Together with Tariro program coordinator Fadzi, I met with Mai Chipira yesterday afternoon, at the corner of Second St. and Takawira. After contacting Viola’s relatives, she learned that Viola had run away from home to get married, at age fourteen.
I think the important, yet challenging thing for us to consider is that Viola’s decision was a logical one for a young, orphaned girl prevented from attending school by her social and financial situation. Without a relative willing to assume the role of primary caregiver, shuttled from one household to the next between the urban and rural areas, Viola’s daily life was confined to the domestic household, where she helped relatives with daily chores, cooking, sweeping, cleaning, washing, and caring for younger children. As her horizons closed in around her, Viola saw her only escape as getting married, despite being under the age of consent. While she may be performing many of the same daily tasks in her new life with her husband, at least this time, she is working toward being in charge of her own household, or so the thinking goes for many young women in a similar situation. Viola left no contact information, making it impossible to follow up on her.
While there’s nothing we can do for Viola, however, the good news is that we have made a commitment to sponsoring Mai Chipira’s eldest daughter, who will begin attending the first grade very soon! As we sat on the curb and spoke with Mai Chipira, we learned that her daughter had in fact attended kindergarden last year, with financial assistance from a Roman Catholic sister who was assisting the family. With help from this nun, Mai Chipira herself completed a basic course in dressmaking last year, and was intending to continue her studies, when the nun left the country, leaving Mai Chipira and her daughter back on the streets. Unfortunately, this kind of brief intervention in the lives of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable families is seldom successful, illustrating why Tariro’s long-term, committed relationships to the communities we work with are so important in enacting lasting change. Our commitment to the Chipira family will be to see Mai Chipira’s two daughters all the way through from primary to secondary school, ensuring that they are able to make progress in completing their studies and moving toward a new life.
In addition to the resources to sponsor Mai Chipira’s daughter’s school expenses, we are now looking for the funds to be able to provide the Chipira family with a small monthly stipend, in exchange for consistent school attendance. If you are interested in making a monthly commitment to this family, please let me know!
I’d like to close this post with some reflections on Viola’s choice to run away and get married. For me, the outcome of Viola’s situation illustrates the harsh reality that would face many of Tariro’s current students without the assistance of school sponsorship that we provide. We are so proud of the overwhelming majority of our students who concentrate on their studies, and delay the decision to get married until after finishing school. Each additional year they spend in the classroom decreases their risk of contracting HIV, and leads toward a brighter future. One measure of our success is the very high rate of Tariro students who finish their Form 4 studies, representing the completion of a basic high school education in Zimbabwe. In the last two years, we have had only two students, out of over eighty girls we’ve worked with, who have left school before completing their O level studies. This is a wonderful retention rate under very difficult circumstances, showing me that we are doing something right!
This Saturday, Tariro’s traditional music and dance group will be attending an event at the Zimbabwe German Society, where they will observe a collaborative performance between a German choreographer and another youth dance group, from the satellite city of Chitungwiza, located just outside Harare. We’re also waiting to hear whether we have been accepted to perform at this year’s Harare International Festival of the Arts, in late April. I will write next week with photos from the weekend event, as well as another general update on our work. Thanks for reading!