Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
WHILE policy makers are struggling to deal with child marriages which affect 32 percent of girls in Zimbabwe, some girls in Nkayi District, Matabeleland North are learning to build toilets to gain financial independence and reduce the risk of them being married off for money.
The project- pioneered by Mr Mthokozisi Moyo under his Community Action Achieve Prosperity Trust (CAAP)- does not only delay the girls from getting married early but also helps the community have access to water and sanitation facilities so they avert occurrence of diseases like cholera.
Youths in Nkayi, including school dropouts and teenage mothers are taught how to build, weld, make bricks and to farm.
Girls that dropped out of school have built toilets for prestigious homesteads including those of chiefs and are building various mechanical gadgets that make life easier for villagers while earning money for the upkeep of their families.
Hailing from Jongela Village under Chief Sikhobokhobo, Mr Moyo says he could not watch girls waste their potential by getting married whenever they dropped out of school.
Child marriage also referred to as early marriage, is any marriage in which at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age.
The high prevalence of child marriage in Zimbabwe is inconsistent with the country’s growth and development aspirations, according to Unicef.
The organisation states that child marriage results in higher than average maternal morbidity and mortality rates for 15 to 19-year olds, higher infant mortality among their children, diminished capacity to responsibly raise their children to be productive citizens and higher rates of violence in marriage.
Unicef adds that the scourge leads to increased prevalence of HIV, lack of personal and economic autonomy, limited participation in development, limited decision- making in relation to their own lives, weaker economic indicators and ability to climb out of poverty, loss of educational opportunities, social isolation and restricted social mobility.
Mr Moyo says the only way out was to engage villagers to fight the scourge and after consultations even with the chief, he started the Life Support Skills for Prosperity project.
The community driven project has also helped the villagers raise money for food since many communities have been left grain insecure following erratic rainfall patterns.
Mr Moyo says in the long run the youths will also engage in horticulture, poultry and fisheries as they aim to sell demand driven products.
So far, the building project which started last year in August has helped 30 youths from villages in Nkayi, mostly girls.
“We have started on building toilets in Jongela Village and we hope to ensure that parents realise that their girls can be something even without getting married. We have a huge challenge of parents failing to pay school fees and many girls have dropped out which leaves them at a risk of getting married before they turn 18,” says Mr Moyo.
“We come from an area which is rich in resources as we are near Shangani River hence, we do not need to pay extra for river sand and pit sand. Villagers were happy to learn that they would only need to contribute cement for them to have toilets built by our own children,” he said.
Mr Moyo says in Ward 21 there are about 814 households and only 169 have toilets while in Ward 20 there are 1 097 households and only 314 have toilets.
“We are slowly but surely covering the gap and our youths have started receiving orders for bricks and window panes which will help them set up enterprises. I wish to see them financially empowered and able to reach their potential without viewing marriage as the only way out of poverty, hardship and hunger,” he said.
He says part of the project objectives is to build a courtroom for Chief Nkalakatha and the girls have already started building toilets for the community structure.
Miss Margret Ngwenya (18) who built a toilet for Chief Nyangazonke of Kezi, Matobo District in Matabeleland South says the project had given her hope after she dropped out of school due to financial problems.
She only studied up to Form Three and was forced out as her parents could not afford to take her further in 2018.
According to Miss Ngwenya, the project had given her the zeal to first work on empowering her family before getting married, which is a priority for her peers in Nkayi.
She grew up wishing to be a lawyer one day and was certain the dream went down the drain the day she dropped out of Guwe Secondary School.
“I dropped out of school in 2018 because my parents who live off brick making could no longer afford to pay school fees. I come from a family of eight children and I have two younger siblings who also need help with their education,” says Miss Ngwenya.
“This programme had made me realise that a village girl can also dream big and venture into technical skills that were thought to be reserved for men. I can build now and I know this skill will take me far as I have realised. I can make a living out of it without necessarily getting married,” she said.
“I have seen more than 50 of my peers being married off just to reduce the poverty burden that our parents carry in this village. It is quite sad as they marry as young as 14 but I am grateful because I never fell into that trap.”
She adds that she will only start thinking about marriage after she turns 21 as her priority now is to help her parents earn a reputable livelihood.
“So far I have built toilets that will be used by people who will visit Chief Nkalakatha’s court once it’s completed. I look forward to building that structure and of course one day I am going to build myself a very big and beautiful home,” she said.
Miss Ngwenya said no amount of hardship should force a girl to see marriage as an achievement and encouraged her peers to be hopeful.
“Since I started building, I have managed to convince some of my friends to delay getting married and do something with their hands as a means of making money. I believe girls have a place in pushing and driving the economy of Zimbabwe and besides making young brides, there are a million things that we can do,” she said. — @thamamoe