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Nhaka Foundation: Transforming Education and Improving Basic Health Care in Zimbabwe

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In this interview, Patrick Makokoro, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nhaka Foundation, discusses the organisation’s efforts at supporting education and health care in rural regions in Zimbabwe, a landlocked country located in southern Africa. According official information, Zimbabwe’s total population stands at 12.97 million. Due to large investments in education since independence, Zimbabwe has the highest adult literacy rate, in 2013 was 90.70%, in Africa, but much still remains to be done in the sector.

Makokoro founded the Nhaka Foundation in 2008 as a charitable organisation that provides education, health care and counseling, and other essential services to orphaned and vulnerable children throughout Zimbabwe. In 2012, he founded the Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA). In addition, Makokoro is a Founding member of the African Early Childhood Network headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, which works to champion the development needs of young children in Africa.

As Patrick Makokoro discussed at length with Kester Kenn Klomegah in Harare, Nhaka Foundation plans to consolidate its relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and other Government departments at the local level and leading civic society organisations working in Education and Primary Health Care issues in Zimbabwe. Here are the interview excerpts:

Q: What would you say are the achievements and/or success stories since the establishment of the Harare based NGO, Nhaka Foundation?

PM: Nhaka Foundation is a Zimbabwe-based non-governmental organisation, it has developed and implemented a series of interventions designed to bridge the gap between the government’s capabilities and policies mandating the requirement for Early Childhood Development (ECD) programming in primary schools and its ability to fully realise the implementation of such programmes. Along with its partners, Nhaka Foundation provides access to education, basic health care and daily sustenance for the orphaned and vulnerable children in the communities it serves. It further provides aid and support to ensure the creation of a physical environment conducive to learning, growth and the optimal development of all children.

Classroom and Playground Renovation

Nhaka Foundation has managed to partner with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to work with rural area primary schools, parents and caregivers to create Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centers through the renovation of over 32 dilapidated classrooms. The classroom floors, windows, doors and roofs are repaired or replaced, and a fresh coat of paint is applied inside and outside. Each Center has its own unique personality as the exteriors are then finished with hand-painted, age-appropriate drawings by local artists.

As a part of the renovation programmes, the organisation has worked with the families and members of the community to plan and build, expand or repair the playgrounds and equipment using readily available and safe materials, hence fostering a sense of community ownership and building sustainability into the initiative. Once restored to a like-new condition, the Centers would then be officially incorporated into the primary school system and sustained by the community through elected Pre-School Management Committees. This helps to ensure that the children continue to have clean and safe spaces to work and play.

Parenting Education

With the support of school and community leaders, Nhaka Foundation has facilitated meetings with the over 5000 parents and caregivers of children enrolled in the ECD Centers it serves. These meetings have been designed to educate, support and engage stakeholders in finding solutions to building a better future for the children. A lot of emphasis has been placed on building capacity and instilling a sense of community ownership and responsibility through this initiative.

The meetings have covered various topics including the importance of birth registration, immunisations, health record maintenance, HIV&AIDS education and screenings, early childhood development enrolment as well as parental involvement in the education of children. Indeed, the initiative has been successful in providing caregivers with the information and tools needed to better look after the children in their communities. It makes available a platform for voicing concerns and obtaining support from the school, the community, and the government.

Teacher Training

Nhaka Foundation has also managed to forge a cordial working relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) to facilitate the on-going training and development of the ECD teachers working in the Centers it serves. Nhaka Foundation has successfully trained over 350 early childhood development teachers in the past 5 years. On a rotating basis, the organisation accompanies District Trainers to the field to monitor and evaluate teacher performance.

Each teacher would be observed at work, given an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns, and provided feedback for improvement. Through this initiative, the organisation has managed to provide teachers with increased skills and at the same time promote a cooperative environment to share information and resources that have inevitably resulted in quality education for marginalised children.

Feeding Programme

In response to the needs of the rural communities and the children it serves, Nhaka Foundation developed an in-school feeding programme to address one of the biggest challenges faced each day in, and out, of the classroom-hunger. Many children would come to school on empty stomachs making it impossible for them to concentrate or fully participate in classroom and outdoor activities. While the organisation’s work has been focused on children enrolled in ECD Centers, it simply could not ignore the remaining primary school students as the concern was pervasive.

As a consequence, the programme has provided food once each day in the form of a protein drink for all of the students in all of the primary schools it serves. The programme has benefitted well over 5,000 children a day across 15 primary schools in collaboration with the schools and communities, with food preparation and service is managed on-site by community volunteers while Nhaka Foundation manages the logistics, training and programme oversight.

Health Assessments

Nhaka Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, District Medical Offices and local health clinic practitioners to facilitate health assessments of the children enrolled in the ECD Centers it serves. On a rotating basis, the Nhaka’s team members have accompanied nurses from the rural health clinics to each school to evaluate the most basic and immediate health concerns facing the children.

The assessments have captured important baseline information on height, weight, heart rate, immunisations, and personal hygiene as well as screen for common conditions such as ringworms, scabies, skin infections and cavities. Indeed this initiative has created a strong starting point to address basic medical conditions and to educate parents, caregivers and the communities on infant and child health care issues and prevention reaching over 800 children in 2019 alone

Q: In the first place, tell us about the driving reasons, in other words the motivating factors, why the idea of helping rural communities in Zimbabwe?

PM: In 2019, Nhaka Foundation contributed towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 as recounted here as follows.

SDG 1: End poverty. The organisation contributed to SDG 1 through transferring skills in new systems of farming to parents, which has a potential to boost their economic status in the long-run. However, due to reasons beyond the organisation’s scope such as recurrent droughts, poverty was said to be the status quo for most households in the communities where Nhaka Foundation introduced these innovations, especially grandparent-headed households. 

SDG 2: Zero hunger. Nhaka Foundation’s support of nutrition gardens to strengthen the Feeding Programme and its impartation of new farming skills were meant to eliminate hunger. ECD learners indeed benefited from school-based feeding, although at the schools sampled by this evaluation the feeding had stopped and some nutrition gardens no longer functional.

SDG 3: Good health and Well-being. Nhaka Foundation invested heavily into the health and well-being of its target beneficiaries, including through its trainings in personal hygiene for parents, procurement of nutritious foods like maheu and porridge as well as its facilitation of health assessments for ECD learners.  At the time of this evaluation, these initiatives stopped because of limited funding to the organisation.

SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Nhaka Foundation’s support for ECD infrastructure development made education accessible for the ECD learners while its capacity building for ECD teachers contributed towards improved education quality. ECD teachers confirmed that they learned new techniques of teaching and effectively handling ECD learners through workshops that the organisation facilitated in partnership with MoPSE trainers.

SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. Nhaka Foundation supported the drilling of boreholes and construction of toilets in some schools that had dire need thereof, which tellingly improved access to clean water supply and sanitary ablution facilities.  The evaluation, however, revealed that with growing ECD enrolments, the need for additional boreholes and toilets remains at most intervention schools.

Q: How would you characterise the urban-rural development gap in Zimbabwe?

PM: The development gap between the urban-rural settings is still evident mostly due to unavailable funds that go towards infrastructure development. This challenge is not only limited to Zimbabwe alone but to most countries in Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and sub-Saharan Africa. As African countries rise against the struggles and inequalities imposed by colonialism, there is the need to invest more resources in order to develop the rural areas. It is important for financial resources be directed towards creating economic hubs in the various rural areas so that there is enough investment that supports and boosts the rural economies.

Q: Under-development, diseases, illiteracy and abject poverty have something do with the Government. Could you please give your views and analysis here?

PM: Over the 20 years after independence, the government in Zimbabwe invested heavily in education, and by the end of this period, Zimbabwe had one of the finest education system (and its highest literacy rate) in Africa. The success of this programme was reinforced by the importance Zimbabweans place on education and the considerable sacrifices families are prepared to make to ensure their children are well educated.

Unfortunately, the financial and political crisis that engulfed Zimbabwe in the first decade of this century resulted in a dramatic decline in the educational sector. The impact of this decline was especially marked in rural schools. In light of these challenges, the investment in early childhood development and education programmes was minimal if any, as the government and other civil society organisations focused more on the delivery of primary and secondary level education.

Early education thus was not given the appropriate attention and action. More importantly, parents have little or no understanding of the substantial long-term benefits that early childhood development programmes have on their children’s educational and social outcomes. Parents and caregivers have limited knowledge of other important child development, protection and welfare issues.

Q: Judging from the above discussion, is it correct to conclude that Nhaka’s activities are closely related to the politics and policies of the Zimbabwean Government?

PM: As far back in 2005, the Zimbabwean government introduced a policy (Statutory Instrument No. 106 of 2005) mandating all government primary schools to introduce two years of ECD education before primary school entry. This was in line with the Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training’s (CIET, 1999) main recommendation to democratise pre-school education, the Ministry designed a two-phased, ten-year programme to establish ECD classes at every primary school in the country. During Phase One (2005/6 to 2010), every primary school was expected to attach at least one ECD class of 4-5 year old’s referred to as ECD ‘B’, to prepare them for Grade One the following year. In Phase Two (2011 to 2015), every primary school would attach another ECD class of 3-4 year old’s to prepare them for ECD B.

Indeed, over the past 11 years, Nhaka Foundation has become a leading organisation in Zimbabwe working in partnership with the Ministries of Education, Health and Social Services to enhance Early Childhood Development (ECD) services and access to early learning opportunities reaching 15,000 beneficiaries directly through its programmes in 2019. Nhaka Foundation’s preschools programme works closely with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and has received its full endorsement through a Memorandum of Understanding signed in October 2017.

Nhaka Foundation is aligned with the established policy of integrating ECD centers into primary schools. The current Government in Zimbabwe is responsible for setting policy priorities and within the education sector that falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Nhaka Foundation therefore works to complement government efforts in line with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two parties.

Q: How does Nhaka operate in terms of project financing, support from stakeholders and so forth?

PM: Nhaka Foundation promptly responds to calls for proposals as well as carries out internal fundraising activities in order to generate resources for its operations and sustainability.

Q: What are your long-term strategic plans, at least, the next half decade?

PM: Really, we have long-term plans to raise the current achievements to a higher level, especially along the lines of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are:

Goal 1: Resource Mobilisation

The organisation will focus on the development and implementation of a comprehensive resource mobilisation and sustainability strategy that will encompass both traditional and non- traditional means of fundraising as well as incorporate key principles such as financial accountability and integrity in order to retain the confidence of funding partners

Goal 2: Enhancing Nhaka Foundations Visibility

The organisation under this focus area seeks to promote the Nhaka Foundation brand using traditional and emerging online platforms. The organisation anticipates consolidating its relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and other arms of government at the local level and leading civic society organisations working in ECD programming as a means of strengthening its reputation as a growing practitioner in ECD issues in Zimbabwe.

Goal 3: Governance and Institutional Capacity Development

The organisation will focus on strengthening the role of the Board of Trustees in giving oversight to implementation of this strategy as well as operations of the organisation. Strong attention will be paid towards ensuring strong internal organisational systems, controls and procedures are taken up and implemented by all organisational members.

Goal 4: Enhancing Implementation and Management of Programmes         

The organisation plans to strengthen the framework of programme cycle management, including development of an indicator-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that enables drawing of important lessons and best practices. The organisation intends to build the capacity of programming staff in order to enhance efficacy in project cycle management as well as improving responsiveness to the ever changing trends in ECD-related programming such as responding to the needs of children with special needs and addressing other issues that inhibit access to education by young children.

Goal 5: Influencing Policy, Advocacy and Evidence-based ECD Programming

The organisation anticipates engaging a lot more in thought leadership in ECD issues at national and international level, spearheading and supporting various advocacy and lobby efforts aimed at improving childrens’ access to affordable and equitable ECD services in Zimbabwe and in sub-Saharan Africa.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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