Shocking living conditions for children at Zimcare

SIMBARASHE MTEMBO

MIRROR REPORTER 

MASVINGO – Some 22 mentally challenged children are staying under inhuman conditions at makeshift hostels hurriedly prepared at Ratidzo Zimcare Center in Masvingo.

The children were last week transferred from the Roman Catholic Church run – Alfred Walter Hostels and shoved into a classroom block turned into a hostel in disregard of an instruction from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Tumisang Thabelo to stay the move until buildings properly designed for the purpose are constructed.

Parents who visited their children at Ratidzo this week shed tears and took them back to Alfred Walter Hostels.

Sources told The Mirror that Zimcare was in a hurry to establish a boarding school in order to get boarding grants from Government. The current arrangement is that Alfred Walter Hostels provide boarding facilities for the children while Ratidzo is responsible for education. The children therefore stay at Alfred Walter and go to Ratidzo School.

Social Welfare Director for Disability Affairs, Dr Christine Peta expressed disgust at the opening of boarding facilities at Ratidzo without following the Permanent Secretary’s letter and said inspectors would be sent to the school today.

Alfred Walter gets 63% of the Government grant for welfare while Ratidzo gets 37% for providing education. Ratidzo will get 100% of the grant if it starts a boarding school. Ratidzo head, Everjoice Runesu held a meeting with parents two weeks ago and told them that she was going to withdraw BEAM fees for anyone who did not move their children from the Catholic church’s hostels.

Ironically the classroom blocks at Ratidzo were built by the Catholics and handed over to Zimcare.

There are allegations that Ratidzo looted $4m grants which were supposed to be forwarded to Alfred Walter Hostels in 2021 and the matter is still to be settled.

A Mirror crew that visited Nyaradzo Zimcare yesterday was shocked to discover that mentally challenged boys and girls are sharing one hostel. 

“During the visit, a mentally challenged girl stripped naked in front of a boy who was doing laundry and there was no supervision of the children at the classroom block turned hostel,” said Philip Dube a cameraman with The Mirror.

The children are bathed in buckets that are used for mopping floors, some of the blankets used by the children were taken from a fowl run, said a source. The toilet facilities are not for a boarding facility but for a block of classrooms and therefore inappropriate for children who mess themselves from time to time.

There is no dining room and kitchen facilities at Ratidzo. When The Mirror got there in the evening the children were eating sadza with matemba that neither had soup nor cooking oil. There are no recreational facilities at the school and there are no boreholes in light of frequent water cuts. There is no electricity backup in the school.

A sizeable number of the children are epileptic and a medic must be at the school 24 hours but there is none at Ratidzo.

The caregivers looking after the children were just picked from the surrounding suburb and they have no special training.

Equally shocking is that the Acting Provincial Education Director, Shylatte Mhike says permission was granted for a boarding facility when in fact the Permanent Secretary’s letter to Zimcare which is in the hands of The Mirror says the opposite.

While the letter which is dated September 21, 2021 accepts Zimcare’s application to start a boarding facility, it says that this can only happen after the organisation has constructed new buildings designed for the purpose. The design of the buildings is to obtained from the Ministry in accordance with Circular P. 73 of 1991, added the letter.

The letter further says that such buildings will be inspected stage by stage by the Ministry until they are completed and then enrolment of boarders will only start when the boarding facilities have been inspected and commissioned.

Runesu said she was given permission by Thabelo to start the abording but declined to share the contents of her letter with The Mirror.

“Authority has been granted for the establishment and construction of boarding facilities…The Responsible Authority, Zimcare Trust Head office should obtain approved designs from the Ministry of Education. Please be advised that the provision of staff accommodation should be prioritised.

“Enrolment of boarders should only take place when the boarding facilities have been inspected and commissioned,” reads the letter which is in the hands of The Mirror.

The Mirror also visited Alfred Walter hostels and realised that the two institutions are worlds apart. Alfred Walter is complete with separate boys and girls hostel, large dining rooms with television sets, eight blankets for each child in case they don’t dry after washing, spacious toilets and bathing rooms, wardrobes for each child, qualified nurse, a huge staff complement, gardens with fruits and vegetables.

The hostels, toilets and dining rooms are spotlessly clean.

The children are provided with clothes and there is a skills training in agriculture and other productive sectors.

Alfred Walter Hostels administrator Sr Maria Murwira expressed grave concern at the living conditions of children at Ratidzo. Children cried for her each time she visited the place. Alfred Walter has 54 children and these can rise to 150. 

“These are children with special needs and they need specially trained people to look after their welfare. The conditions at Ratidzo are despicable. You can’t simply turn a classroom block into a hostel without redoing the building. Our mission should be about the children and not money,” said Sr Maria.

There is no recreational space, water tanks and a power backup for the children. 

A parent who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the head was forcing them to remove children from Alfred Walter Hostels.

 “The head called us for a meeting and told us that the school was going to accommodate our children but the conditions there are horrible. She threatened to remove our children from Government BEAM and the school if we did not comply,” said the parent.  https://masvingomirror.com

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