Protecting Our Children Together! By Sister Mayibongwe Sharon Ngwenya (Zimbabwe)

My name is Sister Mayibongwe Sharon Ngwenya from Zimbabwe. I belong to the congregation of Missionary Daughters of Calvary (CMFC) and I am the coordinator of a faith based organisation called Lubhancho House, Hwange. In partnership with various organisations, we advocate for Child Protection and seek to eradicate the practice of early child marriages in Hwange diocese through: awareness programs on the importance of education and the dangers associated with early marriages; Resuscitating and capacitating Child Protection Committeesand capacitating girls in secondary schools with knowledge on reproductive health and hygiene and capacity-building in making re-usable sanitary pads.

Overcoming fears and challenges

When I was told I would be appointed as coordinator for Lubhancho House 3years ago, I was very unsure of myself. I had to keep reminding myself of the qualities of a good leader which I learnt and understood from TFT and it felt like I had none of them.  With time, I started reflecting on two important principles of Paulo Freire: Dialogue and Praxis (Reflection and Action).  I value and respect these principles a lot and I was reminded of one of them by the Mother General of the Missionary Daughters of Calvary (Sr Ottilia Nyoni). She encouraged me saying: “My sister, remember always to dialogue with others, it will always help you. Where you do not understand please ask, you will not die by asking, this will help you and the whole organisation to go forward”. I still remember and value those words up today. Open conversations have been very helpful for us.

In TFT we learned about the importance of team work and I carried this with me. I encourage staff members to work together and our organisation also started working with others. Building partnerships motivated Caritas Hwange to help us tackle the Covid 19 situation by providing us with masks, tap buckets for washing hands and sanitisers. Another NGO, Jafuta Foundation provided the staff with a five days workshop on how to make re-usable sanitary pads. We could later use theses skills to capacitate others –mostly young girls-in need of these skills.

Manfred Max-Neef says that for one to understand and feel what the poor undergo in life; one has to remove his shoes and step into the mud where they are stepping so we feel what the poor are feeling. At Lubhancho House we took Max-Neef’s barefoot economics and put it into practise. We went into the communities which we work with in order to really understand what they defined a problem through surveys and community meetings. We realized that communities were challenged by early marriages and a lack of child protection services-especially for vulnerable children. We formulated objectives and are now implementing activities focused on: raising awareness on the importance of education and the dangers associated with early marriage; awareness programs in reproductive health and hygiene with training on making re-usable sanitary pads and resuscitating and capacitating Child Protection Committees.

Raising awareness to promote child protection

The organization conducted ten ward child protection meetings in the Diocese of Hwange that includes three districts targeting a total of 500 school children in both primary and secondary schools. From the meetings, we went out and trained boys and girls on their rights and responsibilities. One of the boys reported that he appreciated the training and knowing what child abuse is and where to report it.  

Practical skills to support school girls in poverty

Surveys with schools revealed many challenges, especially for school girls. When they are on their menstruation, many use rags and some use cow dung. These are not hygienic or user-friendly and cause many girls to remain at home for the duration of their period. Missing school means girls fall behind and then sometimes drop out of school. We needed to make a difference and in January 2021, we started a project for girls in primary and secondary schools with knowledge on reproductive health and hygiene and training on re-usable sanitary pad-making. The project has reached 1150 girls in the ten rural schools in the Diocese of Hwange. We are proud of this achievement because girls have been empowered with a sustainable life skill that will save them economically. One of the learners noticed that all girls could continue coming to school now, even during their menstruation.  

Resuscitating and capacitating of Child Protection Committees

One of our objectives was to revive and capacitate Child Protection Committees in the ten areas of operation in the diocese. Most members had moved out and others quit since it was on a voluntary basis. Through the help of the Department of Social Development, we have managed to revive child protection systems our rural communities. Lubhancho House is well established in Hwange and is always available to ensure that the interventions are sustained, offering 20 refresher child protection workshops to 50  local leaders, village structures, Child Care workers, mentor teachers and orphaned and vulnerable children and their guardians, who have become part of the Child Protection System. The involvement of many different role players in the roll- out of interventions helps to generate a sense of ownership that ensures the sustainability of the project.

In conclusion, I would like to appreciate TfT for the knowledge that helped me to step into a leadership position. Understanding the importance of dialogue has encouraged team work in our organisation. In communities, we listen before we intervene and this is how we helped young girls remain in school and it has been a blessing to do this with others. I am because we are.