Join the club: School children promote health in rural Zimbabwe

At Murerekwa Primary School, health is a noisy affair. Around 700 students are enrolled at the school in Zaka district in south eastern Zimbabwe, and judging by the noise coming from behind the heavy wooden door of the health club, it sounds like all of them are inside.

In fact, the Murerekwa Primary School Health Club has 60 members and they’re in full voice today – singing, performing plays, and writing poems all of them about health.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing its second consecutive year of drought, a condition exacerbated by the recent El Niño climatic event. With so many communities dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, reduced yields have resulted in economic decline, reduced employment opportunities and disease outbreaks.

“In the health club, we teach the children about health and about general and personal hygiene,” explains Mrs. Mamvura, the school’s health coordinator and founder of the club. “It’s important because if we teach these children, they’ll go back home and carry the messages to their families and to the community.”

Mrs. Mamvura is one of five teachers in the district trained by CARE to improve health, water and sanitation among communities in Zaka.

“By far our greatest success has been toilets, and how important it is to have a bathroom at home,” says Mrs. Mamvura. “Previously people had been using open areas but after we discussed how important it is that every household has a toilet, the students took the message home and parents started to build toilets, often using what little materials they had.”

The club meets every Thursday afternoon in a large, airy classroom lined with posters and information about all things health. There are more members than seats, and students sit crammed in, three and sometimes four to a desk.

Club members’ ages range from 8 to 18 years. Girls outnumber boys (there are 43 girls and 17 boys).

“By far the most challenging topic has been girls’ bodily changes,” says Mrs. Mamvura. “It’s sometimes difficult for them to go home and speak to their mothers about the changes in their bodies, or their fathers if the mothers are not around. But we discuss it in class, and go through scenarios in small groups and it gives them confidence to approach the topic at home.”

“We have so much fun,” says 15 year-old Mavis Kushinga, the club chairperson. “We learn something new every time we meet. A few weeks ago, we learned that when washing our hands, we should always use the pour method because if we wash our hands in one dish, it dirties the water and we might contract diseases. So it’s better if we pour water over our hands.”

One of Mavis’ tasks as club chairperson is to lead some of the club activities.

“I feel like a teacher,” she smiles. “When I finish my schooling, I’d like to be a teacher so I can impart my knowledge on to other children and make the world a better place.”

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