Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Region Communications Manager, and Arcenio Matimbe, Communications Officer, ChildFund Mozambique
Imagine if this were your classroom: Wind whistles through walls made from strips of coconut wood crudely lashed together, and the roof is a corrugated metal sheet. The floor is dirt that turns to mud when it rains. There is no furniture, let alone a library or a lab. There are neither toilets nor fresh water, putting children further at risk for disease. There is no electricity.
Inside the old school buildings, children had to learn while sitting on a dirt floor.
One of the newly constructed school buildings.
To get there, children must walk long distances along unsafe roads. Even so, classes are crowded and must be held in three shifts beginning at 6 a.m., because teachers are in short supply — one may be responsible for as many as 80 pupils. Many teachers are barely educated, themselves.
Welcome to the typical primary school in Mozambique’s Zavala district, in a country where 70 percent of the population lives in poverty. Nearly 40 percent of its men are illiterate, and the rate for women is 70 percent, which is unsurprising in light of such difficult access to education.
Officials in Zavala’s education department are concerned about the challenge. “We don’t have enough educational opportunities,” says one of them, Francisco Carlos. “The demand is high. Children get enrolled at school at an early age but drop out because of distance and other reasons.” And when children drop out, they are more vulnerable to early pregnancy, child marriage, exploitative working conditions and abuse.
Not long ago, ChildFund Mozambique’s national director, Chege Ngugi, noted his excitement about ChildFund’s incipient work in Zavala. “It is one of the very needy districts in Inhambane province,” he said, “and to date there are no other [development organizations] working the area.”
Part of ChildFund’s work in Zavala is to improve access to educational opportunities there. To date, two schools have been built, and another two are under construction. Their walls are brick, the windows are glass, and the roofs are sturdy. Students sit on benches at desks. There are blackboards, reference books, basic supplies such as paper and pens and other equipment.
In the few short months since the Mazivela Primary School opened in the Mazivela community, enrollment has climbed from 523 to 625, and similar growth is expected at the brand-new Nhaliveu Primary School in the Mavila-Nhacuonga community.
“Now we can practice writing well because we have beautiful classrooms with benches and nice blackboards,” says Flora, an 11-year-old girl in Mazivela Primary School’s grade 6. “Before, it was difficult due to sitting on the sandy floor, and now we don’t stay home when it is raining. Now the rain does not get into our beautiful classrooms.”
“ChildFund is giving all its support to provide quality education and access to children in Zavala,” says Carlos. “ChildFund built better classrooms and provided furniture. Teachers are given training and follow-up.”
The distances are still long, and the roads still unsafe. But for the children of two (and soon four) communities in Zavala, their destination is a clean, comfortable place to learn.