Hunger making its way into Zimbabwe's classrooms

Mercy Corps assessment finds fainting and reduced energy levels becoming daily occurrences in schools
When drought destroyed her family's crops earlier this year, eighteen-year-old Privilege Chipunza had no choice but to drop out of school. Her parents could no longer afford to pay her school fees, especially with five other children in the family to feed and her three-year-old brother Kane starting to show signs of malnourishment.

Priviledge's story is growing increasingly common in Zimbabwe. Aid workers report that 18 percent of the households in Zimbabwe have removed children from school within the past two months.

The combination of crippling drought, abject poverty, economic collapse and high rates of HIV/AIDS has devastated communities across Zimbabwe and led to widespread food shortages, especially in rural areas. An estimated 6.7 million people - more than half of the country's population - are at risk for hunger and hunger-related diseases in Zimbabwe.

During a recent assessment of schools in the Buhera District, Mercy Corps staff witnessed the effects the severe food crisis is having on those students still in school.

Most students told Mercy Corps that they are eating just one meal per day, often little more than tomatoes or cabbage grown in their family's vegetable plot. Many of the children said that they could not remember the last time they had meat. Additionally, not a single child had brought anything to eat during the lunch hour. This has been true since the commencement of the school year in early September.

Teachers and administrators report that they are beginning to see the impact of hunger in their classrooms.

"We were told that fainting and reduced energy levels are becoming daily occurrences. In one of the schools visited, the deputy headmaster told us that three children had fainted the day before," said Mercy Corps' Lizzie Christie. "As we were standing in the yard, one of the three approached and asked the headmaster if she could go home because she was not feeling well again. The headmaster told us that she lived four kilometers away."

Administrators said that all physical education classes have been cancelled because students need to preserve their energy

Mercy Corps also found that schools have been obliged to reduce their fees in order to make them more accessible for parents, but even with the reduced fees most students have been unable to pay. School administrators say that they are allowing students with unpaid fees to remain in school because they feel they have no other option and because with children in school parents are free to seek food for their families.

Mercy Corps is urgently accepting private donations to provide a daily ration of 150 grams of nutrimeal to 8,000 school-age children in vulnerable wards in the districts of Buhera, Chipinge and Mutare while strengthening household food security and farmer livelihoods in the most vulnerable rural communities of Zimbabwe.

Donate online to Mercy Corps' relief efforts in southern Africa or:


Mercy Corps
Southern Africa Food Crisis
Dept. W
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208


1-800-852-2100 ext. 250