Catching them young

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IN one of his famous quotes, the late former South African President Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

One can easily pick up what can become of a society by the way in which children within that society behave. 

Clearly, it is the responsibility of the adult folk to nurture children and give them proper education to ensure sustainable growth and development of societies.

To achieve that purpose, Merck Foundation, in partnership with a number of First Ladies in Africa, are working together to teach children health and sensitive issues such as infertility stigma as well as empowering girls through education. 

Merck Foundation, with the First Lady of Zimbabwe, who is also an Ambassador of the foundation, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, handed over 30 000 children storybooks to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. 

The storybooks are titled: Tudu’s Story, Educating Rujeko and Make the Right Choice.

Tudu’s Story emphasises strong family values, such as love and respect, practiced from a young age.

Inculcation of such values is expected to eliminate stigma with regards to issues that include infertility as well as curbing domestic violence.

Issues to do with infertility, among both male and female, are holistically approached and framed in a manner that does not induce hostility.

The story teaches the young facts about infertility prevention, including how it affects both men and women.

Make the Right Choice is a story which aims to raise awareness about coronavirus prevention among children and the youth as it provides facts about the pandemic and how to stay safe and healthy during the outbreak. 

It also promotes honesty, hard work and the ability to make the right choices, even during the most challenging times. 

Educating Rujeko is a story that covers the importance of empowering girls through education.

 It also covers the issue of child marriage as one of the most important aspects affecting children in Zimbabwe.

Senator Dr Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and president of Merck Foundation More Than A Mother, expressed satisfaction in her work with the First Lady.

“I am very happy and proud of our long-term partner H.E. Auxillia Mnangagwa, The First Lady of Zimbabwe and Ambassador of Merck Foundation More Than a Mother. 

Donating 30 000 storybooks to young readers, school students of Zimbabwe which were handed over by Zimbabwe First Lady will make a great impact to create a culture shift and sensitise children and adolescence about health and sensitive topics in their communities,” she said in a statement.

Dr Kelej said the books provide an important milestone in the life of children in the country.

On Educating Rujeko , Dr Kelej also said : “I hope this story will inspire every girl to fight for her right to education and encourage our communities to support educating young underprivileged but brilliant girls so that they can reach their (full) potential and pursue their dreams.

Amai Mnangagwa hailed the donation, explaining how her work with Merck Foundation was not only assisting adults but children in the country.

 “I am very happy to work closely with Merck Foundation and happy to hand over 30 000 storybooks to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for our young children. These storybooks convey important lessons of life, like supporting girls’ education; emphasize on the right family values of love and respect, to break infertility stigma; and raise awareness about coronavirus and inspire hard work and honesty from a young age. Furthermore, these books will instill reading culture in young children,” she said.

In 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that child marriages were unconstitutional but many children in the country continue to be at risk.

According to data released by the United Nations, approximately one in every three girls is married off before the minimum age requirement of 18.

A lot of the girls affected by child marriages do so unwillingly and are coerced to enter into marriage by their parents or relatives.

Schools closures, as a result of COVID -19, have also contributed to unwanted pregnancies and child marriages.

Just like the character Rujeko in the book Educating Rujeko, child marriages are considered money-making schemes basing on the payment of lobola.

Parent opt to ‘sell off’ their young daughter in exchange for money for survival, especially in situations where poverty is affecting the household.

In many societies, young girls become victims because of archaic practices that see the boy-child as more valuable than the girl-child. 

The storybooks, donated by Merck Foundation and the First Lady Amai Mnangagwa,  are part of ongoing awareness campaigns seeking to improve the lot of children, especially the girl-child.

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