WATCH: Combating pregnant girls, young mothers’ barriers to education

Gibson Mhaka

NKOSINOTHANDO (20) from Guwe area in Nkayi District, Matabeleland North Province, had an unblemished academic record. 

She never failed an exam and she passed her Grade Seven with flying colours, a milestone that most adolescent girls in rural areas cannot reach due to the many systemic and social barriers they face in attending school.

But when she was in Form Four at Guwe High School, Nkosinothando had a baby and she thought about dropping out of school.

Like many adolescent girls and women in Zimbabwe who become pregnant, Nkosinothando wanted to drop out of school due to significant barriers and inadequate support from both the school and her parents at a critical juncture in her life.

For Nkosinothando, school became a gauntlet of whispers and snickers. The other girls, once her companions, became distant, their eyes filled with a mixture of pity and judgment. The teachers, once patient mentors, were also now regarding her with a cold disapproval.

Lesley Mhandi, a teacher at Hompane Secondary School and a mentor or facilitator for the AMEI project

The community also whispered accusations behind closed doors and she became the embodiment of everything wrong — a fallen angel.

Just as she contemplated leaving school, she learned about World Vision Zimbabwe’s Adolescent Mothers’ Education Initiative (AMEI) project.

The overall objective of the AMEI project, which is being funded by the Global Partnership for Education and implemented in partnership with the Education Coalition of Zimbabwe (ECOZI) is to contribute to ensuring that all Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers (PGAMs) have access to continue and complete a free, safe, quality and inclusive education.

“The challenges came from all sides including family, school and the community. When I got pregnant during my Ordinary Level, I considered dropping out. I feared the disappointment of my teachers and parents. Discrimination surrounded me at school, in the community, even in churches,” said Nkosinothando, sharing her experiences as a teenage mother during an emotional ceremony held at a local hotel on Tuesday.

She said the burden of isolation, the crushing weight of shame forced her to see leaving school as the only escape she could find.

“Just as I contemplated leaving school, I learned about World Vision Zimbabwe’s Adolescent Mothers’ Education Initiative (AMEI). This project was a lifesaver. It empowered me and my parents, who initially wanted me to drop out.

“Thanks to AMEI, the community’s attitude also shifted. Many girls benefited from this project and I’m one of them. AMEI gave me a second chance at education. I passed my Ordinary Levels and even continued to Advanced Level, where I proudly scored 10 points,” said Nkosinothando.

AMEI project targets eight secondary schools in Nkayi District

Memory Sibanda

The AMEI project is being implemented in eight schools in Nkayi district, Matabeleland North province. These are Sivomo, Guwe, Hompane, Mpumelelo, Nkayi High, Sagonda, Setshanke and Mateme secondary schools.

It was designed soon after the Covid-19 pandemic following the realisation that several girls fell pregnant and were not able to return to school due to a number of barriers.

From hiding to hope: AMEI empowers teen mothers to overcome shame

Another teenage mother, Silethemba (19), who managed to continue with school while pregnant and after delivery, said she felt ashamed to leave her classmates during breaks to breastfeed her baby and return.

“Within my own family, I felt disliked. Some relatives suspected I’d have an abortion, pressuring me because they felt I’d tarnished the family image. The churches segregated me, refusing service. I hid until after giving birth.

Schools became hostile environments too. Classmates called me names like “NaMntwana”. When teachers asked questions, other students would look at me, expecting me to answer as an “adult.” Teachers were the primary source of our labelling and students simply followed suit.

“It wasn’t until AMEI came along that I realised pregnancy wasn’t the end of my life. They instilled confidence in me. AMEI provided essential lessons that shifted the mindsets of some students and teachers. Thankfully, AMEI introduced a successful policy that addressed these attitudes among both teachers and students,” said Silethemba.

She said the community was also another source of constant gossip and judgment.

“I was forced to stay indoors most of the time. But the community champions, through their visits and guidance counselling, helped me overcome this situation,” she said.

Studies have shown that many adolescent girls and women, who are pregnant or parenting, drop out of school because they face huge barriers and get inadequate support from schools at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Personal Ncube research officer with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Matabeleland North

From zero re-enrolments to full support: Teachers witness 

AMEI’s impact

Lesley Mhandi, a teacher at Hompane Secondary School and a mentor/ facilitator for the AMEI project also shared her experience.

“We’ve embraced pregnant girls and young mothers. We re-enrol them because we understand that keeping them out of school is detrimental. We actively encourage them to return and we have successfully enrolled many.

“Our efforts go beyond re-enrolment. We advocate for and work to prevent teen pregnancy. We provide extensive guidance and counselling, involving community leaders, child protection members and even the Victim Friendly Unit to report child abuse cases. We also empower these girls to become peer educators,” said Mhandi.

She also shared data highlighting the positive impact of the AMEI programme on re-enrolment rates.

“In 2021, we were only able to obtain data from four out of the eight schools regarding the number of girls who dropped out due to pregnancy. Alarmingly, 49 girls dropped out and none returned. In 2022, with AMEI’s intervention, 43 girls dropped out, but seven managed to return, despite facing resistance.

“Turning to 2023, there was a significant improvement as all 18 girls who dropped out were successfully re-enrolled, thanks to AMEI’s efforts. In 2024 the programme’s success was evident as only one student from the eight schools remained enrolled while pregnant. These statistics clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of AMEI in supporting pregnant girls and young mothers to continue their education,” said Mhandi.

Community champions overcomes resistance: Explaining AMEI to parents

A community champion at Seshanke High School, Nomsa Ndimande, said initial efforts to support pregnant girls faced a hurdle as the programme’s goals were misunderstood by some parents.

“At Setshanke High School, we initially faced difficulties reaching pregnant girls and their parents to discuss their return to school. The programme intentions were unclear to the parents, they questioned if it supported or worsened the situation.

“However, after open communication, they came to understand its purpose and allowed their daughters to return. This understanding led to a positive outcome, with parents allowing their daughters to return to school,” she said.

From tradition to inclusion: Schools embraces AMEI 

Guwe High School headmaster, Jabulani Tshuma, applauded the AMEI project for introducing key changes that sensitised the community and school to the rights of pregnant girls and young mothers.

“Guwe High School is situated in a community where many parents work as large-scale farmers or small-scale miners. Traditionally, this community held anti-education views and resisted behavioural changes.

“However, with the arrival of the AMEI programme in 2022, we at Guwe High are incredibly grateful for the positive impact it has had. AMEI’s policies, implemented in collaboration with the community, school, and teachers, fostered a significant shift in attitudes.

“The AMEI project introduced key changes, including policies that sensitised the community and school to the rights of pregnant girls and young mothers. These policies ensure that girls are not expelled due to pregnancy and are granted a three-month maternity leave. Notably, the programme also mandates a suspension of the young father’s education for the same period,” said Tshuma.

AMEI combats barriers to education for pregnant girls and young mothers

According to Memory Sibanda, project co-ordinator of AMEI under World Vision Zimbabwe, the programme’s core objective is ensuring pregnant girls and young mothers have uninterrupted access to education.

“The programme aims to ensure pregnant girls and adolescent mothers have access to continued education. Our goal is to see these girls stay in school, complete their education in a safe and supportive environment. Despite comprehensive policies like the Zimbabwe Education Amendment Act, which allows girls to remain in school, many barriers persist. Negative social norms, for example, can significantly limit their access to education. These barriers often lead to girls dropping out.

“We really appreciate the support that we have been getting from different partners such as the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education which is playing a crucial role by sensitising communities about existing policies that support the re-entry of pregnant girls and young mothers,” explained Sibanda.

She said collaboration with other stakeholders was important.

“We work with religious leaders to address discriminatory practices within churches that might exclude pregnant girls. Furthermore, engaging men is essential. We aim to empower boys to become champions of change, actively supporting the continued education of pregnant girls and young mothers,” she said.

Champions to carry the torch after programme ends 

A research officer with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Matabeleland North province and a champion of the AMEI programme Personal Ncube expressed his concerns about the programme’s long-term impact.

“A key challenge after AMEI’s conclusion is ensuring sufficient human capital to sustain its activities. Fortunately, the programme trained various groups, including pupil mentors and community champions. These individuals will act as torchbearers, carrying on the knowledge and practices instilled by AMEI,” said Ncube. 


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