The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe left almost one million children orphaned, according to the UN.
In 2001, in a bid to help orphaned children gain access to education and prevent them dropping out of school, the Zimbabwean government set up a scheme to provide basic education assistance to the country’s most vulnerable children.
Among these orphaned children was Fadzai.
After the death of her parents, Fadzai moved into a crowded suburb in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, with her aunt. A widow and out of formal employment, Fadzai’s aunt struggled to make ends meet.
Passionate that her niece should get an education, she managed to save enough money to buy Fadzai a school uniform, confident that – as Fadzai was an orphan - her school fees would be covered by the government scheme.
Yet Fadzai’s application was rejected. The reason: she was wearing a new school uniform. According to the school official responsible for admitting orphaned children into the aid scheme, any child that could afford a uniform could afford the fees – Fadzai had been struck from the list.
“We often hear about arbitrary justifications like this,” says Danai, who works at our advocacy and legal advice centre in Zimbabwe.
She says she does not know why Fadzai was removed from the list, but notes that “often it’s children from families aligned to local level politicians or local government officials who benefit from these schemes, while those children who are most in need of help lose out.”
With her aunt unable to afford the costs, Fadzai remained at home, unable to start school.
Desperate for her niece to gain an education, her aunt made contact with our anti-corruption legal advice centre. With our help, she drafted an official complaint to the school in question.
A week later, she called for a meeting with the school authorities.
There had been a review of the case, they told her – Fadzai would now be included in the government assistance scheme. Although the school made no mention of the letter, Fadzai’s aunt is certain this was the driving force behind the change in decision.
Since the case, says Danai, there has been a sharp increase in other guardians with similar cases coming to the centre for help.
Now the team in Zimbabwe is pushing for systemic change. Working in partnership with government officials, teachers and others involved in the education sector, they’re carrying out targeted advocacy activities, calling for a system that is fair and accountable for all.
“We were so happy to hear Fadzai would be able to go to school,” says Danai, “but we can’t stop at this individual victory. We want all those in her position to get the support they deserve, and so desperately need.”