No holiday for the poor

HARARE - For the rich,  the August holiday is for fun.

They climb mountains in the Eastern Highlands, watch the smoke that thunders in Victoria Falls, and enjoy life. On the flip side, for the poor, it is all work and no play at all.

When schools closed on Thursday, children sighed with relief — but not for those in the low income bracket, who now have to step up and help by supplementing family income as vendors.

Martha, for example, is a Form Three pupil and an orphan. She lives with her grandparents in the barren Seke Communal lands, and when it is holiday time, she relieves her elderly grandma.

She joins the soap opera of village vendors who wail in the morning selling vegetables in the nearby town.

Hers is not an isolated case of children working over the holidays in order to raise their school fees for the next school term. Thousands of children have been working as vendors and often in strenuous conditions in order to realise their dreams.

The predicament of the children differs, some like Martha have lost their parents to the deadly HIV and Aids pandemic. Some have parents who are no longer employed and are living from hand to mouth.

According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), only 10 percent of the economically active population is employed, scores of companies are closing daily.

With the government barely managing to pay its own workers — safety nets provided by schemes such as the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) and the social welfare are in tatters.

Abandoned by donors and forgotten by a cash-strapped government, children start to live on their means at a tender age.

By its own admission, government says it cannot take care of at least 1 million needy children who are currently out of school.

Under Beam, government needs $73 million to pay school fees for orphans and disadvantaged children like Martha, but the Public Service ministry, says that a miserly $15 million was budgeted for the programme this fiscal year, a figure which is grossly insufficient.

So, instead of hoping on Beam, Martha has decided to sweat it out for her education.

“I have been working during the holidays to raise money for my school fees. I have no parents to help me with my education. Every holiday I raise something that goes towards my tuition and it is not an easy job,” she said.

Although a clause in the new constitution, which outlaws schools from expelling children from school for none payment has been a reprieve for students like Martha, the spectre of jail hangs on parents and guardians who fail to pay the school fees — thus in a way, it is suffer continue.

Lazarus Dokora, the minister of Primary and Secondary Education has tabled a raft of proposals to reform the sector and at one point banned holiday lessons arguing that instead children should go to holidays and have fun.

Desperate and desolate but resolute, Martha is determined to steam roll her way through secondary school and hopes to one day extricate her parents’ brood from the unforgiving jaws of poverty.

“I would like to go to school more than anything else and hopefully one day become a lawyer. I have a dream of becoming someone so that I will look after my siblings who are all younger than me.”

Thrown into the deep end by the vicious cycle of poverty, the number of children like Martha is ever rising.

The country’s economic turmoil twinned and entwined by the deadly effects of diseases such as HIV and cancer has left the burden on the orphaned and vulnerable children like Martha.

“My parents died when I was doing Grade Two and my grandmother has been looking after me. She is now old and I have to help her in order to look after my two siblings,” said Martha.

In Zimbabwe, child headed families have increased in astounding propositions. With care for smaller children now transferred to their elder brothers and sisters.

The National Aids Council (Nac) says that over a million children have been orphaned by the deadly pandemic that kills more than a thousand people every day.

Some are living with disease that they got from their parents during birth.

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