Dear Family and Friends,
Not a lot of school leavers in Zimbabwe will want to remember the last two years of their education. For most its been a time of such hardship, disappointment and despair that it will be nothing short of miraculous if they pass their O Level’s which are now almost finished.
One youngster whose education I have been helping with since she was five years old, has just written her O Level’s and looking back on her schooling is a horrible nightmare and something no child should have to go through.
In 2000 when she was 7 years old and learning to read and write, *Tsitsi found herself on the roadside with her parents when we were all evicted from our homes on a commercial farm by a bunch of Zanu PF thugs.
In 2003, when she was 10 and practising her spelling and learning about grammar, Tsisti changed schools and went back to live in a rural village. Her Aunt and Uncle had both just died of Aids and there were two young cousins who had to be taken care of. Every cent was needed and every pair of hands too.
Back in a rural school in 2005, a 12 year old learning about geography and science, Tsisti suddenly found she had to share her desk and then sit on the floor as scores of new children arrived. Their homes in towns had been destroyed by government bulldozers in what was called Operation Murambatsvina and the school and village were suddenly full of strangers who had lost everything. Tsitsi learnt that when someone came to the doorstep and held out an empty bowl it meant they were hungry and the family would have to share. That same year Tsitsi missed many days of learning when teachers were forced to go to Zanu PF rallies, or when the school was closed for elections and the teachers went away to do polling duty. There were plenty of strange young men around, threatening, frightening and watching and Tsitsi learned to stay close to her Mum. At the end of that year Tsitsi wrote her Grade 7 examinations marking the end of junior school. It would be two years before she got the results and she hadn’t done very well.
For the whole of 2008, a 15 year old teenager, Tsitsi only spent 32 days at school. The rest of the time the school was not operating. There were no teachers, the classrooms were locked and a lone caretaker was sometimes there but he always told the children they could not even come and read the textbooks and should go away – try next week. This was the year when Tsitsi should have been studying the first year of the O level syllabus.
When Tsitsi went to pay exam fees to write 7 subjects at O level in November 2009, she was told she also had to pay for paper to write the tests on and she sacrificed one subject because she didn’t have enough money. She dropped another subject in order to pay the 10 US cents per student per day being demanded by teachers in order to teach this last term. This 10 cents a day is on top of school fees, school association levies and a raft of other charges that arise almost every week for one miscellany or another.
Tsitsi has just finished writing her 5 O level exams and left school. At the end of her school life she has only ever done her homework by candlelight; she has never learnt how to even switch on a computer; she missed the entire first year of her O level syllabus and has only been allowed to take a text book home after school three or four times in her entire school life.Tsitsi has done almost her entire schooling wearing second hand uniforms, no shoes or second hand ones that were not the right size and carrying her books in a plastic bag. In her O level year Tsitsi dug weeds from a field for two weeks in exchange for a second hand school dress.
Thirty years ago Mr Mugabe and Zanu PF promised education for all by the year 2000 but Tsitsi is the reality of what they gave us. No one really knows how Education Minister David Coltart managed to get Zimbabwe’s schools open again this year or how he persuaded teachers to work for a pittance, but he did. All credit to him and to thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students for enduring, suffering and sacrificing.