Teen girls dare to dream again
By Kudakwashe H. Chidziya
For many, the memories of teenage period are traceable to the school environment. It is during school years that children dream of the future and set the base for those DREAMS. This is a story of 8 school dropouts who have been able to dream again after interaction with the DREAMS project, a project that seeks to empower adolescent girls and young women to protect themselves from HIV and sexual and gender based violence.
Eight (8) unfortunate teenage girls halling from the remote village of Natsai in ward 26 Muradzikwa in Mutare rural, Clarah Chatindo (18), Yolanda Ibvainadyo (16), Sheldon Muatni (17), Emmah Kasiyamhuri (16), Belinda Mberengo (18), Shamia Mutani (16), Shyline Mutani (16) and Miriam Ruwaze (19) all from Natsai Village Ward 26 under Chief Zimunya saw their life on a standstill after eventually dropping out from school due to school fees arrears.
“I could not believe it when I was told not to set a foot again at the school due to school fees arrears. I could not sit for my Ordinary Level examinations. Since elementary education, I had hoped for a better academic life but everything rather became evasive in 2018. I became a full time home dropout. It is during this period of idleness that I fell pregnant at the age of 16,” said Clara.
Belinda and Miriam were also unfortunate and they also fell pregnant at the age of 17 and 16 years respectively. Facing all forms of abuse as teen mothers, the trio Clara included became clueless on what to do with their lives.
Meanwhile, there would only watch their friends wandering in the village with nothing to do but only hoping to get married as well.
“I almost cried the other day when Sheldon seemed to be having interest of getting married. I told her boldly that there was no escape to poverty besides working for oneself and marriage can be worse off. I am happy she took my advice” said Miriam.
It was in 2020 February when events took a twist. Through the Dreams Project which was implemented by Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP), these girls were engaged.
They received training on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in relation to HIV and Aids something which equipped them to be firm and bold on their rights.
“I used to face all forms of abuse and my marriage was on the brisk of collapse. I was always emotionally disturbed. My husband would dictate what I should do, opt for and even make choices for me but after these trainings; I started to stand my ground something which earlier shocked him. These days he is a changed man and he respects my views,” said Clarah.
Concurrently, Isal trainings were also being carried out and the young girls developed interest and joined the trainings.
“I never thought I can make it in life. I am not educated and I did not have any skill. I thought, I would maybe get married and depend on my spouse for any upkeep. If it was not for the Dreams project Isal trainings and financial support we received, getting married had been my option,” said Sheldon.
Realizing the likelihood of how their friends can end up being teen age mothers like them, Clara, Miriam and Belinda recruited Emma, Sheldon, Shyline, Yolanda and Shamina in their Isal group.
They are now the Sunlight group which has ventured in poultry.
“I am happy because of the Dreams project. I am now independent and I look forward to cater for my own needs. I will definitely go back to school and finish my Ordinary level then I proceed to a vocational training center or college. I am saving towards that and I can dream again all because of the opportunity granted by the Dreams Project and DOMCCP. From the sales which we will make, I will pay for my fees and fulfill my academic dreams I had,” said Sheldon.
Breaking the chains: Survivor of child marriage speaks
By Kudakwashe H. Chidziya
Wounds of male chauvinism perpetuated by cultural beliefs in Honde valley are still wet. Disheartening it is to note the challenges brought about by these cultural practices. The strife of young girls in this region is attributed to these practices. Florence (17) was not spared from these challenges. Traumatised she is but fortunately she escaped the trap of organized early marriage. She is a survivor of forced and child marriage and her tale leaves many wondering if this is an isolated case or a tip of the iceberg.
Cases of forced child marriages in Zimbabwe are on the rise. Statistics drawn from the Sasa! Faith Media Toolkit Report revealed that one in three girls is married off before reaching the age of 18 years. Constitutionally in Zimbabwe, it is a crime to marry a girl who is below 18 years of age but such cases are still rampant with perpetrators escaping prosecution. They are being protected by some gatekeepers who believe in such practices. Young girls are being silenced to accept and submit to older men’s demands but Florence emerged a challenge to these beliefs and practices.
Florence was born in a family of three and she is the eldest. She was born and bred in Manyumwa Village, Ward 5 in Honde Valley. This village lies in the eastern boarders of Zimbabwe which is a stone-throw away from Manica Province of Mozambique. At the age of 17 years, she was persuaded into marriage by her grandmother.
Through a cultural practice known as ‘Kupfimbidzira’, suitors approach older women to facilitate their proposals to prospective brides. The practice is riddled with underhand dealings as suitor often strives to meet the material needs of the elderly woman first. The elderly women then sweet talk the girls into accepting the suitors. However, when a girl refuses she is coerced into accepting this union under the guise fulfilling age-old customs and practices.
Girls therefore enter into marriages with fear and without consent as no one dares to question tradition. Literally this will be an arranged forced, marriage. Where the girls will be below the legal age of majority, this will constitute a child marriage. Florence was a victim of this practice. She was approached by her grandmother on behalf of the suitor and she refused. A plan was hatched behind her back to use culture and tradition to force her into marriage. Florence recounted.
“My grandmother was given money, clothes and various items by my suitor Enock Matere. She accepted the goodies and in return agreed to make me his wife. When she told me that Enock had to marry me, I refused and rejected the offer because he was too old and was not my choice. Besides, I was not even ready for marriage. She threatened me but still I refused. She then connived with my Aunty and one night without my knowledge and consent I was blindfolded and carried by unknown men to Enock’s home. This was my worst experience ever.
“Trampling in the dark with my mouth taped, I shivered like a reed in a flooded river and convinced myself that I was doomed especially as I failed completely to free myself from the tight grips of the two muscular men. Tears of dejection streamed down my chicks as I regretted ever having been born a girl. I felt powerless, useless, voiceless and defenseless. Despite all this, the never-say-die spirit in me kept whispering to me that I had to be strong. When we arrived at our destination I was locked alone in a single room and I could not sleep. The following morning, my Aunty came in with Enock’s relatives.
They asked me to accept the marriage offer but I refused. The whole day I did not eat as I nursed the thought of freeing myself from this mess. Enock came into the room at night. He wanted to be intimate with me and I said NO. I made it clear that my NO meant NO by letting out a piercing scream and fought with every part of my body when he tried to force himself on me. As the writing was very clear on the wall, he left the room and I slept alone. The following day I asked to go to the toilet. When they allowed me to go alone, I know this was a chance of a lifetime and I made good my escape. That is when I realized that I had been taken to Mozambique,” tearful Florence narrated her story.
Realizing that Florence had disappeared, the Matere family started to look for her but their efforts were fruitless. Meanwhile back in Zimbabwe, Florence’s younger sister Chipo (15) was haunted by her sister’s disappearance. She had a clue of what could have happened but she had no one to help her.
Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP) SASA! Faith Community Activist (CA) (name withheld) who helps in raising awareness and disseminating information on child marriages and Sexual and Gender Based Violence, received the case of Florence’s mysterious disappearance through village gossip.
She approached Chipo secretly and got the relevant information and details of Florence’s case. The CA approached headman Nduna who presides over the village from which Florence hailed. Headman Nduna happened to be one among traditional leaders trained by DOMCCP on responding to child marriage issues. The custodian of culture responded swiftly and a quick search was made for Florence.
He issued an ultimatum to the Matere family to look for and return Florence within two days since what had transpired was unlawful. There have been various trainings and engagements between DOMCCP nad traditional leaders on the illegality of child marriages. Through the enlightenment from these engagements, all trained traditional leaders have vowed to fight early marriages.
“As traditional leaders we received trainings on ending child marriages. These trainings were conducted by DOMCCP and it is our mandate to make sure that this practice of child marriage is not tolerated. Nothing happens outside our knowledge in our villages hence; we will not tire to facilitate arrests of all early marriages perpetrators. I took Florence’s case personal. She is an intelligent young girl with a bright future ahead of her but all seems to be going in vain simply because of selfish irresponsible people. I will not tolerate this in my village. I ordered the Matere family to return the girl in two days’ time or the entire clan would face arrest,” he said.
Florence was found on the second day in the bush wondering as she tried to trace her her way back home. She was taken back to Zimbabwe. A life restored and a family united once again. Chipo could not hide her joy as the return of her sister brought renewed hope for the future of the girls.
“I am happy my sister is back and drew lessons from her disappearances. I am confident I will not be a victim of early marriage as well since my sister managed to fight this. Here in Honde Valley, it is difficult for us young girls to be heard and respected. I am glad that with the information and enlightenment we are getting from DOMCCP we have managed to fight our own battles. We are united again as a family and I am hopeful that when schools re-open we will be able to pursue our dreams,” said Chipo.
Meanwhile, Enock is still at large and issues of jurisdiction have hampered a massive manhunt for him by the Zimbabwe Republic Police since he resides in Mozambique. This is how most perpetrators of child marriages walk away scot free.
Beyond doctrines, human rights exist: 14 year old escapes polygamy
By Kudakwashe H. Chidziya
She was confused. Her mind became a battle field. Norah (14) almost lost hope in the fight for her own rights. She was not confident if she would be successful considering how some of her classmates had lost the same battle. The question would ring in her mind. What would make me successful in fighting this forced marriage? Fortunately she had the answer. “It is because I am an empowered girl and I know my rights. Nothing overrides my rights. I can make it,” relaxed Norah said.
Norah was born and grew up in Chipupure Village of Ward 7 in Honde Valley. For the better half of her childhood she stayed with her ageing grandmother. Her parents’ disputes did not make matters any better for the teenager who to date has no birth record. Her identity is shrouded in mystery. She is named Norah among relatives but in the national identity data base, Norah does not exist. This explains why she could not even sit for her national grade seven examinations of course notwithstanding the accrued tuition fees arrears. Could this have made her vulnerable to early and forced marriage circumstances? To a certain extent yes, but more significantly religious doctrine almost ruined her life.
Norah was brought up as a Christian and she is a member of Johane Marange Apostolic Sect. The church’s doctrine promotes polygamy and fosters women’s total submission to men. Regardless of how the church’s leadership tries to educate its members to desist from marrying underage girls, some adamant church members are still practicing early marriages. Many girls have become victims of early marriages in this church.
Program data generated Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP) shows that between January and August 2020, there are 11 cases of early marriages recorded. All these were perpetrated as a result of religious doctrines which promotes polygamy. Young girls are left with no choice but to accept these marriage offers regardless of their age and consent because once their parents agree, the deal is sealed.
According to Zimstat (2017) the Inter Censal Demography Survey depicts that a total of 84.1 percent of the Zimbabwean population follows one of the Christian denominations. Of these 74.8% includes includes Apostolic 37.5%, Pentecostal 21.8%, other 15.5%, Roman Catholic 7.3%, other Christian 5.3%, traditional 1.5%, Muslim 0.5%, other 0.1%, none 10.5%. The Apostolic sect commands the large fellowship which also explains why Johanne Marange dominates in Honde Valley.
Norah was unfortunate to be spotted as a potential wife by a polygamous man with three wives. He wanted the 14 year old Norah to be his fourth. Initially, Norah was proposed by the suitor himself and she boldly rejected the proposal. A few days later, Norah’s uncle Jonah Madziro came to persuade her to consider the marriage offer using a common practice in the region of ‘Kupfimbira’. Norah stood her ground by rejecting the offer as well till she was forcefully asked to elope to the man’s homestead.
“I will never forget the experience. It was a nasty one. After I refused the initial proposal and the persuasion by my uncle to marry this man, I was forcefully taken at night to his homestead. I was defenseless. They locked me up in a room all day like a prisoner and food served by one of this man’s three wives.
“She could not allow me to leave and I would be escorted to the toilet. I stayed there for a week. Each day I would cry and at times scream but no one came to my rescue. One night the man came and tried to force himself on me but I fought for myself till he left me alone and he locked me inside again. He said I would change my mind something which I did not do,” she said.
DOMCCP’s project being implemented in Honde Valley came to Norah’s rescue through SASA! Faith team member who is also Community Development Coordinator for Ward 5 Cathrine Sanyanga. She intervened on the sudden disappearance of Norah.
Catherine recounted, “I made an investigation following the sudden absence of Norah from school. That is when I realized that she had been married off. I reported the case to the police. A search warrant was issued and an investigation was made. She was found at the homestead of a polygamous man (name withheld) who was then dragged to the courts of law.”
The matter was investigated and upon filing the case, that is when it was discovered that Norah had no identity documents. She was taken to age estimate which asserted that she was 14 years old whilst the perpetrator was on bail. When all documents were in place and the perpetrator due for trial, he ran away and he is still at large.
While the case was being handled by the police, Norah was taken to safe shelter in Honde Valley where she stayed for almost one week. DOMCCP later facilitated the return of Norah to her family. She received counseling before returning home to join her family. She is still staying with her grandmother.
“I am happy that I am back to my family. I never wanted to be married. After all it was a forced marriage which I never dreamt of. I urge all young girls that it is very important to stand your ground in whatever circumstances. What makes us submissive is lack of knowledge and understanding of rights entitled to us. Nothing can challenge what we deserve and no one has the right to take our privileges away. Even church doctrines and polices cannot take away our rights. Beyond doctrines, there are human rights worth fighting for and privileges entitled to us,” said Norah.
Giving the rod not the fish in the fight against COVID-19
By Kudakwashe H. Chidziya
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous and multi – faceted challenges countrywide with people in rural areas not being spared from economic and social challenges. With disruptions that came with COVID-19, livelihoods in rural areas were also affected as farmers failed to access markets while many who rely on support from breadwinners in urban areas also saw dwindling support. The need to empower rural communities to be economically sustainable became apparent.
Personal (17) is among many children who were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She lives with her mother, elder sister and an aunt. Her father is deceased, and her mother is a subsistence farmer. COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of schools and the reduction of Personal’s family income which solely depend on subsistent farming. This has made it difficult for Personal’s mother to provide the family essentials, sanitary wear included. Lockdown measures have resulted in the family failing to access agricultural markets, hitting hard on the family income.
Educationally, Personal is facing challenges due to limited resources, access to internet and the burden of unpaid care work on her. “I barely have time for reading when I’m at home because I will be doing domestic chores such as sweeping, cooking and fetching water. I have no access to digital tools and the internet. While others are continuing with their studies, I am legging behind. At times I used to borrow my aunt’s phone to browse on the internet, but I faced challenges buying data bundles. In Zimbabwe, data tariffs are very high expensive,” she said.
“I hope and pray that I will go back to school again,” she added.
Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP), an AAZ partner, trained girls and young women to make own face masks. As an emergence response to the pandemic, most people in rural communities were failing to afford buying the face masks. Personal, a lower Six pupil in Nyanga was among the group of girls and young women who were trained. Personal is a member of Rural Women Assembly (RWA) group called Mercy Care from Nyanga.
DOMCCP has supported Personal and her group with material enough to sew 450 reusable face. As an ambitious girl with the zeal to join the youth movement and participation in fighting the pandemic, Personal joined other older girls and youths. Personal is the youngest in the group. The masks which they are making meet the World Health Organisation standards.
“I am so thankful for acquiring skilled knowledge about how to make face masks since this gives me the opportunity to sew masks for my family and selling some. I get money for my sanitary wear and airtime to pursue my studies using online platforms from selling the masks. I will also disseminate information on COVID-19 creating market for the face masks as part of the training I received,” an empowered Personal said.
Personal friend Trish also received the training including Primrose. They are all doing lower six and were selected by the group members on the rationale that they did Fashion and Fabrics at school and are also active girls in assisting the vulnerable community members.
Personal has no access to a smart phone unlike her friend Trish who uses her mother’s phone to access notes from their teacher. According to Trish she now sleeps late in the night since she will be writing notes from the WhatsApp group into her note book. This she does usually around 12 midnight to 3 am when her mother is asleep. Data is proving to be a great challenge for downloading the notes.
Personal mirrors a lot of rural women and children affected by the pandemic. DOMCCP also trained 75 (RWA) female tailors from wards 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of Nyanga and further supported them with material to make 3 000 face masks in a bid to render sustainable assistance to the communities as well as widening the tailors’ sources of income.
It is more sustainable to train women to make their own face masks instead of just providing them with masks. With the skills they have acquired, women in Nyanga are now providing masks for their families and communities at a cost of US$2 for two masks.