Seventeen-year-old Maidei’s journey to school was fraught with difficulties. In addition to having to walk miles each day, Maidei frequently suffered abuse and harassment from men who would offer her transportation to school and back home in return for sexual favors.
Fear of sexual assault while travelling to school means that girls from Zimbabwe often drop out of school early or skip classes. To address the unique challenges that these girls face getting to and staying in school, Plan International is building girls-only school dormitories to reduce the risks and exposure to danger on their long walk to classes.
Maidei and 19 of her friends have recently moved into one newly-constructed dormitory.
“The dormitory helps us stay in school and provides us with a safe living environment,” she said.
Tobias Mlambo, the school’s headmaster, said some of the girls had set up temporary shelters near the school, where they would live in terrible conditions during the week.
“Some girls had resorted to staying in informal bush lodges, and there were cases of unwanted pregnancies that caused an abrupt end to their academic careers,“ he said.
The low-cost boarding facilities mean that the girls will no longer have to live in the forest.
“We noted the numerous challenges that the schoolgirls who stayed at the bush were facing,” said William Mutero, Interim Country Director for Plan International Zimbabwe.
The project was designed together with and funded by German model, philanthropist, and activist Toni Garrn, who has established the Toni Garrn Foundation with Plan International. The project is supporting projects to empower girls in the developing world.
The Educational Opportunities for Girls project in Zimbabwe aims to improve access to education for young women in the region, and help them access their rights.
After visiting the region last year, Garrn developed the project in collaboration with Plan staff and communities, and she now aims to completely fund activities through her foundation.
"I have decided to fund this project because I do not want any girls to drop out of school due to having to walk nine miles and more,“ she said. “On their long way to school, especially girls often become victims of violence and abuse."
As well as dormitories, gender-separated toilets and new classrooms will be established. Parents, teachers, and community members will also be trained on the importance of education for girls.