Back on the Path to Education: Grace and Olivia’s Stories
The Bantwana Initiative’s Out-of-School Study Group (OSSG) model provides extra support to adolescents ages 12 to 15 so that they can re-enter Zimbabwe’s formal education system or learn vocational life skills when returning to school is not possible. Bantwana currently operates 12 OSSG programs serving 1,348 children throughout Matabeleland South and Harare, Zimbabwe. In February 2013, Bantwana will open 20 new OSSG programs in after-school classrooms to target an additional 1,000 children. The model is designed so that girls can receive an education while continuing with their family responsibilities at home—as a result, 47% of the OSSG beneficiaries are girls. Child protection and safeguarding techniques —particularly important for girls— are key elements of the OSSG curriculum.
Grace,* 13, is a Level 2 student at Faith Ministries in Mbare, a densely populated, low income suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe. Faith Ministries participates in the Bantwana Initiative’s OSSG program, which uses existing facilities to provide meeting places for out-of-school youth to continue their education and gain the skills they need to reintegrate back into the formal school system. Grace lives with her mother and younger sister in a one-room flat in Mbare since her father passed away shortly after her sister was born. Grace dropped out of school in 2009 after Grade 6 to take care of her mother, who was recovering from tuberculosis, and her sister. Grace’s relative Tendai*, a student at the Faith Ministries OSSG, first introduced her to the program in January 2011. One day, Grace expressed to Tendai how much she wished her mother could recover from her illness and return to work so that she could go back to school. Tendai told Grace that she did not have to wait – she could attend his OSSG program because it did not charge any school fees.
“When Tendai brought me to Faith Ministries, I couldn’t believe it,” Grace says. Grace’s sister started school the next day; Grace attended shortly after, once her mother was well enough to work again. At the Faith Ministries OSSG, Grace learns about her rights and responsibilities, and how to protect herself from abuse. After school, she sells goods at a market and also helps her mother cook and complete household chores. Grace says that she has learned a lot in the OSSG program, and she now has big plans for her future. “I want to be a nurse one day so that I can take care of the sick,” she says. “I will make sure it happens.”
Olivia’s Story:Olivia* is a bright-eyed 13-year old girl. When she was young, her father left the family and never returned. Her mother, younger brother, older sister, and she moved to the rural countryside to live with their grandmother in a one room house in a small town outside the capital of Zimbabwe. Her grandmother was able to sell her harvest and pay for their school fees, but when the harvest was poor, her mother went to South Africa to try to find work. When that failed, her mother returned back home and began selling reed mats but still could not afford to pay her children’s school fees. As a result, Olivia and her brother stopped attending school. While her brother stayed home, Olivia would work with her mother to sell the reed mats. They would get up early and buy the mats from the local farmers and then spend the day walking around their town trying to sell them. “I found it hard,” Olivia recalls. “The mats were heavy, and sometimes we wouldn’t get a customer the whole day. I used to think, is this going to be my life?”
One day, their landlady said she had met some children coming from a school at the Faith Ministries church, which did not require school fees. She suggested that Olivia and her siblings attend. They were all eager to go, and returning to school soon changed their lives. They are able to study and learn math, English, and life skills in the morning and attend the church programs in the afternoons. When they go home from school, they get
their one meal a day of porridge and vegetables, and occasionally, when their mother is able to sell more reeds, they are able to buy a loaf of bread to bring to school to eat during the day. Olivia now has a positive vision of her life: “I want to be a pilot one day,” she says. “I think it can happen now.”
*All names have been changed to protect the children’s identities