Lulu Brenda Harris

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been a lifeline to the marginalised Binga community in Zimbabwe, stepping in to provide education and support where the government has failed.

Despite the district’s wealth of natural resources, it remains one of the poorest in the country. NGOs have filled the void, working tirelessly to improve the lives of Binga’s residents.

Schools in Binga are benefiting from the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with various NGOs to improve infrastructure and provide teaching materials.

Home to most of Zimbabwe’s Tonga and Nambya minority groups, the district, sitting on the edge of the mighty Zambezi River, is affected by chronic poverty and reduced access to higher education.

In various interviews with locals in the district, they said if it were not for the assistance provided by NGOs, the decay and poverty levels would be worse.

Learners at a Binga School

In the education sector, they said these organisations were assisting in providing teaching and learning materials, while promoting indigenous languages.

CITE in an investigation established that the poor conditions of Binga’s schools – where teachers live under squalid conditions and hardly have material to assist them in their work – has meant that students in the district have ‘an erratic relationship’ with teachers who come and go, sometimes as rapidly as the change of school terms.

It also uncovered that these have contributed to the poor national examination results obtained by students in Binga, whose schools tell a story of an underfunded education system suffocating a hugely marginalised district.

The investigation was done, working in collaboration with the Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation that supports journalists in Zimbabwe and in the region to investigate issues of corruption in the public sector and bad governance.

Read: https://cite.org.zw/failure-is-what-happens-when-schools-are-without-teachers/

Binga-based Mudenda Chilumbo, stated that “Binga is in the hands of NGOs, there is no government (help) in Binga”.

“All the schools are sustained by NGOs. If you see a solar system in a school or a clinic or newly constructed school, that was done by NGOs. NGOs are a blessing in society.”

Chilumbo said the state was “just hiding behind the cloak, pretending to be the government of the people” when its policies indicated otherwise.

“The 1979 Grand Plan doesn’t allow the government to do any infrastructural development in Binga. Binga is 98% in the hands of NGOs,” he claimed.

Linda Mwembe from Lunga Village under Chief Sinakatenge in Binga North concurred, saying NGOs were doing a lot to uplift education in the district.

Sign leading to Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education offices in Binga District

She, however, said more needed to be done to empower girls.

“I have seen changes to our education in recent years, with organisation’s assisting in building schools. This has improved results (although marginally) and we have had children, including girls, who have made it out of this dust,” Mwembe said.

“What has to be done mostly is to make sure that the girl child feels safe at school and is kept at school.

“There are dropouts by girls due to a lot of challenges related to the fact that they are girls.

“If leaders and organisations can address this and make communities and schools are safe spaces for girls, and they feel comfortable, even when they are going through their menstrual cycle, that will be very good.”

Director of communications and advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Taungana Ndoro, said the government was working with NGOs to build schools and improve the quality of education around the country, including Binga.

“NGOs assist in the provision of teaching and learning materials, such as textbooks, science kits, radio and flash disks for radio lessons,” he said.

“They are also assisting in the construction of classroom blocks, provision of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) materials. These were handy, especially during the Covid-19 era that affected most of our schools. Some NGOs assisted us in a big way in meeting the Covid-19 protocols as was required by health experts.”

Ndoro said the majority of NGOs signed MOUs with the ministry.

“These MOUs or MOAs speak to areas of interest to the Ministry or pupils. Without these forms of agreement or understanding, it becomes unprocedural for the two parties to work together,”  he ministry spokesperson said.

“The majority of our schools, both primary and secondary schools, especially those we call S3, P3 and satellite schools have benefited from textbooks, science kits and radios that were distributed in schools in recent years.”

P3 and S3 schools are learning institutions in rural areas, formerly classified as Group C.

Ndoro said some of the NGOs “greatly” assisted the Ministry of Education when Cyclone Idai affected schools in Manicaland and some parts of Masvingo.

Concerning Binga, the ministry spokesperson stated that they “appreciate the great work” done by the Basilizwi Trust in the education sector, not just in the Tonga community but in other communities.

“We are cognisant of the role the trust has done in uplifting indigenous languages in Zimbabwe, especially the once marginalised languages, such as Tonga, Nambya, Venda, Shangani, Kalanga, Sotho, and others.

“We are quite aware that apart from assisting in coming up with the teaching and learning materials for the Tonga, the Basilizwi Trust was heavily involved in advocacy work in other indigenous languages.”

Ndoro said other organisations, such as World Vision, were extensively involved in the implementation of the ProFuturo Programme in various Binga schools.

“Over and above, the World Vision was also involved in the donation of chemistry textbooks and in the Improve Gender Attitude Transition and Education Outcome programme in the same district,” he said.

To provide more assistance and fill in gaps in the education sector, UNICEF Zimbabwe Education Manager, Maxwell Rafomoyo, said their organisation was working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to target the neediest schools around the 72 education districts.

“This includes Binga, especially the rural schools, P3, S3, special schools and satellites through intervention like the School Improvement Grant (SIG), a programme developed to respond to the challenge of underfunding in schools,” he said.

The SIG programme was launched in 2013 as part of the Education Transition Fund (ETF) to help improve the quality of education in Zimbabwe.

Rafomoyo explained there were different types of SIGs for several activities in the Rolling Work Plan, which include a regular SIG for teaching and learning materials.

“There is GPE Complementary Funding, which targets satellite schools with the aim of having them registered, SIG WASH – aimed at supporting schools without access to safe drinking water; emergency – aimed at supporting schools affected by natural disasters such as cyclones; and school feeding – aimed at supporting schools without access to funds to buy food available in their area to feed learners at school,” the Unicef official.

Rafomoyo noted some schools have adopted the SIG approach as it became a cash disbursement modality.

“A total of 142 schools in Binga benefitted from the SIG regular in 2022,” he said.

Other interventions Unicef has provided are the procurement of teaching and learning materials.

“To date, Unicef has distributed over four million textbooks to over 2000 P3 and S3 schools. These also include catchup materials, which benefited 9 778 primary and secondary schools countrywide. Unicef has also been involved in the capacitation of teachers in syllabus interpretation and implementing WASH in schools,” Rafomoyo said.

It is because of these programmes that Chilumbo said NGOs were doing more than the government.

“NGOs are doing the most for schools,” he added, lamenting that despite Binga’s wildlife and tourism, “proceeds are taken to Harare,

Binga RDC collects revenues along the Zambezi but the money is not ploughed back for the people’s socio-economic development”.

Chilumbo said the Tonga people were a “marginalised community despite them being in the midst of riches provided by Heaven.”

“Let me talk about the stretch of land where Tonga people are located and visible, that is from Chilundu to Kaliba up to Victoria Falls. There is marginalisation yet you find tourism, wildlife and a dam. However, the proceeds are taken to Harare.

“We are not happy with the government regarding the education system in Binga. High Schools were only built now. A child walks 14km to school and another 14km back. Others who live further walk more than 30 km in total. Children of Binga are not regarded but seen as animals. There is no government in Binga.”

Women and the girl child bear the brunt of this. The girl child is forced to drop out of school because of the walking distance, many are pushed into early marriages.

According to the Ministry of Education spokesperson, NGOs can still provide teaching and learning materials, such as textbooks, exercise books, internet, computers, laptops, construction of classroom blocks, science laboratories, sporting facilities and even payment of school fees to some of the most disadvantaged students.

“NGOs can also partner with the Ministry in staff development and in-servicing of the Ministry personnel,” Ndoro summed.

This story was commissioned by Information for Development Trust (IDT) and published by CITE.