( Developments over June to October 2020 )
Current situation in Zimbabwe
The Corona pandemic continues to rage in Africa, with over 1.6 million infections and almost 40,000 deaths. The count is highest in South Africa, which has over 700,000 cases and almost 20,000 deaths. According to Zimbabwe statistics, the country has over 9,000 confirmed corona infections and 263 deaths.
Zimbabwe’s strict economic and social lockdown measures have been eased gradually. Restrictions on business and mobility have been relaxed, e.g. the curfew has been shortened by 2 hours (currently 8 pm to 6 am) and shops can now stay open until 4.30 pm. Domestic travel and tourism started again in September and airports were opened to international flights on 1 October.
Zimbabwe’s economy is still in dire straits: 2019 was a bad year, with the decrease in the current year’s GDP ranging from 4.5% to 10.5%. In July, annual inflation rose to over 800% but price increases levelled off in August-September thanks to the growing stability of the exchange rate. In September, the consumer price index (CPI) was “only” +659% at an annual rate. In the weekly foreign exchange auction, the Zimbabwean dollar/ZWL has stabilised at 81 against the US dollar.
Freedom to hold demonstrations has been restricted during the pandemic added to which the current political climate is very fractious.
The teaching sector has suffered, and pupils are falling behind. Schools closed on 24 March and remained closed until September, when they started to open again in stages. Classes doing exams in 2020 returned to school on 28 September, and those doing exams in 2021 on 26 October; all remaining classes returned on 9 November. The term will end on 18 December. Primary school lessons are broadcast on the radio daily, and free e-learning platforms offer subjects online to junior and senior secondary pupils.
Support for children and their education
When schools closed in March many of the children left as usual to stay with their relatives in the country – but then came the rigid lock-down. All non-essential travel came to a halt and many of the children were stuck in the country for months. Our records show that during the past 6 months, 45 of our primary school children and 39 of our junior secondary and first year senior secondary (Form 5) students have not been attending remedial lessons at the Activity Centre. Luckily, the children in the finishing classes of primary school and junior and senior secondary have been present more or less as normal.
Dzikwa Trust has organised, and is continuing to organise, a lot of extra lessons at the Activity Centre. In July, August and September they ran a disciplined ‘vacation school’ providing a wide range of lessons for all children sitting for their final exams. The teachers were those left without work by the lockdown as well as our own staff members and older students.
Schools have opened at the end of September but the need for extra lessons continues. Teachers are dissatisfied with their pay, which has been eroded by inflation to about a third of what it was in 2018. At the worst, 30-40% of teachers were turning up at school. The situation has become better now. Dzikwa Trust is still continuing to give extra lessons to large numbers of children, currently 151 primary school children and as many as 93 junior and senior secondary students, who can get tuition in 12 different subjects. All in all, more than three-quarters of our children come to the Activity Centre for extra lessons.
Junior and senior secondary pupils can use free e-learning platforms in the IT classroom.
The Dzikwa Trust kitchen has been open since 10 April. During the past few months, our meals have taken the form of emergency aid as we have started serving the daily hot meal to other distressed children in the district, not only the children in our programme. Due to the strict hygiene rules, the children have to bring their own bowls or plates. The average number of meals served per week ranges from 720 to 820.
Fortunately, we have received a number of large food donations locally. Their value is over USD 15,000, of which USD 13,000 reduces the expenditure of the kitchen’s annual budget and the rest comprises non-budgeted supplies. We have received over USD 7,000 for our meals programme from Zimbabwe.
The Activity Centre was more busy than usual on 3 September when a representative of the Chinese Embassy brought us food, face masks, other hygiene supplies and blankets. Added to that, the Ambassador’s wife has recently collected USD 4,500 for new Activity Centre tables and chairs. We have also received a donation of Kefalos yogurt, which is a great favourite with the children, and on 30 September an astounding 1,200 children each received their own yogurt carton. Another extremely welcome donation came from EnBee Stores, Zimbabwe’s leading suppliers of school wear, in the form of hundreds of surplus school uniforms.
Food security and reforestation project
Our two large greenhouses are now producing vegetables on a regular basis, for instance, 75 kg of tomatoes a week. This is more than our kitchen needs so we sell the surplus to staff members. Production of broiler chicken and rabbit meat is going ahead as planned.
November marks the start of the annual tree planting season. Our target this year is 8,000 eucalyptus and several hundred indigenous African trees. The exact date when we start depends on the arrival of the first good rain.
All our clubs have to keep to COVID-19 restrictions and group numbers are limited in size. The soccer and basketball leagues have suspended activities altogether but children can play ball games among themselves on our own ball court.
The Culture Group and choir have, however, continued to rehearse regularly.
The girls’ own Sisterhood Club has also met. The girls have been busy making durable sanitary pads as taught by Finnish volunteers.
We are trying to make Internet lessons available to greater numbers of pupils, and so need more laptops. The Society has therefore applied – once again – for laptops from the Bank of Finland and the European Central Bank’s EurHope initiative. The Bank of Finland has given us a preliminary promise of 20-30 laptops next February. The need by junior and senior secondary pupils has grown enormously along with the increase in distance learning, besides which anyone applying for or already in tertiary education must have a laptop.
The Activity Centre’s upgraded Internet service (TelOne) has improved access in all parts of the Centre, including the Dzikwa Shelter. The new service has functioned reliably and without interruptions.
Tatenda for 4 October
We thank all of you active supporters who joined us on 4 October at Töölö library in Helsinki to ponder strategies for increasing our visibility. The Board is compiling a separate response to the ideas put forward then and in the replies to the questionnaire sent out earlier. We’ll also return to the subject at the Society’s meeting in December, when we decide on the operating plan and budget for 2021.
Other topical matters
This time our 2021 Dzikwa Trust wall calendar is in English only, as we need more informative material in Zimbabwe. Thank you to everyone who helped us to produce the calendar.
The price is EUR 10/ calendar + postage.
You can also order by sending an email to: oili.wuolle at gmail.com telling how many copies and your delivery address.