For mothers and carers caught in a poverty trap, economic independence is often crucial for them to support their families. But getting a job or running even the smallest venture demands basic literacy and numeracy skills. So what lessons were learned when a group of women in Zimbabwe went back to school?
In 2011 a study group was set up as part of the Nguboyenja SOS Family Strengthening Programme. The group offers mothers and carers a second chance to learn reading, writing and basic business numeracy. It has proven highly effective in helping mothers like Sikhanyisiwe, Saziso and Sithenjisiwe to find practical new ways of earning money.
Sikhanyisiwe, mother of three
Since the death of her husband in 2003, Sikhanyisiwe – who is living with HIV – had struggled to feed and clothe her children on the income from the menial jobs she was doing. Although worried that at 39 she was too old to study, she joined the group in April 2011.
Sikhanyisiwe has since registered to take her exams and she wants to enrol for a nursing course. “I feel new – especially when doing my school work with these young ones. It also helps my children as we do our school work together.”
Saziso, mother of four
After she received a microloan from SOS Children to start a business growing and selling fruit and vegetables, Saziso’s main worry was keeping records. When the programme monitor asked to see her accounts she replied: “It’s better that you give me a hoe to weed than a pen because I can’t write.” Saziso began by selling produce from her yard and wanted to expand the business, but she couldn’t sign the forms for a bank loan. So she was referred to the study group and has since applied successfully for the loan. By proudly keeping her financial records, Saziso can now tell if her business is making a profit.
Sithenjisiwe, teenage mother
By the time Sithenjisiwe was 17 both of her parents had died, leaving her to take care of two much younger brothers. Abandoned by her other relatives, she dropped out of school, fell pregnant and gave birth to a boy – which completely changed her life.
One day, after the family had gone without food for 48 hours, she turned to the SOS Children programme. Our staff urged Sithenjisiwe to join the study group to continue her education. It was an important stepping-stone. In February 2012 she left the study group to train as a hairdresser at Precious Life – a local partner of SOS Children that helps teenage mothers to develop vocational skills. Sithenjisiwe completed her qualification and is now earning a living at a hairdressing salon. “My life had lost direction and hope,” she reflects. “Coming to the study group helped me to refocus. I am happy that I can now buy food and clothing for us all and pay the school fees for my younger brothers.”
Find out more about SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe.