ShelterBox distribute schooling supplies in flood-ravaged Zimbabwe

This year, Southeastern Zimbabwe has experienced the worst flooding for 40 years after a fractured dam caused over 20,000 people to abandon their homes. As one local farmer put it, ‘we are living like refugees in our own country’. ShelterBox has been helping for over six months to shelter families, and now to support their children’s education.

The ambitious 16-year project to dam the Tokwe and Mukorsi rivers in the African republic of Zimbabwe was meant to bring much-needed irrigation and power to farm communities. Instead, weakened by record rainfall and flooding, the dam partially collapsed in February. The resulting swollen reservoir backed up, engulfing farmlands, drowning livestock and driving whole communities into a refugee existence dependent on aid.

Samuel Marebe, a 43-year-old farmer from Nungirai village in the Chivi district, survived the flooding and now lives in the camp with his five children. He told Aljazeera’s Ihsaaan Haffejee, ‘We were attacked by the water. My family managed to leave before our entire home and farm went underwater. Other people became trapped and had to be rescued by helicopter.

‘Now we are here at Chingwizi camp. Conditions here are difficult. With the overcrowding we are worried about the health risks to our children, and they are also missing out on their schooling. We hope the government allocates us land very soon because now we are living like refugees in our own country.’

ShelterBox has been distributing tents and equipment with implementing partner the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). This work continues at the vast Chingwizi refugee camp, but ShelterBox response volunteers Liz Odell (UK) and Richard Loat (Canada) are turning their attention to the displaced children and their need for education.

In addition to the familiar green ShelterBoxes and white tents, Liz and Richard are overseeing the distribution of stocks of SchoolBoxes. These blue boxes with red lids each contain school equipment for up to 50 pupils, as well as wind-up radios, and blackboard paint and brushes that can turn any flat surface into a focus for learning. Bright yellow schoolbags containing stationery, pens, pencils and drawing instruments, become a source of pride for young people who have lost their own possessions back on the flood plains.

Richard says, ‘The Chingwizi settlement, home to over 3,000 families, has been the focal point of ShelterBox’s efforts. Their children have been uprooted to a location that was barren of homes, schools, or anything resembling a community. They are building new relationships, villages, and a new society from scratch. At the core of this has been the opening of three primary schools and one secondary school, to ensure that Zimbabwe’s generations of tomorrow are not short-changed of an education and a future.’

The 39 SchoolBoxes being delivered now mean that nearly 2,000 Zimbabwean pupils will be able to continue their schooling, while their parents try to rebuild their lives.

Headmaster Gumbo, leader at Chingwizi Primary school, told Liz and Richard, ‘Each pack actually gives students the tools necessary for us to assign homework, that they can complete now that they have supplies to take home. This is going to allow us to teach them so much more.’

At Tokwe Mukorsi Primary School a teacher named Willard spoke of the struggle students had just to attend school. While his daughter, 4 year old Antonetta, excitedly opened her ShelterBox school pack, he explained that some of his students travel upwards of 10 kilometres a day, many without adequate footwear, just to attend classes.

The headteacher of Nyuni Secondary School best captured the impact of ShelterBox’s work on the ground, saying, ‘ShelterBox’s tents provide comfort for the children at home, which allows them to come to school in the right mood to learn. ShelterBox’s school supplies give them something to call their own, which motivates them to learn as we all get through this difficult time.’