HIS small frame could pass for that of a 10-year-old, while his innocent face perfectly masks the horrific abuse he has endured at the hands of his own mother.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
*Thomas (15) was repeatedly forced by his mother, who is HIV-positive and mentally challenged, to be intimate with her for an unknown period of time.
The teenager contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the process and for two weeks he could not attend school due to the severity of the wounds on his genitals.
His HIV status, however, remains unknown as he has not been tested following the abuse.
Sadly, he is still living under the same roof with his aggressor, along with 11 other people in a single room at Magaba in Mbare.
Thomas is now a recluse following the abuse and quietly sits alone, away from the other children at school.
Seven-year-old *Chipo was raped by her father for a long period of time after her parents separated. Although the father is now serving time after the crime was discovered, the emotional scars still haunt the little girl.
She eagerly participates in her lessons in the hope that equipping herself with a good education will take her out of her current situation. But if she fails to find someone to sponsor her education, she might not go far with her dream.
And then there are sisters *Rudo and Tendai from Bindura, aged 11 and 13 respectively. Like Chipo, their mother got separated from their father and he took another wife, who unfortunately abused the girls.
They were denied food, proper clothes and were beaten for any slight misdemeanor. A neighbour gave them money and they tracked their mother to the “Majubeki Lines” in Mbare, where they are now staying.
The children are now getting assistance from Just Joy Bridging Organisation, an organisation that deals with orphans and vulnerable children in Mbare. It offers monthly food packs, clothes, blankets and schooling for a small fee for children from the vicinity.
Evelyn Tawana — founder of the organisation — said at times she assists children that would have gone through bad experiences in their lives.
“Thomas has gone through a very horrible experience and although he’s been counselled, he is still trying to come to terms with what happened to him, especially the fact that the perpetrator is his mother,” she said.
She complained about how Thomas’s mother was picked up by the police but got away with just a “good” beating. “The grandmother also interfered in the case and misrepresented facts to the police,” claimed Tawana. “So, Thomas is still living with his mother, grandmother and 10 other people in a single room.”
Thomas, Chipo, Rudo and Tendai are some of the children that are attending Just Joy Bridging School, an extension of Tawana’s organisation which caters for over 300 orphans and vulnerable children in Mbare.
“I realised that most of the children that we were trying to assist with basic needs like food and clothes were not going to school and so I decided to come up with the concept of a school,” she said.
The bulk of these children were failing to get into formal schools because they did not have birth certificates.
“Most of them did not have birth certificates and so we assist them by writing letters to the responsible offices explaining their situations,” she said.
However, despite her good intentions, Tawana is facing a host of challenges, including shortage of space at the “school”.
Currently, they are using a small rented apartment which is becoming too small for the growing numbers.
With only four volunteer teachers to assist her, Tawana has made desperate attempts to secure an appropriate space but so far, she has not been successful.
“These children learn in the open and if it rains or becomes too hot we have no choice but to send them home,” she said. “This disrupts their learning process because, remember most of them are coming from difficult situations and are a bit slow in grasping concepts.”
Tawana said she had approached the Harare City Council (HCC) for space but her efforts were still to yield results.
“I have been to the office of Leslie Gwindi [HCC spokesperson] who referred me to the housing department but I have not yet received positive feedback,” she said.
Besides the need for space, the school has no decent furniture, stationery or books.
“For boards, we use some old table tennis boards which were donated by someone,” she said.
The children wear different uniforms and it was evident they were mostly “hand me downs”. Many have no proper shoes while others wear torn, oversized or ill-fitting pairs.
Most of the children are far too old for their grades. There are some who are almost 10 years old but are still in Grade Two.
“There is a girl who is 15 and is still in Grade Four,” Tawana said.
The school is also in need of supplementary food like porridge or soup as many of the children go to school without having eaten anything.
“Because all of these children are coming from lowly backgrounds, most of them come to school on empty stomachs. If we can get some sponsors, we can run a porridge or soup kitchen for the kids,” said Tawana. “It is not easy to teach a child who is hungry.”
*Not real name