In this interview, Patrick Makokoro, the Founder and Chief Eexecutive Officer of Nhaka Foundation, discusses the organisation's efforts at supporting education and health care in rural regions in Zimbabwe, a landlocked country located in southern Africa. According official information, Zimbabwe's total population stands at 12.97 million. Due to large investments in education since independence, Zimbabwe has the highest adult literacy rate, in 2013 was 90.70%, in Africa, but much still remains to be done in the sector.
Makokoro founded the Nhaka Foundation in 2008 as a charitable organisation that provides education, health care and counselling, and other essential services to orphaned and vulnerable children throughout Zimbabwe. In 2012, he founded the Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA). In addition, Makokoro is a Founding member of the African Early Childhood Network headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, which works to champion the development needs of young children in Africa.
As Patrick Makokoro discusses at length with Kester Kenn Klomegah in Harare, in the coming years Nhaka Foundation plans to consolidate its relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and other Government departments at the local level and leading civic society organisations working in Education and Primary Health Care issues in Zimbabwe. Here are the interview excerpts:
Q: What would you say are the achievements and/or success stories since the establishment of the Harare based NGO, Nhaka Foundation?
PM: Nhaka Foundation is a Zimbabwe-based non-governmental organisation, it has developed and implemented a series of interventions designed to bridge the gap between the government's capabilities and policies mandating the requirement for Early Childhood Development (ECD) programming in primary schools and its ability to fully realise the implementation of such programmes. Along with its partners, Nhaka Foundation provides access to education, basic health care and daily sustenance for the orphaned and vulnerable children in the communities it serves. It further provides aid and support to ensure the creation of a physical environment conducive to learning, growth and the optimal development of all children.
Classroom and Playground Renovation
Nhaka Foundation has managed to partner with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to work with rural area primary schools, parents and caregivers to create Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centers through the renovation of over 32 dilapidated classrooms. The classroom floors, windows, doors and roofs are repaired or replaced, and a fresh coat of paint is applied inside and outside. Each Center has its own unique personality as the exteriors are then finished with hand-painted, age-appropriate drawings by local artists.
As a part of the renovation programmes, the organisation has worked with the families and members of the community to plan and build, expand or repair the playgrounds and equipment using readily available and safe materials, hence fostering a sense of community ownership and building sustainability into the initiative. Once restored to a like-new condition, the Centers would then be officially incorporated into the primary school system and sustained by the community through elected Pre-School Management Committees. This helps to ensure that the children continue to have clean and safe spaces to work and play.
With the support of school and community leaders, Nhaka Foundation has facilitated meetings with the over 5000 parents and caregivers of children enrolled in the ECD Centers it serves. These meetings have been designed to educate, support and engage stakeholders in finding solutions to building a better future for the children. A lot of emphasis has been placed on building capacity and instilling a sense of community ownership and responsibility through this initiative.
The meetings have covered various topics including the importance of birth registration, immunisations, health record maintenance, HIV&AIDS education and screenings, early childhood development enrollment as well as parental involvement in the education of children. Indeed, the initiative has been successful in providing caregivers with the information and tools needed to better look after the children in their communities. It makes available a platform for voicing concerns and obtaining support from the school, the community, and the government.
Nhaka Foundation has also managed to forge a cordial working relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) to facilitate the on-going training and development of the ECD teachers working in the Centers it serves. Nhaka Foundation has successfully trained over 350 early childhood development teachers in the past 5 years. On a rotating basis, the organisation accompanies District Trainers to the field to monitor and evaluate teacher performance.
Each teacher would be observed at work, given an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns, and provided feedback for improvement. Through this initiative, the organisation has managed to provide teachers with increased skills and at the same time promote a cooperative environment to share information and resources that have inevitably resulted in quality education for marginalised children.
In response to the needs of the rural communities and the children it serves, Nhaka Foundation developed an in-school feeding programme to address one of the biggest challenges faced each day in, and out, of the classroom-hunger. Many children would come to school on empty stomachs making it impossible for them to concentrate or fully participate in classroom and outdoor activities. While the organisation's work has been focused on children enrolled in ECD Centers, it simply could not ignore the remaining primary school students as the concern was pervasive.
As a consequence, the programme has provided food once each day in the form of a protein drink for all of the students in all of the primary schools it serves. The programme has benefitted well over 5,000 children a day across 15 primary schools in collaboration with the schools and communities, with food preparation and service is managed on-site by community volunteers while Nhaka Foundation manages the logistics, training and programme oversight.
Nhaka Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, District Medical Offices and local health clinic practitioners to facilitate health assessments of the children enrolled in the ECD Centers it serves. On a rotating basis, the Nhaka's team members have accompanied nurses from the rural health clinics to each school to evaluate the most basic and immediate health concerns facing the children.
The assessments have captured important baseline information on height, weight, heart rate, immunisations, and personal hygiene as well as screen for common conditions such as ringworms, scabies, skin infections and cavities. Indeed this initiative has created a strong starting point to address basic medical conditions and to educate parents, caregivers and the communities on infant and child health care issues and prevention reaching over 800 children in 2019 alone
Q: In the first place, tell us about the driving reasons, in other words the motivating factors, why the idea of helping rural communities in Zimbabwe?
PM: In 2019, Nhaka Foundation contributed towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 as recounted here as follows.
SDG 1: End poverty. The organisation contributed to SDG 1 through transferring skills in new systems of farming to parents, which has a potential to boost their economic status in the long-run. However, due to reasons beyond the organisation's scope such as recurrent droughts, poverty was said to be the status quo for most households in the communities where Nhaka Foundation introduced these innovations, especially grandparent-headed households.
SDG 2: Zero hunger. Nhaka Foundation's support of nutrition gardens to strengthen the Feeding Programme and its impartation of new farming skills were meant to eliminate hunger. ECD learners indeed benefited from school-based feeding, although at the schools sampled by this evaluation the feeding had stopped and some nutrition gardens no longer functional.
SDG 3: Good health and Well-being. Nhaka Foundation invested heavily into the health and well-being of its target beneficiaries, including through its trainings in personal hygiene for parents, procurement of nutritious foods like maheu and porridge as well as its facilitation of health assessments for ECD learners. At the time of this evaluation, these initiatives stopped because of limited funding to the organisation.
SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Nhaka Foundation's support for ECD infrastructure development made education accessible for the ECD learners while its capacity building for ECD teachers contributed towards improved education quality. ECD teachers confirmed that they learned new techniques of teaching and effectively handling ECD learners through workshops that the organisation facilitated in partnership with MoPSE trainers.
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. Nhaka Foundation supported the drilling of boreholes and construction of toilets in some schools that had dire need thereof, which tellingly improved access to clean water supply and sanitary ablution facilities. The evaluation, however, revealed that with growing ECD enrolments, the need for additional boreholes and toilets remains at most intervention schools.
Q: How would you characterise the urban-rural development gap in Zimbabwe?
PM: The development gap between the urban-rural settings is still evident mostly due to unavailable funds that go towards infrastructure development. This challenge is not only limited to Zimbabwe alone but to most countries in Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and sub-Saharan Africa. As African countries rise against the struggles and inequalities imposed by colonialism, there is the need to invest more resources in order to develop the rural areas. It is important for financial resources be directed towards creating economic hubs in the various rural areas so that there is enough investment that supports and boosts the rural economies.
Q: Under-development, diseases, illiteracy and abject poverty have something do with the Government. Could you please give your views and analysis here?
PM: Over the 20 years after independence, the government in Zimbabwe invested heavily in education, and by the end of this period, Zimbabwe had one of the finest education system (and its highest literacy rate) in Africa. The success of this programme was reinforced by the importance Zimbabweans place on education and the considerable sacrifices families are prepared to make to ensure their children are well educated.
Unfortunately, the financial and political crisis that engulfed Zimbabwe in the first decade of this century resulted in a dramatic decline in the educational sector. The impact of this decline was especially marked in rural schools. In light of these challenges, the investment in early childhood development and education programmes was minimal if any, as the government and other civil society organisations focused more on the delivery of primary and secondary level education.
Early education thus was not given the appropriate attention and action. More importantly, parents have little or no understanding of the substantial long-term benefits that early childhood development programmes have on their children's educational and social outcomes. Parents and caregivers have limited knowledge of other important child development, protection and welfare issues.
Q: Judging from the above discussion, is it correct to conclude that Nhaka's activities are closely related to the politics and policies of the Zimbabwean Government?
PM: As far back in 2005, the Zimbabwean government introduced a policy (Statutory Instrument No. 106 of 2005) mandating all government primary schools to introduce two years of ECD education before primary school entry. This was in line with the Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training's (CIET, 1999) main recommendation to democratise pre-school education, the Ministry designed a two-phased, ten-year programme to establish ECD classes at every primary school in the country. During Phase One (2005/6 to 2010), every primary school was expected to attach at least one ECD class of 4-5 year old's referred to as ECD ‘B’, to prepare them for Grade One the following year. In Phase Two (2011 to 2015), every primary school would attach another ECD class of 3-4 year old's to prepare them for ECD 'B'.
Indeed, over the past 11 years, Nhaka Foundation has become a leading organisation in Zimbabwe working in partnership with the Ministries of Education, Health and Social Services to enhance Early Childhood Development (ECD) services and access to early learning opportunities reaching 15,000 beneficiaries directly through its programmes in 2019. Nhaka Foundation's preschools programme works closely with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and has received its full endorsement through a Memorandum of Understanding signed in October 2017.
Nhaka Foundation is aligned with the established policy of integrating ECD centers into primary schools. The current Government in Zimbabwe is responsible for setting policy priorities and within the education sector that falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Nhaka Foundation therefore works to complement government efforts in line with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two parties.
Q: How does Nhaka operate in terms of project financing, support from stakeholders and so forth?
PM: Nhaka Foundation promptly responds to calls for proposals as well as carries out internal fundraising activities in order to generate resources for its operations and sustainability.
Q: What are your long-term strategic plans, at least, the next half decade?
PM: Really, we have long-term plans to raise the current achievements to a higher level, especially along the lines of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are as follows:
Goal 1: Resource Mobilisation
The organisation will focus on the development and implementation of a comprehensive resource mobilisation and sustainability strategy that will encompass both traditional and non- traditional means of fundraising as well as incorporate key principles such as financial accountability and integrity in order to retain the confidence of funding partners
Goal 2: Enhancing Nhaka Foundation's Visibility
The organisation under this focus area will seek to further promote the Nhaka Foundation brand using traditional and emerging online platforms. The organisation anticipates consolidating its relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and other arms of government at the local level and leading civic society organisations working in ECD programming as a means of strengthening its reputation as a growing practitioner in ECD issues in Zimbabwe.
Goal 3: Governance and Institutional Capacity Development
The organisation will focus on strengthening the role of the Board of Trustees in giving oversight to implementation of this strategy as well as operations of the organisation. Strong attention will be paid towards ensuring strong internal organisational systems, controls and procedures are taken up and implemented by all organisational members.
Goal 4: Enhancing Implementation and Management of Programmes
The organisation plans to strengthen the framework of programme cycle management, including development of an indicator-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that enables drawing of important lessons and best practices. The organisation intends to build the capacity of programming staff in order to enhance efficacy in project cycle management as well as improving responsiveness to the ever changing trends in ECD-related programming such as responding to the needs of children with special needs and addressing other issues that inhibit access to education by young children.
Goal 5: Influencing Policy, Advocacy and Evidence-based ECD Programming
The organisation anticipates engaging a lot more in thought leadership in ECD issues at national and international level, spearheading and supporting various advocacy and lobby efforts aimed at improving childrens' access to affordable and equitable ECD services in Zimbabwe and in sub-Saharan Africa.