You open your eyes to a group of people looking at you. Your stomach aches and your head is pounding. This feeling is all too well known. You have passed out. Not for the first, and certainly not for the last time. You slowly get up and your teacher tries to comfort you, but you can see in her eyes the pain and worry. Students fainting is not uncommon in Zimbabwean Schools; in fact this is too frequent of a thing that Patience Munjeri, a high school teacher in Zimbabwe, constantly must face at work.
A Not-so-Great Blast from the Past… And a Look at the Present
Two years ago we were able to interview Patience Munjeri about the economy and financial status of schools in Zimbabwe. We learned that students were struggling to pay for their school fees and teachers were being paid close to nothing for their work. We heard that Econet, the cell phone provider, was one of the only organizations that helped students pay for tuition. We learned about “Civics Day,” where students could pay to not wear uniforms in order to raise funds for supplies the school may need. There were a lot of concerns about the importance of funds as well as the health of these students.
Let’s take a look into those same issues now. The economy is even worse than two years ago. Econet is still one of the only national organizations helping fund scholarships for children to go to school. Civics Day no longer exists because most students are well below the poverty line; therefore they could not afford to pay for Civics Day, and would stay home. Teachers are getting paid even less than two years ago, and in July three hundred of the nation’s teachers were not paid at all. At the same time, teachers are being held more accountable for lateness or taking off work. Making matters worse, there is a drought occurring this year. Zimbabwean families usually grow their own staple foods, but without water their grain production has been low. People are suffering more than you can imagine.
Children Struggling to Obtain Success
Children are told from a young age in Zimbabwe something we are all familiar with: Education will help you gain a better future. Yet there is a high death rate in Zimbabwe from HIV leaving many students orphaned and making it harder for students to pay for uniforms, fees and/or books. Many students drop out because they do not have the money to pay for their examination fees, or must work in order to pay for other living expenses. Patience explained to me that it is mostly middle and high school students dropping out. Boys often drop out to work as mini-bus conductors helping drivers collect tickets for people traveling. Most girls who drop out become house maids, which are really tough jobs and can expose girls to abuse from the people they work for. Dropping out, however does not help them escape the life of hunger and struggles, so children make every attempt to stay in school.
Even though children go to school because their future relies on it, most of the time they cannot concentrate because of their hunger pains. While some schools provided lunch in Zimbabwe, it is not free. Either students have to find money on top of the struggle to pay fees, uniform and books or they starve.
Throughout our interview, Patience repeatedly stated how hard things are in Zimbabwe, both for teachers and students. So what motivates people to carry on, in spite of these difficulties? Stay tuned, because this will the subject of my next post!