The Unsung Heroes In the Slum Communities
Michelle Chifamba | Harare – Sixteen year-old Shuvai Chirau (not real name), sits by the small door of a plastic and pole makeshift cabin she calls home in the slum community of Hatcliffe Extension, 20 kilometers outside the capital Harare.
She is the eldest in her family with five siblings, and takes care of an ailing 65-year old grandmother and an HIV positive mother. Her whitewashed face shows visible marks of exhaustion as she is burdened by the life she has assumed.
In a household with people in despair, surviving on food hand -outs from well -wishers and Non-governmental organizations, Shuvai as the eldest child and a girl in the family, has to assume all the parental duties of doing household chores- cooking, washing and taking responsibility of her siblings and very sick mother.
Shuvai dropped out of school at the age thirteen, when she was supposed to be in grade seven, due to lack of money. The situation in her household also meant that she was needed more at home than school.
“I dropped out of school to take care of my mother, grandchildren and siblings. I could not go to secondary school due to financial constraints and also that there is no formal secondary school here. I wish to have a better life and build my grandmother a proper house but I cannot,” Shuvai said.
Such is the life of many young girls in slum communities, whose lives have been impacted by the effects of the deadly pandemic-HIV/AIDS affecting their future.
According to 2013 statistics by the UNICEF, one in four children in Zimbabwe has lost one or both parents due to HIV and other causes thus an approximate 100,000 child-headed households in the country as many children now have to work to survive.
“The lives of children especially girls in these slum communities has been severely damaged by the effects of the deadly pandemic. Burdened by gender roles, these girls have assumed parental duties at a tender age,”said Justice Mbiva, the Director of Vision HIV/AIDS – an NGO that works with children affected by the pandemic in slum communities.
“Many have dropped out of school and the few that remain in school are burdened by their problems at home such that they cannot focus at school and end up having lower grades and fail to attain better future prospects,” Mbiva added.
Imprisoned by their circumstances in life many young girls have lost hope for the future and have nothing to look forward to except the life bestowed to them- being the immediate caregivers and parents to their younger siblings.
“I cannot go to school and leave my grandmother and mother in this condition. I have to do all the housework and am obligated to take care of my young brothers and sisters,” Shuvai moaned.
Vision HIV/AIDS in its plight to improve the lives of young girls in such grueling situations says it has embarked on working with the young girls and boys to give them vocational training through offering dressmaking and wielding courses to equip the school dropouts with manual skills that would help them in the future.
“We discovered that it is difficult to put them back to primary school because at their age (13-16), they would have matured and it affect their learning, so we set up a training school to equip them with manual skills of dressmaking. However, many of them drop out of the program as a result of the prevailing situations at home which does not give them spare time to engage in the skills training,” Mbiva said.
Yet, according to NGOs though these young girls and boys are doing great strides for their families, they remain unnoticed.
“These young girls are young heroines who have accomplished a lot by simply dropping their plans for a better future, accept their situationsassuming parental roles,” Mbiva added.
According to Vision HIV/AIDS many young girls in the slum communities of Hatcliffe Extension, endure the long distances in search of firewood and water, at the same time sell bananas to raise money to feed the family.
Gender Activists maintain that the girls are important to society and should the girls in the impoverished communities who are living with the effects of the deadly pandemic should be hailed for their sacrificial roles.
Women’s Trust, an NGO that works to empower women and girls, maintains that the girls are heroines as they sacrifice their childhood, education and future to take care of their parents and siblings.
“In our African culture the birth of a girl child is not highly celebrated compared to the male counterparts, yet girls are more important. They sacrifice their future for the wellbeing of the lives of their family members,” said Communications, Information and Advocacy Officer, Tendayi Garwe.
“Girls are an investment to society. They look back to their communities and they should be appreciated and celebrated for their efforts,” Garwe added.
While the role of girls and women is pivotal, they continue to be marginalized and gender activists maintain that it is disheartening for girls to sacrifice a lot in society but they remain marginalized.