By Sharon Kavhu
FOR SEVEN years, Tendai Chasara (14) (not her real name) toiled to school, which is about 20km away from her Gidiratonga Village, Shamva, in Mashonaland Central Province.
Week in, week out, she would wake up around 4AM and quickly prepare for school before she joined her schoolmates in the village for their first 22km lap to the nearby Shamva Gold Mine Primary.
Upon arrival at the school, she would be very tired and would take a snooze during classes. By close of the day, she had to embark on another 22km journey back home to complete her energy-sapping 44km daily excursion to and from school.
And after completing her Grade Seven last year, which she did not perform well and with the secondary school even farther, Chasara chose to abandon school and got into an early marriage.
After all, during her daily long voyages to school she met her better half, who would at times take her half way to and from school, and by the time the Grade Seven results were out, she was already pregnant.
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education announced last year that over 4,500 Grade Seven pupils failed to proceed to secondary school due to pregnancy-related issues and Chasara is among them.
Originally from Gidiratonga in Shamva North, the 14-year-old girl is now staying with her in-laws in Gombera Village, Muzaramba, within the same province.
“I am now happily married and expecting my first child. I found this (marriage) very convenient to me because going to secondary school was a bit of a challenge because I was supposed to walk even a longer distance than I used to walk to the primary school,” said Chasara as she shared her story with The Southern Times recently.
Sitting on a reed mat with her legs far apart, the heavily pregnant girl said she could not cope with school’s demanding schedule due to the long distance.
“It would take me three to four hours to get to school, meaning I had to wake up at 4AM in order to get to school on time. The school authorities were aware of our predicament and during winter, we were allowed to dismiss at lunch so that at least we get home at sunset.” she narrated.
“Due to the long distances involved to and from school, concentrating in class was again a challenge for me. I would doze in class or just sit absent minded.”
The tedious daily journey to school forced Chasara to abscond school and at times, she confessed, she would spend the whole day playing truant.
“Sometimes I would wake up with my legs swollen but my grandmother never allowed me to skip school. So I ended up playing truant. I would wake up [and leave home] but only to walk a few kilometres from our homestead and find a peaceful environment to rest and sleep until sunset,” she narrated.
“In fact, I was not the only truant pupil from the village, there were many of us and we would spend the whole day in the bush exposing ourselves to sexual abuse from the many school dropouts in the village.”
Chasara added: “There were also reported cases of rape with girls of my age becoming victims. So, to avoid such misfortunes befalling me, I told myself it was better to get married and be at one place instead of walking all that distance almost every day to school,” she said.
Today, Chasara feels safe in her early marriage scenario but still hopes for a better educated future. She, however, says marriage was proving to be far from being a bed of roses.
She says they were struggling to make ends meet with her husband, who is not gainfully employed.
“He is still with his parents and my in-laws are also not employed. So, for us, life is hard. I only find comfort in that I found someone who loves me in my situation but it is my hope that one day I will go back to school and continue with my studies,” she said.
And Chasara’s dream is highly possible thanks to the education policy in Zimbabwe that seeks to provide school drop outs with a second chance to pursue their studies.
Incensed by the alarming numbers of school dropouts owing to pregnancies and other poverty-related issues, the primary and secondary education minister announced last year that they were crafting measures to allow such school dropouts to take a second chance in class.
According to the Zimbabwe Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, 329,549 pupils wrote their Grade Seven public examinations but only 305,549 proceeded to secondary education.
Presenting the ministerial statement in parliament last December, Primary and Secondary Education, Minister, Lazarus Dokora, said: “About 4,500 of our girls and boys will not be seeking Form 1 places in 2017, regrettably after they left school owing to pregnancies and marriage.
“The boys left school to marry while the girls left school on account of pregnancy or to just get married too.”
However, Minister Dokora said Government had put in place a programme for non-formal education where learning could be done on part-time basis. This, he said would, help young mothers and boys who marry as teenagers to pursue their studies on part-time basis.
Minister Dokora said his ministry was also working in conjunction with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) to campaign against early marriages.