Keeping Girls in School

Date: 2019 Description: Zimbabwe: PEPFAR DREAMS Ambassadors in Zimbabwe. © PEPFAR Image
PEPFAR DREAMS Ambassadors in Zimbabwe.

The students and faculty at Chipinge High School just achieved something remarkable: 100 percent of the kids who entered Form 2 (equivalent to Grade 9) three years ago are now writing their O-levels (to complete secondary school). At any high school in Zimbabwe, this would be an accomplishment. But this is particularly the case in this community, which is facing serious challenges with keeping adolescent girls in school. Four out of 10 girls in Chipinge complete less than a primary education or never attend school. Nearly one in 10 is married before the age of 18. More than a quarter have lost one or both parents.

School guidance counselor Esther credits DREAMS for this transformation. DREAMS is chipping away at harmful cultur­al practices and barriers that used to cause girls to drop out of school. During the past three years, there were no early marriages or teenage pregnancies in Chipinge High School. DREAMS pays school fees for the most vulnerable children. DREAMS even ensures that girls have access to sanitary pads, keeping them in school for a week each month when many have stayed home in the past. Esther says DREAMS has changed the way girls perceive themselves and the world around them: “You can see girls now feel they are people.”

The girls at Chipinge High School agree. DREAMS Club president Christinah says, “I could spend all day until to­morrow telling you what DREAMS has done for my life.” At age 16, Christinah is raising her younger brother because her parents left Zimbabwe in pursuit of work. Christinah is a passionate leader who takes pride in raising awareness of issues that impact girls and helping her peers stay healthy, including mobilizing 300 students at her school for HIV testing. Another student Bessie says DREAMS has been piv­otal for her as an adolescent girl who doesn’t have a strong safety net: “I really need to be determined because I have no one to stand for me.”