Hitting Three Birds with One Stone: Low Cost Boarding Facilities to Address Teen Pregnancies, Early Marriages and New HIV Infections in Chimanimani Adolescent Girls

HILDER Muwani* (16) is doing Form 3 at Mhakwe Secondary school in Chimanimani. Every day, she walks 30 kilometers to and from school. She at some point contemplated moving to a bush boarding or renting a room near the school just to cut on the distance, but her parents would have none of it. They feared she would mix with the wrong crowd, fall pregnant and end up dropping out of school as has become the fate of many girls in Chimanimani.

By Michael Gwarisa recently in Chimanimani

The risk of falling pregnant or being sexually abused is very high for girls who travel long distances to school as older males take advantage of the desperate situation to pounce on unsuspecting girls. According to Hilder, some girls from her school have been impregnated by motorists who ply the route from Biriri to Mhakwe who offer girls free transport in exchange for sex.

Two of my friends were impregnated last year. One of them who was doing Form 4 was impregnated by a Mushikashika driver while the other one was impregnated by a married man, a prominent farmer from Biriri. The biggest challenge is long distance, it’s not easy walking 30 kilometres every day, you end up giving in just to have it easy,” said Hilder.

She however said the risk even increases among those who rent near the shops or school as there is little or no supervision at all from the community. In some instances, drunkards and daring males pass insensitive and sexually suggestive comments to girls, making them feel uncomfortable.

Manicaland has a high child marriage incidence and Chimanaini is one of the districts with high cases of child marriages. According to the National AIDS Council (NAC), in 2019, 8 adolescent girls all below the age of 14 fell pregnant and booked at Antenatal Clinics in the district. Under the same period, 1185 girls between the ages of 15 to 19 presented at health centres with pregnancies. In 2020, 13 girls under the age of 14 presented themselves at the hospitals with pregnancies.

Mhakwe secondary school girls. The boarding facility at Mhakwe will assist gilrs who travel long distances to school

Hilder and a number of girls at her school have their hopes fixed on the new Low Cost boarding facility being constructed at Mhakwe Secondary school. They are hoping to be considered eligible and be granted accommodation in the facility where it is safer for the girl child. The boarding facilities are part of an ongoing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program being implemented in schools around Zimbabwe.

Through funds from the Global Fund being managed and disbursed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who are the principal recipient to the funds, low cost but state of the art boarding facilities are currently being constructed at two school in Chimanimani namely, at Mhakwe Secondary schools and Ndima Government School in Kopa Chimanimani.

National AIDS Council Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Officer, Sibert Hlatywayo said the 
new boarding facility would arrest a number of woes facing young girls in the areas as 
cases of abuse and exploitation of adolescent school girls were rampant in Chimanimani 
especially in bush boarding or lodgings near the shops and bars.

“This boarding facility has come through to complement the existing Comprehensive Sexuality education program at the school especially after realizing that some girls were actually dropping out school because of issues of accessibility to school facilities, the issues to do with monies to pay for the boarding facilities among other issues.

“There are other challenges as well where you find that girls were experiencing abuse and exploitation because they were now staying where they were no care givers or guardians. Community members or adults were taking advantage of them by enticing them through paying for food or accommodating at the same time exploiting them. Now with this boarding facility, you find that they are now in a secure area where we have the community and school taking part and contributing in terms of making sure the girls are protected,” Hlatywayo.

The boarding facility at Mhakwe has a security fence right round and will have a Matron manning the boarding houses 24/7. The boarding facility has entertainment facilities and dining facilities that can match any private school in the country and each room accommodates two pupils at any given time. The boarding facility has a carrying capacity of 32 girls and will be offering accommodation to girls between the ages 9 to 24 from vulnerable backgrounds and those who travel long distances to school every day.

“We have a Matron that will be staying within this facility from the school. She will be a teacher here but she will then assist to make sure the children are actually protected when they are at school whch was not the case when the girls were using bush boarding facilities where each girl would actually go to their home at night and no one knows what happens to them or when they are going to those facilities so that is why this initiative was actually started.”

The National AIDS Council (NAC) District AIDS Coordinator for Chimanimani, Priscilla  MacIssac said having boarding facilities was a sure way of keeping girls longer in school and ensuring that they realize their full potential and addressing the ever growing burden of new HIV infections especially in young adolescent girls.

National AIDS Council (NAC) District AIDS Coordinator for Chimanimani, Priscilla  MacIssac takes Journalists through a tour of the newly constructed boarding facility for girls at Mhakwe secondary school

“We have noted from the HIV data that the longer we keep girls in school, the less the incidence of getting HIV infection. In 2020, 1238 girls between 15 and 19 presented themselves at the health centres with pregnancies. That is indeed very sad. These are children we are saying we want to keep them in school so that they are not subjected to Gender Based Violence in the future.

“Here in Manicaland, we have this boarding facility at Mhakwe Secondary School and we have another one at Ndima Government School in Kopa Chimaninmani. They are calling it Low Cost boarding facility in the sense that they are implying the contribution by the learners or by the guardians of the learners but otherwise the structure was very expensive to build. We are expecting this girls to start staying here as soon as the certificate of occupation is granted. Within the same fund which was used to build this place, UNDP also purchased some beds for the girls and also some crockery that they would use,” said MacIssac.

The Global Fund is funding the National AIDS council to implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Schools in Chimanimani.  The Comprehensive Sexuality Education is targeting Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) and also Adolescent Boys and Young Men in school.

“Our interventions are two pronged, we are reaching the age groups 9-24 from the schools and we are also reaching the same age group out of school which makes the intervention very comprehensive. So the Global Fund gives UNDP the fund, which is our principal recipient then UNDP is giving money to the National AIDS Council (NAC) which is the sub-recipient, then the NAC in this case is implementing through Plan International.”

Meanwhile, under the CSE program Plan International is paying school fees for 148 adolescent girls and young women at Mhakwe Secondary school. They are also paying for their examination fees and recently, a consignment of complete school uniforms comprising of shoes, jerseys and school bags and stationery for each and every leaner in the program was delivered at the school. The same CSE programme has also trained teachers to teach Guidance and Counseling in schools.









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