For 15-year-old, United States-based Makanaka Chikowero, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Chimanimani and surrounding areas, have been an eye-opener on how quickly rural and needy communities require urgent and collective assistance in these difficult COVID-19 times.
The area, which only a year ago was ravaged by a devasting Cyclone Idai, can be forgiven for thinking heavens has frowned on it as it has not seen happiness in recent times.
With the Zimbabwean government having planned to prematurely open schools despite the surge in the COVID-19 cases, thousands of school-going children were stranded as according to a memo from the Ministry of Education, a pupil had to have three face masks for him or her to be able to attend school.
This left children who cannot afford masks in limbo for they could only cheerlead as their peers would be going to school.
But thank heavens, a thousand children in remote Chimanimani can now go to school thanks to the efforts of the teenager, through the Makanaka Tadiwanashe Chikowero (MTC) Educate A Girl Foundation, whose goal is to assist young girls in marginalized communities.
Makanaka says the plight of the children in the area moved her and she quickly organised the donation from her base in the US in time for reopening, which had initially been slated for tomorrow.
“I donated a thousand face masks so that children can safely return to school during this pandemic, the masks will benefit two schools in Chimanimani, Nhedziwa High School and Matendeudze Primary school.
“Safety is my biggest priority right now and helping kids return to school and for that to happen, they needed face masks and be able to take the necessary precaution so that they do not catch the coronavirus. So, I took it upon myself to help them with the masks,” she told 263Chat recently.
To date, Zimbabwe has recorded 2512 COVID-19 cases including 518 recoveries and 34 deaths.
Cabinet announced recently that plans to reopen schools had been put on ice after COVID-19 cases sharply increased.
“The reopening of schools which had been set aside for July 28 will be deferred pending a review of the situation,” the Cabinet said.
However, the stuck differences between developed countries and Chimanimani, Makanaka said, was also a push factor for her generosity.
She attributes the lessons she learnt from participating in United Nations programs to the work she is doing.
“I have been participating in UN programs since I was 10and I learnt that girls in Zimbabwe don’t get the same opportunities that other girls in developed countries get. Most girls in rural Zimbabwe are being married off young and it’s not good so I want to give back the same opportunities that I’m getting here, which they may get once in a lifetime,” she stated.
The MTC Educate A Girl drive is aimed at keeping rural girls in Chimanimani in school and has been helping girls affected by the Cyclone Idai through supporting them with menstrual hygiene materials.
One of the beneficiaries from the face mask donations, Howard Gwishiri, a Deputy Headmaster at Matendeudze Primary School, said the donation will go along way in keeping the exam classes, the grades sevens, in school, despite the government having pushed back the reopening dates.
“We are grateful for this donation because we were in short supply since we were scheduled to open for Grade Sevens but fortunately, the government has pushed the dates indefinitely meaning we still have a chance to source more face masks but this consignment is very helpful and we will ensure it reaches the intended recipients,” Gwishiri said.
He said the 500 masks for his school will benefit 160 pupils when schools open but appealed for more assistance on hand sanitizers, more face masks and fumigation chemicals.
The government has since made it mandatory for everyone to wear a face mask while in public spaces and all buildings are mandated to have hand sanitizers as well as thermometers for testing temperatures upon entering any premise.
Essentially, President Emmerson Mnangagwa tightened lockdown restrictions with only essential service providers allowed to go to work.
Universities which had been given the green light to reopen have since closed.
For Makanaka and her organisation, the buck does not stop on education as she has been helping to promote girls’ soccer in areas like Murehwa in collaboration with Rozaria Memorial Trust.
The organisation has been helping to send orphaned girls to school in Chimanimani before the shutdown and during this lockdown, she has been sourcing food for the girls.
“A couple of weeks ago we sent more school supplies and soccer equipment so that we get girls playing soccer while getting an education. We are only waiting for clearance of the equipment because it has been held back by the COVID-19 but we don’t know when they will be distributed, we hope its soon,” she said.
Through working with community leaders, the organisation has managed to penetrate into deeper communities and assist young girls, who sometimes might not benefit from government and non-governmental organizations support systems.
Drawing inspiration from the United Nation’s “Leave No One Behind” theme for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Makanaka says all young girls deserve to be in school and no child should be turned away because they are lacking the basic needed for them to attain education.