UNICEF Executive Director visits school and clinic benefitting from essential supplies in Zimbabwe

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UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake recently visited Zimbabwe and saw first-hand the impact that programmes supported by UNICEF and partners are having on children and women.

By Suzanne Beukes

GOROMONZI DISTRICT, Zimbabwe, 11 March 2013 – Twelve-year-old Macronald Moyo diligently finishes the classwork for one of his favourite subjects – English.

“I want to learn English,” he says, “because it will help me to get a good job one day.”

UNICEF reports on Executive Director Anthony Lake's visit to Zimbabwe, where he was able to see first-hand the impact education and healthcare programmes are having on children and women.

Transition funds fill major gaps

A few short years ago, Macronald’s English lesson would have been a completely different scene from today’s classroom packed with eager students, each with her or his own textbook and stationery.

After a decade-long economic decline, from 1999 to 2008, Zimbabwe saw the near collapse of its core social services, including education and healthcare. To address the urgent needs in these sectors, the government, UNICEF and international partners formed two transition funds: the Education Transition Fund and the Health Transition Fund.

Books make a big difference

As part of the Education Transition Fund’s investments in the sector, core textbooks were printed and distributed rapidly to schools such as St. Vincent Primary School, where Macronald is a student. As a result, classrooms have been transformed. “Since we received these textbooks, children [have been] more motivated to come to school, and pass rates are improving year on year,” says veteran Grade 7 teacher Ms. Nyahasha.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake recently visited Zimbabwe and saw first-hand the impact that these, as well as other, interventions are having on the lives of children.

“You can sit in New York and read the statistics about textbooks to students,” he said. “But it’s so great to see all these textbooks and all these students so engaged and learning about [for example] environmental sciences, which is going to make such a big difference in their lives.”

While the provision of textbooks and other efforts have provided obvious improvements to learning conditions at schools, much still remains to be done in the way of improving access for children, many of whom come from families unable to pay school fees. At St. Vincent, the impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS is evident: Of the school’s 579 pupils, 221 are orphaned and vulnerable children, and, of these children, 82 have lost both parents.

While many of these students have benefitted from the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) programme, others still need the support that will allow them to realize their potential. It is hoped that, as the fund enters its second phase, these and other issues can be addressed.

Healthcare receives a boost

Recently, the healthcare sector, too, has experienced a boost in supplies, essential medicine and incentives to motivate, train and retain staff such as midwives.

At St. Joseph’s clinic in Goromonzi district, the shelves of the medicine storage room are filled with life-saving drugs. Pregnant women and mothers with their newborn babies queue to receive treatment and get regular check-ups.

Outside the clinic, under a small shelter, village healthcare workers in large brown sun hats and checked uniforms help weigh and measure babies as part of a community nutrition programme.

To improve access for more pregnant mothers to receive the care they need, a policy is being put into action to remove fees for pregnant women and children under the age of 5.

These efforts are all aimed at reducing an alarmingly high rate of maternal mortality and under-5 mortality rates.

Services must continue during elections

As Zimbabweans go to the polls this year – first, for a constitutional referendum, and then, for presidential elections, they know that it is these and other social challenges that require urgent attention. Pressing issues include how to address malnutrition and stunting among children, the impact of HIV/AIDS, unemployment and curbing violence against women and children.

During his meeting with various government officials, Mr. Lake stressed the importance of maintaining a safe space for children and women during the election period.

“At times of great uncertainty, such as during an election, it is important that homes, communities and schools continue to be havens of safety for children, and that they have uninterrupted access to basic social services,” he said. “[C]hildren are not political and should not become victims of turbulence which sometimes comes with political events such as elections.”