I have so much mixed feelings today. Yesterday i visited Chingwizi Holding Camp(My Long Story Coming up in a beat in a blog) where the flood victims of Tokwe Mukosi are housed. It was a FACT finding mission following the report that about 100 girls had been impregnated between the ages 10 and 12. Those in Zimbabwe who’ve been following this Chingwizi story know that over the last 3 or so days, the place has been ‘a war zone’, with the alleged fights between the residents of Chingwizi and the Police. Inspite of warnings for us not to go during this time as there have been these fights, we could not wait to stay home without knowing the status of girls at this camp. So we took off on Friday to reach the Camp on Saturday the 2nd of August. I will share my abridge version here with a special interest in the Girl Child and Women issues. I will hasten to say that, because of the tense of the situation, we could not engage many people to talk about anything in the camp. We managed to interview at the school and outside the camp and the following were our immediate findings:
1. The area is under so much tension, with fights between the police and the people. My worry is the security of girls and women. It seems the men are involved in the fights, but women and children often are at the receiving end of this violence. On our way we saw troops of hundreds of Police Men in the bushes close to the road that leads to Chingwizi. Today we got reports that there were further beatings of locals, the women and children are obviously emotionally tortured in all this.
2. Upon entering the camp there was such tension; in my write up i called it ‘tension thicker than a knife could cut’! Everyone was in their tents, no one loitering around, contrary to the usual busy roads at the camp on a good day. This was said to be because the previous day, the residents had allegedly burnt down 2 police cars. The reason being reported for this was that the police wanted to move the clinic to the area where the government wants people to settle, but the people are demanding their money before they move. A few minutes into the camp, men started coming out of their camps and started asking ‘Have you brought us the money’… We quickly left the camp as we feared any time the tensions would rise. We headed for Mlali Primary and Secondary Camp School.
3. The survival situation in the camp has affected the children, their parents and the community badly. The general conditions have caused the attitudes of the children towards education to be bad. The parents also because of the life in the camp are said to be no longer strict with their children to enforce discipline and performance at school. Actually there are reports that there is sometimes conflict between the teachers and the community because the teachers find it hard to instill discipline as the community does not want the teachers hard on their children, therefore the children end up being expelled from the schools. There is confirmed primary and high school drop out of children by students we interviewed. IT WAS DIFFICULT TO CONFIRM PREGNANCIES AMONGST THE AGE GROUPS WRITTEN IN THE REPORT, but the young people we interviewed who are in the community and schools confirmed that they had been hearing grapevine about some girls who have fallen pregnant, but they could neither provide names nor ages. One of the young man we interviewed alluded to the fact that there are high cases of Inter-generational relationships, where girls date older man, who are bound to demand sex in the relationships. The boy also said that because of idleness in the camp, sexual activities amongst young and old seem to be the only activity to occupy residents.
4. The young people highlighted their fear for disease outbreaks such as sexually related as all they see are issues of relationships in the camp. They also mentioned that they feel like their education year has been a wasted one sinse they were disturbed. One young person said that they are looking forward to repeating their form 3 again next year because they feel they are not ready to move and pass their O’levels.
5. Because of the situation in the camp, we could not talk to women as the situation was so much tense and guarded. Also residents do not trust anyone who is from the outside as they either suspect you to hinder their demand for money from the government, so they do not openly talk to anyone. Another thing is that they are sensitive to what people talk about, so it was not an easy task to carry. The teachers we spoke to at the school seemed to talk under instruction from their ministry, therefore there was not much useful information we got from them regarding child enrollment. The lady teacher who was said to be the spokes person declined the fact that children had dropped out of school. This was contrary to the information we got from the students we later interviewed who were very clear that many of their friends and pupils had dropped out of the schools before the End of Term Examinations and soon after the examinations. They alluded to the lack of discipline in the schools amongst the students. It was easy for us to read between the lines as one teacher told us that ‘if you need information you go to the Provincial Head, thats where we send all the information’, in a dismissing manner. It was very easy for me to tell that indeed maybe there is information ofcourse its being sent to the offices and as rightfully protocol would demand, they cannot share it, and it is protected for share at the appropriate time.
6. Food
We were told that everyone got equal rations according to the family members. The issue of ‘Sex-For-Food’ was said to have been reported in the first 2months.. Other commodities are distributed the same amongst the residents.
7. Education Facilities
The facilities are in the camps and are as would be expected, bad for the children.
We strongly feel the need for the government to address the situation at Chingwizi. The Government and the Residents of Chingwizi should amicably address their positions for the sack of the children. The lives of Children are being messed during this hard time. Girls are falling pregnant, are vulnerable to diseases, their education is affected, their lives are being lost, the children’s lives will never be the same again. There are more than 2 000 children in this area, thats a generation that deserves our move fast! We owe it to these children to give them a fair chance. We are concerned of the health of the women in this area. Something which the young men said which touched my heart was that; ‘When we were staying at our own house before the disaster, my father used to go drinking then come home later, mother never used to see him with other women, now the sad reality is that i see my father drinking beer, and do other things, i am concerned about my mother’, this is from the heart of a young man aged 17 who witnesses the abuse of his mother. We are appealing to the government to regard the children especially. May the children have their lives back. Surely there is somewhere we could get the money from our budgets for the sack of the children’. PROTECT THE CHILDREN, ADDRESS CHINGWIZI ISSUE NOW!!