UNDP Facilitates Construction of Low Cost Boarding Facilities To Reduce HIV Vulnerability In Adolescent School Girls

Following the death of her mother, 15 year old Grace Mwamuka* now stays with her father and two minor siblings. She is from Ndima Village in Chimanimani. Throughout the year 2022, she would walk three hours to and from school daily.

By Michael Gwarisa

Every morning, she would wake up as early as 4:00 AM to clean the house and prepare food for her young siblings before departing for school. After school, she would rush home to clean the house and prepare dinner. This was taking a toll on her academic life as she was now struggling to concentrate on her studies. She is doing Form 2 at Ndima Government Primary School.

Apart from her tedious daily chores, an even more serious distraction had come into Grace’s way.  Artisanal Miners or Makrokoza. This group of people preys on young unsuspecting school girls, pestering them for sex. In most communities where artisanal mining is rife, school drop outs, teen pregnancies and early child marriages are the order of day.

At times, the artisanal miners would approach me walking to and from school. They would ask for sex and promise me all sorts of good things,” said Grace.

“My greatest fear was that one day I would get raped. We would walk as a group but you never know, maybe one day I was going to be unfortunate and get raped and probably get impregnated and infected with HIV.”

Grace has however put all these fears and misery behind her as she is now housed at the school, together with 32 other school girls from Ndima Government School benefiting from the Low Cost Boarding Facilities (LCBFs) programme also known as Sustainable and Affordable Boarding Facilities (SABFs). The initiative is meant to reduce the risk and vulnerability to HIV for adolescent school girls. The project is targeting adolescent school girls who seek to access education but due to their vulnerability, end up  resorting to unsafe accommodation arrangements.

“Now that I am here at the boarding facility, I feel safe. I can now concentrate on my education without any distraction or fear of being raped by Makorokoza,” added Grace.

Construction of the low cost boarding facility at Ndima school was facilitated by the UNDP as the principal recipient of Global Funds grants since 2009. Currently, three facilities in the four Zimbabweans districts are occupied, namely in Chimanimani (Mhakwe Secondary School and Ndima High School) and in Umguza district (Mahlothova High).

Grace was not the only one who had a story to share during a media visit jointly organised by the National AIDS Council (NAC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Melody Chida 16* who is doing Form 3 at Ndima says she was at greater risk of sexual abuse and HIV.   Her case is different as she used to stay in a “bush Boarding” house at Kopa Shopping centre.

“I rented a room at Kopa shops for a year and half. It was difficult to concentrate on school work. Some of my peers got hooked on drugs and alcohol. I rented a place behind a Club and at knight, drunken men would bang on our doors and men would randomly ask for sexual favors. I am glad that I am now here in the boarding house with other girls. I feel safe,” said Melody.

These unsafe environments, or “bush boarding” facilities are usually behind shops at growth points/townships, rooms behind beer halls, or parents making arrangements with families who have space and are close to the school. More often, these bush boarding arrangements expose Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) to HIV, STIs and sexual abuse given limitations in security and regulation.

Following the opening up of the boarding house to learners, the annual enrollment figures for girls at Ndima Government School has now surpassed that of boys. In 2016, Ndima School had a total enrollment of 749 with 428 being boys and 321 being girls. The trajectory maintained up to 2022 when girls’ enrollment jumped to 409 against a boys enrollment of 393. In 2023, the school recorded a total enrollment of 850 of which 450 were girls and 400 were boys.

Ndima Government School Head, Mr John Magocha said the low cost boarding facility had changed attitudes in the female learners and this has also led to a reduction the number of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy.

“In terms of the number of girls who fall pregnant, we now have a minimal number of girls who fall pregnant. When that happens these days, it would be an accident. Our girls are seeing the light, they now have the courage to say no,” said Mr Magocha.

Even though the presence of artisanal miners in the area still poses a threat to girls residing outside the boarding facility. Mr Magocha says they hope to enroll more girls into the boarding facility should resources permit.

“We are happy, we no longer worry so much about the Makorokozas because. The kids who were most in danger are now staying inside and the guys who would pester them now don’t have access. Out of the 850 students, we have 450 girls and the rest are boys.”

Mrs Sibongile Mashava, the Boarding Matron at Ndima Government School said, “When I started staying with the girls during the first term, none of them performed well in school. Not a single one of them was in the top-10 but as we speak, the girls have greatly improved and we are starting to see some of them in the top 10.”

The UNDP also constructed a similar facility at Mahlothova High school In Ward 9, Umguza district, Matabeleland North province. Just like Ndima government school, Mahlothova High school is also benefiting for the Global Fund AGYW programme which commenced in 2018 and the programme has benefited over a 100 learners since its establishment.

To augment the Low Cost boarding facility intervention, Plan International is implementing the “modified DREAMS” approach, a layered and holistic package of care for vulnerable AGYW age 9-24 years, with particular emphasis on in and out-of-school Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), social protection (keeping girls in school), provision of clinical services (including HIV Testing Services (HTS), STI screening, condom provision, family planning and PrEP), GBV prevention and post-violence care. The comprehensive package is also being offered in four high-burden districts (Chimanimani, Umguza, Kwekwe and Umzingwane).

The School Head at Mahlothova High, Mr Naison Sibanda said the CSE programme being implemented by Plan International, coupled with the low cost boarding facility, have kept girls in schools and greatly reduced school drop outs.

“The school enrollment stands at 422 of which 168 are boys and 254 are girls. There has been a significant reduction in the pregnancies and drop outs in the school. Because of this intervention, the pass rate has also been increasing over the years. For example in 2013, the pass rate was at 13, 16 percent and when the program started in 2018, it shot up to 26,92 percent and in 2019 it went up to 34,6 percent. However, the pass rate was affected by the COVID-19,” said Mr Sibanda.

UNDP is also supporting 12,000 girls in four Districts supported with educational subsidies to keep them in school. This has contributed to a reduction of the number AGYW drop out from school from 500 [2 percent] in 2018 to 200 [0.8 percent] by 2023) across all priority districts. At Mahlothova, the DREAMS modified project is currently supporting 162 girls with school subsidies. The low cost boarding house at Mahlothova has a carrying capacity of 32.

Netsai Patricia Ncube, the Program Facilitator Towards ending AIDS as a public Health Threat by 2030 (DREAMS modified) Project at Plan international said, “The “modified DREAMS” project aims to prevent new HIV infection in adolescent girls and young women by keeping them in school, improving their ability to exercise their rights, reducing Gender Based Violence (GBV) and increasing access to youth friendly services.”

Under the project, Plan International Zimbabwe has also trained teachers on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) teaching across the four districts where the program is being implemented. At Mahlothova, 13 teachers (Seven males and female teachers) have been trained to offer CSE education to learners. In Chimanimani, Mhakwe High School, 13 teachers (seven Females and six Males) were trained on CSE through Global Fund support.

On the HIV component, the UNDP through National AIDS Council (NAC) and with financial support from The Global Fund is implementing the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) program under New Funding Model 3 (2021-2023). The program aims at ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 targeting to reduce new HIV infections among AGYW between the ages of 10-24 years.

Mongiwabesuthu Ngwenya, the National AIDS Council (NAC) District AIDS Coordinator for Umguza said while the incidence of HIV was decreasing in some districts in Matabeleland North, Umguza remains the hardest hit hence the implementation of the AGYW programm for vulnerable school girls.

“Generally, HIV prevalence and incidence has been going down across the province but Umguza remains at the top in terms of HIV infections currently in the province, with the incidence standing at 0.27 percent. The prevalence is around 12.5 percent. The manor key drivers of HIV in Umguza are farming and mining activities happening in most wards in the District,” said Ngwenya.

He added that there is a lot of sex work happening in the compounds and in the mining areas. He also said road side sex work is on the rise due to high volumes of trucks traffic. In complement of the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) priorities towards ending AIDS by 2030, the AGYW program is delivering core interventions that go beyond provision of health services. The programme is also addressing structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ risk of becoming infected with HIV.

NB// The identity * of some interviewees  have been altered to protect the image of 
the subjects 



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