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Covid-19 Challenge For Schools In Poor Communities

By Bernard Chiketo

Makoni rural households are abjectly poor and perpetually living off alms.

International aid agency – World Vision, in a 2016 study placed the district’s average monthly income at $26 at a time the country’s poverty datum line was $500.

That was way before the economy completely tanked. And long before the Covid-19 epidemic made their already dire situation even worse.

Government support for schools is at a bare minimal leaving them to depend on the communities they serve.

This made it even harder for education institutions in Makoni to meet the basic World Health Organisation (WHO) and government guideline requirements to make reopening of schools sufficiently safe for educationists and learners.

“Preparedness of most of our schools is made particularly difficult because schools have not been receiving any income since they closed in March,” Pise said.

When Makoni district Covid-19 response committee was requested to give a list of 20 schools to be assisted by United Methodist Church (UMC) through its developmental arm Chabadza Community Development Programme (CCDP) with support from UMC Norway and the Norwegian government they included Muziti primary school.

“Most families here are small scale peasant farmers and many of them are headed by aging grandparents with more dependents than they can sustain,” Margaret Jere an educationist at Muziti primary school said. “Covid-19 has even worsened their situation.”

The school, under Chief Makoni, has serious need with its statistics awkward because of the warped demographics of the indigent community it serves.

Only 37 pupils in seventh grade out of 450 learners with nine-year-olds defying logical demographic growth as it points to either a baby boom in the area nine years ago or an influx of school-ready of infants four years back as they started with such a high number.

“We don’t know what happened but grade three is the only class at the school with so many children that we had to divide them into two classes.

“It could be that they are staying with the extended family because most of our children are not coming from economically secure families,” Jere said.

The school received 20 buckets, an infrared thermal thermometer, disposable facemasks and 10 litres of liquid soap from the church which school authorities said was a huge relief in their efforts to ready the school to the huge numbers of pupils when schools enter stages two and three of opening on the 26th of October and 9th of November.

Makoni district schools’ inspector’s representative Regina Zengwa said the personal protective and hygiene materials would go a long way in making the school a safe environment.

“These items are critical and we had challenges securing them considering how resource constrained the majority of our schools are,” Zengwa said adding that although government has given the school buckets, disinfectants, an infrared thermal thermometer, a face shield and a few milliliters of hand sanitisers it was not sufficient.

UMC Makoni district superintendent Rev Diana Matikiti said the support was not in itself sufficient to meet each school’s needs but was meant to aid the schools’ own efforts.

“We appreciate that schools have not been receiving any revenue since early this year and they need this kind of support. We could even have given everything that all pupils needed to be completely safe if resources permitted but we hope this support helps nonetheless,” Rev Matikiti said of the assistance.

Muziti is one of 96 rural schools that the church is supporting in its US$24 000 Covid-19 prevention response targeting 38 000 people across Manicaland province.

This also comes as the country is relaxing lockdown regulations, allowing for more interactions amidst an epidemic now at community level with the attendant risk of rising infections demanding heightened prevention efforts.

It began rolling out its prevention efforts in August in Buhera where it donated hundreds of buckets, liquid soap, face masks, latex gloves, infrared thermometers and 2021 calendars to the district Covid-19 response taskforce and 20 schools before making another donation to 25 schools in Mutasa in September before reaching out to 20 schools in Makoni.

It is set to make more donations to 31 schools in Cyclone Idai ravaged Chimanimani which lost over 700 people, the majority of whom are still missing, in another act of God last year and is now having to grapple with a disease that has sicken over 33 million people globally and killed over a million.

It has already proven to be catastrophic for families living in poverty, those with poor medical facilities, and where children’s health is compromised by malnutrition – ingredients present in aid dependent Buhera, marginalised sections in Mutasa, indigent communities in Makoni and disaster ravaged Chimanimani.

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