As a teacher who specialises in agriculture and doubles as a football coach, I have seen two clear signs that we are headed for difficult times at Chidyamakono High School.
Firstly, the crops I grow with my students are wilting in the record-high temperatures we have had this year – climate scientists say that we are experiencing the strongest El Niño on record, and most crops across southern and eastern Africa are failing. Needless to say, our school gardens have not been spared.
Secondly, my football team – three-time national champions – is about to be disbanded. Students faint in school, as their parents – struggling farmers – can’t feed them.
Concentration in class is a challenge and many are dropping out. Our headmaster and school authorities have instructed us teachers to cut back on sport.
The pressures of food shortages affect girls and boys differently. Boys are forced to work; some students here are breadwinners for their families. Girls are vulnerable to being coerced into sex for food or cash. We have lost three star football players to early marriages; all of them pillars of the team, winning the national girls’ championships three years in a row. But that record – and far more – is at risk, due to a turn of the weather.
The children who abandoned their studies face the prospect of looking for work and eking out a life without academic or professional qualifications, in a country with an unemployment rate said to be 80 per cent.
Chidyamakono has a 10 per cent dropout rate. We are faced with the grim task of motivating and teaching hungry children with an understandably low attention span.
Fortunately, now is marula season, so the children gather under the giant tree outside the classrooms to pick its fruit for lunch. It has become our unofficial canteen.
Parents are subsistence farmers who haven’t had much to harvest for two years. In this part of Zimbabwe, 33 to 40 per cent are in desperate need of food aid.
There are pockets of hope. Chidyamakono remains a school with immaculate grounds and glowing academic achievements. My GCSE Ordinary level agriculture students last year had a 93 per cent pass rate, while 94 per cent passed their A level.
Our school has benefitted massively from the charity World Vision’s Improving Girls’ Access through Transforming Education (IGATE) programme, which aims to reduce barriers to girls’ education.
They built us two classroom blocks, and donated nearly 100 bicycles for our girls who previously had to walk long distances to school. Some come from villages 10-15km away. Before the charity’s intervention, they used to arrive late and very tired.
This has all had a positive impact in terms of performance and results, and I am hopeful for the future of my students and our school.
To support World Vision’s efforts, go to bit.ly/WorldVisionZimbabwe
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