Squatter camp children face bleak future, the story of Ngozi Mine pupils

16 Aug, 2021 - 00:08 0 Views
Squatter camp children face bleak future, the story of Ngozi Mine pupils The Ngozi Mine Municipal landfill in Bulawayo (file pic)

The Chronicle

Andile Tshuma
Clive (15) does not remember the last time he opened any of his school books. He is a Form Two pupil at a school in Emakhandeni suburb, but he can hardly solve basic algebra or a simultaneous equation.

Clive stays at the Richmond Landfill site, commonly known as Ngozi Mine with his family. He is the eldest child and has three younger siblings, all girls.

The informal settlement is the only home he has known, as his family moved there when his mother was pregnant with him in 2005 when his father lost his job at a firm in Donnington industrial area.

When schools closed for the first Covid-19 induced lockdown in March 2020, he joined his father in the thrifting business, they survey the landfill and salvage ‘valuable’ items for resale and use the money for the family.

“Last Christmas, December 2020, I wore brand new sneakers for the first time in my life. I did not buy them at a flea market, I went to Bulawayo centre at a shop upstairs to buy what I want. I was able to do this because I worked for my own money. My family now lives a better life because I can now help my father when we pick plastic bottles and take some motors and other valuable pieces from discarded electronics and gadgets.

“I went back to school when schools reopened but I was way behind from what other pupils covered. I did not do online lessons as we did not have a phone with WhatsApp at home, and our teachers wanted money for their data so I did not contribute. Anyway I don’t think when schools open for the second term now I will go, I think I am now living the life I am destined to live, I am a collector and I am helping buy food for the family,” he said.

Clive’s story echoes the story of many children at the informal settlement.

“Gracious, a 14 year old girl who attends school in Cowdray Park suburb now makes crafts from waste material she gathers at the dumpsite. She makes key holders, door mats and jewellery and walks around the city centre selling her wares. However, business is slow as there are many people doing what she does and she is under pressure to join a group of girls who have ventured into sex work, from her area.

“It will be difficult to go back to school, I sell one key holder for US$1, my plastic mats go for US$2 each but the business is slow. I’m considering joining my friends, their lives have changed and what I’m doing is what grannies are doing, a quick buck will really work,” she said.

A Chronicle news crew spoke to some of the girls who have ventured into sex work and they frequent shebeens at Cowdray Park suburb citing too much competition in the central business district. They also said because of the lockdown, the city streets were not safe because of police enforcing the curfew.

Thelma Ncube*, (16) is one of the pupils who were removed from informal schools at Ngozi mine by Government five years back and reintegrated into mainstream schools.

However, due to the lockdown and school closures, she has ventured into sex work and now spends up to two weeks away from home. She refused to introduce the news crew to her family but vowed that she was not going back to school as she had given away her uniforms and books.

“Show me one woman who has successfully made it out of this place through school. People who made something out of their lives joined dance groups or sold stuff. Maybe marriage will be a good way out but who wants to marry people like us. People think we are criminals and you cannot even get a job as a maid. They do not trust us as domestic workers,” said Thelma.

While most children have suffered challenges from remote learning during the lockdown, children from informal settlements have had bigger challenges, with online learning remaining a dream for most of them.

Schools closed in early June and attempts to open them for the second term have been futile owing to the escalation of Covid-19 cases in the country.

However, Government recently announced that schools and parents must prepare for reopening.

The Ngozi mine informal community’s headman, Mr Gilbert Tshuma, said he was worried about the welfare of the children in the community as they worked lot in the dumpsite and had become accustomed to making money, reducing their interest in school.

“The normal 3 term school   year with only one month holiday and three months of school was good because children did not spend too much time idle. Now, with lockdowns and extended school holidays, most of the children here have totally forgotten about school. How do you even convince them that it would be in their interests to go back to school, yet there isn’t any incentive for going to school. There is no success story of a person who completed school and excelled, from our community, so there is no inspiration. It is hard to convince them now,” said Mr Tshuma.

He said some of the boys were now abusing alcohol and drugs, while girls were dating older men and engaging in transactional sex.

“Because of poverty, some parents here will accept the groceries that are being brought by daughters who are young.

They will turn a blind eye to the unthinkable because of hunger. Because of Covid, some people whom we supplied were not coming to buy, so families suffered here, and a lot of dirty things have been happening,” he said.

“We hope Government will intervene  We want these children in school so that they get a chance at a life better than ours,” said Mr Tshuma.

Women’s Institute of Leadership Development (WILD) Communications officer Ms Duduzile Mathema called on Government to strengthen education support programmes to vulnerable communities to ensure that children, particularly girls, stayed in school.

“Covid-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for young and vulnerable girls whose education has been negatively impacted. Many of the young girls do not have access to resources and when schools open, they are likely to miss school,’ she said.

“Government should focus on strengthening education support programmes to vulnerable communities especially at such a time as this. Education support should also be transparent and provide/ cater for the ‘very’ needy settlers at urban squatter camps, including orphaned and vulnerable children in urban, peri-urban and rural areas. This will assist in safeguarding the rights of children in line with SDGs and the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” said Ms Mathema.

Men’s Conference executive director Mr Makhosi Sibanda said the pandemic had affected young men and boys as many had gone into substance abuse.

“Addressing men’s issues is not about dealing with adults only, we need to catch them young as the cliché says. With the pandemic and school closures, we risk losing many boys, our future leaders to substance abuse and it is a time when Government and its development partners must step up and ensure that there is action to protect them and keep them in school,” said Mr Sibanda.

“Most of civic work and attention right now is focused on the girlchild, rightfully so with child marriages and other such social ills going on.  However, the boy child is left vulnerable and as such as an organisation we are calling for conversations and action that seek to address the plight of boys and young men. We need to work to keep them school, and we need to get talking and engage in conversations that will foster change,” he said.

UNICEF estimates that 40 per cent of all school-aged children across Eastern and Southern Africa are currently not in school due to Covid-19 -induced closures and pre-pandemic levels of out of school children.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the learning of millions of children around the world, including 4.6 million children in Zimbabwe. When the pandemic began to spread in the country in March 2020, forcing the country into a nationwide lockdown, no one knew how long it would last or the impact it would have on children’s learning.

According to UNICEF, distressed households such as those in informal settlements have reported increased use of negative coping mechanisms including child labour, early marriage and transactional sex, while economic challenges are creating barriers for children’s return to education, especially for girls.

With schools expected to open soon, the fate of pupils from informal settlements hangs in the balance, with a bleak future as many are not looking forward to going back to [email protected]_tshuma

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