Schools opened this week across the country, with high expectations from most pupils, eager to resume their studies after a short, but deserved break.
The week has been hyperactive with parents, schools administrators and pupils making a last minute rush to ensure that learning kicks off smoothly. And so, did the teachers. Within the same realm, several schools in the Cyclone Idai-hit areas in Chipinge and Chimanimani, also opened their doors for the first time since the devastating cyclone.
It was an emotional reunion for teachers, students and parents, after schools in the cyclone-hit areas closed abruptly. Learning material, furniture and crucial infrastructure were damaged or washed away, leaving schools pale shadows of themselves. Skeletons and shells!
At the opening of schools this week, most students who normally would prepare for the term with their parents from their homes, prepared for the term from makeshift homes and tents. Teachers, too, met their surviving pupils for the first time since the unorthodox closure.
In some cases, teachers discovered that some of their children had indeed been killed by the cyclone and observed moments of silence in their honour. This was a rare spectacle. Very emotional.
Government should, therefore, be applauded for leading the restoration process from the forefront, giving credence to the restoration process that was joined by local and international donor organisations.
President Mnangagwa showed greatest vision by directing that the restoration process gives preference to schools and supporting infrastructure. It is fact not fiction, that the Government immediately put its act together systematically coordinating all its arms to make sure that it happens. That the damaged roads leading to all schools were repaired to ensure that the schools are accessible before the opening of schools, speaks a lot about the pedigree and determination of the Government in restoration work.
Suffice to say, the situation on the ground calls for concerted effort from the Government and stakeholders alike, to ensure the return to normalcy through the provision of temporary shelter, education material, among other things, to enable pupils to learn. The torrential rains that hit the eastern side of Zimbabwe in March and some parts of the country killed more than 300 people and destruction of livelihoods and property.
Available statistics show that an estimated 50 000 households, including 120 000 children were affected by the flooding and the landslides after rivers and tributaries burst their banks. It is sad that children and their guardians, were caught up in the cyclone mess.
Schools, furniture and learning material were not spared, painting a gloomy picture ahead of the new term.
However it is not too late to salvage the situation. There is no need for the Government in particular and the nation in general to urgently pool resources to ensure that the affected pupils get back to a learning environment.
School infrastructure was damaged in many instances and students are learning from makeshift buildings. Some teachers are also staying in makeshift homes and tents.
While schools have opened a lot still needs to be done to assist the schools get back to their feet. Examination classes might need special attention given that they were affected physically, socially, economically and emotionally. Theirs, is a special case which might need serious psycho-social support in a particular way. The teachers need it too. The parents too.
There is need for all and sundry to invest seriously in the restoration process. Those who pledged to assist schools, should walk the talk. The time to act and assist these children is now. The time to support the parents, who are the pillars of their children is now, too. And, indeed the time to support the teacher is now. There is need to cover up for lost time through extra lessons for examination classes. This is a national problem which needs national unity and shared vision.
We are encouraged by the United Nations Children’s Fund’s decision to reach out to affected pupils through the provision of tents to be used as temporary relief to classroom shortage. There could be more organisations, companies and individuals who are also assisting in their different, and such kind of initiatives would need to be sustained, until the situation normalises.