Siyakha initiative teaches rural girls business skills while combating drug abuse, HIV/Aids, and early child marriages
ANITA Moyo, an eighteen-year-old girl from Bubi District, failed to enrol in a nursing school last year after she couldn’t obtain five subjects in her Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) Ordinary Level certification required for the nursing school admission.
Moyo indicated that after spending a whole year doing nothing in her rural home in Matabeleland North province, she became bored with her generally unfulfilling life and began to consider marriage as a way to move forward.
She told the Chronicle, she had little hope for a better future until she joined the Siyakha programme, a market responsive project offered by Bantwana, Zimbabwe, a non-governmental organization that assists vulnerable young women and girls aged 15 to 24 from the districts of Tsholotsho, Lupane, Bubi, and Nkayi in developing economic resilience in their locality.
“I obtained three O-level passes in Geography, Commerce, and Ndebele,” said Moyo, who is currently on a three-month motor mechanics vocational training at the Bulawayo Projects Centre in Thorngrove.
“I’m aiming to finish this motor mechanics course and try to raise money to go back to school to supplement my two O-level subjects so that I can join the nursing school and fulfil my dreams,” she added.
Moyo further stated that she picked the motor mechanics course to challenge the stigma associated with the job career which is considered by many as a male vocation, “Women can do anything, and I want to show males that I can, too,” Moyo says, referring to the fact that both men and women can perform manual labour equally. “The fact that a woman works in motor mechanics will attract a lot of customers to my business.”
Another girl from Nkayi district, Sikhethweyinkosi Sibanda, who is also enrolled in the same motor mechanics vocational training centre at Thorngrove, concurred, indicating that she was going to open a motor mechanics workshop back at home in Nkayi, “The reason I chose motor mechanics is to prove that women can make a living from the manual tasks of getting beneath a car just like their male counterparts, and women can also make their own income and shouldn’t rely on men always.”
According to Mr Nicholas Nzirawa, Bantwana, Zimbabwe’s Economic Strengthening Co-ordinator, the two girls are among eight others studying motor mechanics at the Bulawayo Projects Centre, and they are supported by the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored, and Safe (Dreams) initiative.
He stated that under the Dreams project, the girls are trained on what is known as the primary package, in which they are taught about HIV/Aids prevention, gender norms change, sexual violence prevention, and basic financial literacy, after which they are empowered further through needs-based components which include clinical HIV/GBV services, education support, and/or economic strengthening skills such as motor mechanics and smart agriculture depending on growth sectors in the localities.
“Within Matabeleland North province, we are working in four districts, Bubi, Lupane, Nkayi and Tsholotsho, although Siyakha on its own is widespread across Zimbabwe. The model has got eight steps of which step one is what is called a labour assessment where we do an assessment of the geographical area in terms of what is viable and what sort of skills are relevant to those areas so that we don’t just train people in skills but we know that after training they can be able to find employment or start their own enterprises through those particular skills,” he said.
According to Nzirawa, another batch of 40 students is currently affiliated at the Jairos Jiri institute in Bulawayo, with 20 students involved in farming and the other group is doing hotel and catering.
“So, currently this is our second batch of students from last year, who started here on 6 March 2023. So far, we teach girls pastry and food preparation whereby under pastry, they will be doing strictly baking of cakes, scones and cup-cakes. On food preparation we teach them how to make pies, soup gravy and salads,” Mrs Thembelihle Sibanda explained to the Chronicle during a tour of the institution.
Although she had completed her Upper Sixth exams and passed, Greyly Ncube from Bubi district told the Chronicle, she was doing nothing until she was attached at Jairos Jiri under Bantwana project, “My parents had no money for me to further my studies. I enrolled in this project to acquire life skills, and I’m currently enrolled for bakery skill training. I’m going to buy supplies after this training and start my own community business rather than just sit at home doing nothing.”
Bantwana’s executive director, Mr Mbonisi Tshuma indicated that before implementing the Siyakha girls’ model, the organisation had struggled with meaningful youth empowerment models, having issued out loans to young people who neither repaid nor started any businesses.
He said after learning from these experiences, Bantwana surveyed 450 businesses in Bulawayo, Harare, and Mutare to find out what it takes for these companies to hire young people, mentor them during internships, and support them in becoming employees.
“We learned through the survey that the businesses were willing to provide mentorship opportunities for young people. Beyond academics, businesses were more interested in soft practical skills like leadership and innovation. The Siyakha model was premised on these findings, combining soft skills training, vocational training, and on the job mentorship by established businesses or artisans, before graduation beneficiaries to start their own businesses or enter the world of work.” he said.
Mr Tshuma also stated that his organisation has been working with the Ministry of Labour, Public Service, and Social Welfare to combat the major problem of drug abuse in rural communities including offering them counselling services.
“In tandem with the Siyakha model, we also implement a comprehensive mental health programme. There is a direct correlation between drug and substance abuse and mental health issues. We have instituted community-based response mechanisms through community case workers and village health workers, who further refer more complicated cases to district, provincial and national health facilities,” he said.