United Children of Africa (UNICA) is a not-for-profit organization working with vulnerable children and youth in under-privileged communities in Zimbabwe. The organization was founded in 2010 by a group of young people from Zimbabwe, Australia and Denmark, with an aim of uplifting the livelihoods of children and youth in Africa through supporting communities. We work to address inequalities that exist in Zimbabwe through programs that target children and youth, especially in the areas of HIV prevalence, human rights, education, economic development and access to healthcare. Our commitment is to collectively work with communities to support and empower children and youth through sustainable development initiatives for the benefit of present and future generations. We do this by harnessing young people’s passion for social change and equipping them with skills and resources to fight HIV/AIDS, promote access to quality education, and healthcare, now and throughout their lives. UNICA has been engaged in supporting children and youth since 2010 and by now worked with over 12000 children and youth.
Background information around children and youth in Zimbabwe
According to the Zimbabwe 2012 population census, Zimbabwe has a young population. Of the total population (13 061 239), 77% consist of those persons under35 years of age. Youth aged 15 – 34 years constitute 36% of the national population and those aged between 15 -24 years are 20%. Youth aged 15 – 34 years constitute 56% of the economically active population. However, the same census shows that youth aged 15-34 years constitute 84% of the unemployed population and those aged 15 – 24 years constitute 55%.
HIV is rampant in Zimbabwe with 14% national HIV prevalence rate. HIV prevalence is the same in urban and rural areas, but is higher among women (17%) than men (11%) an indication suggesting that services are not easily available to women or many other underlying factors contribute to this disparity. Victoria Falls urban, the area of operation from UNICA, has a total population of about 45000 people and 25% HIV prevalence. In all childhood age groups, HIV prevalence is much higher among children whose mothers are HIV positive. Approximately 32,000 new cases of HIV infection are recorded annually among adults aged 15 to 64 years in Zimbabwe.
As a result of the above challenges coupled with many others causes and the continuously dwindling economic and political environment in Zimbabwe, the education sector has not been spared. It has suffered the most resulting in worsening poverty cycles among families. It is evident and a known fact that the collapse of an education system means a deprivation of the right to political rights and economic freedom. According to the 2014 Zimbabwe Education Profile, 6% of children of official primary school ages are out of school and approximately 7% of boys of primary school age are out of school compared to 6% of girls of the same age. Nearly 45% of female youth of secondary school age are out of school compared to 37% of male youth of the same age.
Since 2000, there has been enormous progress on the goal to provide primary education to all children worldwide. According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) 2016 report 32% of the sampled children are not in school due to lack of money to pay fees. Though the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were wrapped up in 2015, Zimbabwe is far from achieving ‘Universal primary education’ which was one of the set targets of the MDGs. Hence the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number four which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. It aims to achieve an even better grade for all children and also achieve the goal of universal primary and secondary education, affordable vocational training and access to higher education, (Alkine and Samman(2014).
“The dollarization of the economy brought about relief to ordinary urbanites, but to most rural communities, it has brought anguish as the foreign currency has proved elusive to many. Many rural communities have resorted to barter trade because they cannot afford the prices of commodities in monetary value,” (Newsday 2016). However, it has to be noted that barter trade does not extend to other aspects of life such as the payment of school fees hence most children end up dropping out due to lack of money to pay fees and the expenses at infant education level. It is against this backdrop of events that it has become a norm for parents to resist particularly Early Childhood Development Education (ECD)for their children as they cannot afford to pay school fees and would prefer to wait until the child is ready to enrol for grade one before he/she can go to school. However, according to the guidelines set by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, no child can be enrolled without first completing the two years of ECD.
Children and young people, especially girls, receive educational, nutrition, recreational, cultural, health and lifelong opportunities.
- To promote access to free, quality education and nutrition to children from poor or vulnerable households in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
- To improve ECD learning environment for 70 children aged 4 to 6 years in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
- To increase attendance to 90% for 70 children at Sizinda ECD
- To increase awareness of school readiness among school authorities and teaching staff in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
- Improved education, child protection and health services for children in Sizinda.
- Increased knowledge and consistent application of school readiness assessments
- Increased number of children enrolled and attending ECD
- Improved children development of 70 children physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively
- Improved capacity of 3 Teachers
- Improved child friendly and stimulating learning environment
- Improved Early childhood Development skills of parents
OBJECTIVE 1: To promote access to free, quality education and nutrition to children from poor or vulnerable households in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
Administration of enrolment forms for new children and assessment of attendance of children in ECD
Based on the initial project baseline, the project will administer enrollment to all new children joining the ECD center throughout the project lifespan. This activity will be done in joint efforts with traditional leadership and teachers currently at the school who will in turn provide monthly details of attendance of children in school. This information will be beneficial in measuring how many children are enrolled and of these, how many attend and access ECD services. Information on attendance of children in school will be collected through school daily registers to assess at least 90% child school attendance encouraged by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.
Conduct bi-annual school health assessments for 70 children
School Health Assessments will be conducted four times a year in collaboration with local clinics and Village Health Workers (VHWs). This activity will encourage school management to check on immunization of children and ailments that may require referral to established health facilities. 70 children or at least all enrolled children will be targeted to undergo the health screening exercise. School authorities will weigh children at the end of each month to assess growth and impacts of feeding. The project will further follow up on all children referred to health facilities for further health attention to ensure that they are supported accordingly.
Conduct HIV/AIDS Psycho Support Camps
The project will also facilitate bi-annual HIV/AIDS psycho social support camps for youth in and around Victoria Falls to provide information and skill on sexual and reproductive health as well as HIV/IDS. This is a key activity to promote safer sexual practices among young people who due to the lack of information on the subject as a result of cultural barriers are left to live life through trials and errors. This approach has been blamed to significantly increase the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The camps will be designed to tackle HIV and sexual and reproductive health issues in an interactive manner which includes sporting activities and games.
OBJECTIVE 2: To improve ECD learning environment for 70 children aged 4 to 6 years in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
Establish indoor and outdoor play centers that will benefit at least all enrolled children:
UNICA will use the experience it has gained in implementing low cost ECD centers in a previous Roger Federer Foundation funded ‘Catch Them Young Program’. Our trained team will train ECD selected parents, the ECD teachers and some members of the community in making both indoor and outdoor play center materials. These will be made using locally available materials such as logs, dry maize cobs, seeds etc. This is part of the psychosocial support offered to children through engaging them in play, which is an important aspect in cultivating resilience, thus making their transition into formal school easier.
A play ground will be set up with maximum use of locally available resources such as logs, dried maize cobs, boxes and cans. To ensure quality equipment is designed and set up, the project will strictly adhere to the provisions of the government ECD curriculum and ECD standards developed by the Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA). Indoor play equipment setup will be strictly subdivided into the 10 corners to observe and support numerous key developmental indicators among children.
Facilitate renovation of the ECD classroom blocks and ablution facilities
Sizinda ECD requires renovations in the form of painting and restructuring toilets. UNICA will work with the community to renovate the classes. The project will make use of its strong partnerships with local authorities and communities to mobilize locally available resources to be channeled towards renovation of the ECD classroom blocks. The ECD Management Committee will carry the responsibility to supervise renovation works as well as mobilization of community members and locally available resources in terms of labor and materials.
Facilitate a market gardening project or granary
The ECD center will establish a nutrition garden which will be used to supplement feeding for the ECD children and the excess will be sold and profits used to finance ECD activities.
Facilitate improved nutrition status of 70 children enrolled at the school
Children will be wet fed from school. The project will seek to establish a relationship with government to support the school with maize corn which could be used for porridge or pap for children. However, there is a need to purchase nutritious supplements such as peanut butter and cooking oil to add to the porridge. Most children abscond classes due to inadequate meals from home as most of them leave home without a meal. A soup kitchen will be established at the center for serving the meals.
OBJECTIVE 3: To increase attendance to 90% for 70 children in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
Facilitate monthly parenting dialogue meetings for parents and care givers/guardians
When optimal, parenting skills and attitudes have a positive impact on children’s self-esteem, school achievement, cognitive development and behavior. Monthly parenting dialogue meetings will thus be facilitated by the project through ECD Management Committees in Sizinda. The primary goal of these dialogue sessions is to provide support and information in ways that help parents become more capable and competent to care for their children and produce optimal parent and child outcomes. Key issues to be discussed during parenting dialogue meetings will include, but not limited to, care giving skills, orientation, child protection and rights. This approach is designed to promote the flow of resources and supports parents to strengthen functioning and enhancing the growth and development of young children.
ECD teachers will be responsible of facilitating dialogues following trainings on rolling out the discussions. A Positive Parenting handbook will be used to guide roll out of these meetings. Health assessments will be carried out in collaboration with Ministry of Health and Childcare who will on a quarterly basis visit the center for assessment of children. Results of the health assessments will be shared with parents at these forums to enable them to mainstream and prioritize health care for their children in a home setting.
OBJECTIVE 4: To increase awareness of school readiness among school authorities and teaching staff in Sizinda rural community in Victoria Falls.
Facilitate trainings on school readiness test
UNICA will facilitate implementation of school readiness tests at ECD grade which is currently not implemented. Teachers will be trained on the importance and how to assess children for formal school readiness so that children are able to progress with school without challenges. This activity will also assist school authorities and the project to measure the effectiveness and quality of the education offered as higher numbers of children who score low for the school readiness test may suggest challenges in the ECD activities approach.
Provision of school readiness report books
The project will procure report books for the ECD learners which will be administered every term by the ECD teachers. The process will be supervised by the trained school head. The booklets will also be used to track the readiness of the child to transition to grade one. This will help the program to ensure that the children are receiving quality ECD throughout ECD A and B.
Monitoring and Evaluation
A baseline exercise will be conducted at the beginning of the project through primary sources from relevant ministries. The baseline will collect data in relation to the project targets to be used as a benchmark in monitoring and evaluation of the project. Baseline information to be collected include the number of children enrolled in ECD center prior to project implementation in August 2019 and total number of caregivers involved in ECD activities. A school readiness test tool will be developed and administered at the school in order to provide an indication on how children are performing in meeting their cognitive, psychosocial, emotional and motor skills development.
Furthermore, elementary monitoring tools such as daily attendance registers, monthly field visit reports, initial case record forms and monthly visit reports will be used to monitor the day to day activities done at the center/school. Quarterly field visit reports with district government officials will provide an opportunity for observation by key government officials who will not only appreciate the impact of the project but also identify gaps for decision making purposes. Through parenting dialogues, caregivers will also report on how their children are performing in terms of their cognitive, motor and psychosocial skills developments.
The project will design and adopt an electronic database to capture relevant project data such as number of children reached out to, attendance at school, caregivers’ details and other demographic and programmatic information. The project will also present an opportunity for field staff to deliberate with caregivers on the developments of the project and challenges faced as a means to provide feedback and seek for more intense engagement from parents and stakeholders. This will not only be important in providing valuable information to caregivers and stakeholders but will further orient them to project management approaches.
Objectives of the project activities will be monitored as to their impact on the children, on the community (including parents), and on educators including teachers and other care-givers in the context of advocacy, planning, programming, legal enforcement and compliance at district and national levels. Periodic progress reports will be submitted highlighting the progress of project implementation, lessons learned and how the problems will be addressed.
The ECD Management Committee and ECD Teachers will be sensitized on the importance of networking so as to ensure that they make use of the existing referral systems for other services. This will creditably stimulate continuity. The project will work through community leadership structures to ensure that there is engagement at all levels. These will be paramount in promoting social cohesion and uptake of ECD services within community of Sizinda. Due to the close involvement of Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in the project, it is expected that a generic strategy or system of monitoring and interacting with the school will be adopted by the ministry which will be essential in the sustainability of the project. District officials including the District Administrator, Department of Social Services, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and Rural District Council will play a bigger role in monitoring the school on a quarterly basis which will ensure adherence to the provisions of the curriculum. These quarterly field visits will allow an opportunity for officials to have a firsthand experience and observing challenges on the ground which they can utilize for future interventions and decision making for resource allocation among other priorities.
Caregivers will be capacitated and encouraged to actively take part in the project as a means to reinforce and promote partnership between them and school authorities. This will increase chances for buy-in and engagement by care givers. It is anticipated that the ECD center will source support to establish an income generating project grant from which profits will be used to sustain the project through supplementing feeding and maintaining play grounds.
ANNEXURE A: Project Action Plan
ANNEXTURE B: Project Budget ANNEXURE A: Project Action Plan