Tubercolosis (TB) mitigation as part of response measure, amid revelations that over 6 000 Zimbabweans succumb to the pulmonary disease every year.
The call was made by CWGH, a health watch organisation executive director Itai Rusike ahead of the World TB Day commemorations.
Rusike said although there has been some efforts made towards ending TB, a killer disease and highlighting further action that is needed to defeat the life-threatening disease, communities should be part of the action.
“TB remains a major obstacle to attaining the SDG vision of health, development, and prosperity for all in Zimbabwe,”Rusike told VicFallsLive.
“Our country has an estimated 21 000 new cases of TB each year, and 3.1% of these are drug resistant.
” 6300 Zimbabweans die of TB each year despite it being preventable and curable.”
According to health activists, most of these are recorded in mining towns and communities where there is no adequate Personal Protective Equipment.
Rusike also called for more scientific research and funding towards eradication of pulmonary disease including the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Funding for research on TB in Zimbabwe is minimal, and new tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat TB are urgently required,” he said.
“There is an opportunity to leverage Covid-19 infrastructure and investments to improve the TB response, integrate TB and Covid-19 testing and tracing, and strengthen efforts to overcome the barriers that people continue to face when accessing TB services.”
According to studies, the advent of Covid-19, three years ago eliminated 12 years of progress in the Global Fight against TB as governments, due to its response to the pandemic pushed aside TB outreach and services, resulting in a 20% drop in diagnosis and treatment worldwide.
“This World TB Day 2023 (March 24) we emphasize that “Yes! We can end TB” – aims to inspire hope and encourage high-level leadership, increased investments, faster uptake of new World Health Organisation recommendations, adoption of innovation, accelerated action and multisectoral collaboration to combat the TB epidemic,”Rusike said.
“It is time for the government to fulfill its commitments towards defeating TB.
“The government should engage communities in planning and implementing strong, integrated TB and Covid-19 mitigation and response measures.”
In addition, he said, there is need to increase financing for TB prevention and care, innovations in care delivery, and research and development, including for new TB vaccines to prevent the development of Drug Resistant TB.
” The theme brings attention to tuberculosis (TB) and our collective power to end TB by 2030 and therefore reach the SDG goals,” he added.
“It brings hope and builds on the amazing work done in 2022 by Zimbabwe as one of the TB High Burden Countries to recover from the impact of Covid -19 while ensuring access to TB treatment and prevention.
” It is time to take urgent action to get back on track and accelerate collective efforts to fulfill the 2022 United Nations targets on TB to defeat the disease and save lives.
“The commitments made, and targets set by Heads of State and other leaders to accelerate action to end TB must be kept even in Covid-19 crisis and should be backed by adequate investments (and) this will help to protect the lives of thousands of peoplesuffering from TB and to prevent further loss of gains made in the fight against TB.
” Not one more person should die from TB because it is a preventable and treatable disease.”
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