by Clayton Masekesa
More than a decade has passed since President Robert Mugabe’s controversial ‘Land Reform Programme’ chased more than 5 000 white commercial farmers off the land and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farm workers and their families.
In the large lounge of the old farm house on Claire Farm, pupils are now getting a Shona lesson, their school bags neatly stacked in the empty, grand fireplace. The dining room, where black staff served three generations of the David Claire family, is now also a classroom.
The commercial farmers who previously owned vast tracts of land, were replaced by black small-scale farmers and their families, creating the need for a rethink in the provision of education facilities.
The old Claire farmhouse was initially occupied by war veterans and teachers taught in the barns on the farm. In 2004, school authorities convinced the war vets to hand over the farm house as it had the advantage of electricity. This set the scene for Claire Primary, a satellite primary school attended by 193 children from grades one to three.
Touched by the plight of children on the farms and the slow progress made in normalising education, a local NGO, FarmCare Foundation, has left no stone unturned in an effort to uplift the standard of education.
In a recent interview, director Blessing Sharara advised that the organisation build three classroom blocks at Claire Primary School in 2013. “The aim of the organisation in opening a school for children living on the farms is to uplift the standard of life for those who were previously disadvantaged in the area of education,” said Sharara. He added that the organisation built the classroom blocks in response to the growing demands for development services in the farming areas.
“Our major aim is to empower vulnerable communities through participatory approaches. We want communities to be guaranteed basic education as it is vital to the development of our country,” he said.
Although the project was heavily politicised by traditional leadership and local Zanu (PF) councillors, parents did a lot to get the school working.
Job Fungurani, who is the ward development committee chairperson, said: “There were those who wanted to hijack the project for political gain, but parents refused. This was a great idea and innovation by the FarmCare. We, as parents, mobilised ourselves and became hands-on in this project.”
“We contributed stone, sand, moulded bricks and provided labour, while FarmCare provided financial assistance and building contractors. As parents we are happy because our children are now able to learn in a more conducive environment. This is a long term investment and it is important to invest resources for a better future for our children,” he added.
Sharara said his organisation would continue to improve the quality of basic education on farms. “We continue to strive for a better learning environment for young children and to increase access to education. It is our hope that this school will keep children in school longer and that it will raise levels of academic achievement,” he said.
The Foundation intends to give special attention to girls, the very poor and geographically remote populations. It has plans to develop a programme in 2015 for non-attending girls aged 12 to15 who live on farms.
“Plans are already at an advanced stage. The prgramme will combine traditional elements like literacy and life skills with more innovative ones like sports and financial education,” said Sharara.
He added that the programme would establish girl-friendly safe havens where they can gather, make friends and learn from female high school graduates from their communities.
“The programme will improve literacy, cognitive skills, health related knowledge and attitudes. We are looking at encouraging continued schooling and helping to build a foundation for girls’ greater mobility and civic involvement,” he explained.
He noted that despite national gains in school enrolment, adolescent girls in farming areas remained at risk of never enrolling in school or of dropping out early.
“Girls who are not in school are more vulnerable to early marriage, sexual violence and poverty. Because of restrictive social and cultural norms, these girls are likely to have limited mobility, to be socially isolated and to lack peer networks,” he added.
The programme’s main objective will address these problems, but for now, the young children at Claire Primary School learn to read and write in a loving and encouraging environment.