Zimlink March 2017

 

Chris Bowran

 

SI Harrogate held an open speaker meeting last month and we were so glad we made the effort to go on a dark, wet night to hear such an inspiring talk by Stella Motsi, Director of Childline Zimbabwe. Childline Zimbabwe (CZ) was set up 20 years ago by a soroptimist, Dr. Liz Robb, and there are still several soroptimists on the board, representing the three Harare clubs. (Stella isn’t a soroptimist – yet – but we’re working on it!)

 

Its early development was supported by Childline UK and Childline South Africa, but in the ensuing 20 years CZ has gone on to develop services far beyond those provided by their erstwhile supporters. Because of a chronic lack of resources many of the public services are not functioning, so instead of being a signpost to appropriate help, CZ is having to provide those services itself. To this end, CZ has set up 26 drop-in centres across the country, covering all but two regions of Zimbabwe. These centres work alongside the call centres in Harare and Bulawayo, providing information, counselling and social worker follow-up for children in rural areas.

 

The figures are quite staggering:

  • In 1997 there was one call centre with one counsellor on one phone: there are now two call centres with, in Harare, 20 counsellors available day and night 365 days of the year.
  • In 1997 there were 1500 calls, 57 of which led to social worker intervention: there are now 50,000 calls a month, every month. Stella was at pains to remind us that behind each number is a child.
  • The call centres receive an additional 7,200 cases a year beyond those in the call centre figures.
  • In total over the past 20 years 4,207,353 calls have been received, 46,803 of which have gone on to require social worker intervention. The drop-in centres have recorded a further 67,948 cases.
  • CZ currently has 50 staff members and 250 volunteer counsellors.

 

All this represents a huge amount of abuse and most of the calls relate to sexual abuse. Many of these cases involve the early marriage of young girls and we saw a very moving film about a young girl who had been married to a much older man as his fourth wife and who, because their religion forbids her to give birth in hospital, spent two weeks in obstructed labour before someone in the village phoned CZ. She was taken to hospital but sadly her baby had died.She had to have a hysterectomy and was later found to have developed a fistula. CZ cared for her following this terrible experience. Polygamy and marriage before the age of 18 are illegal in Zimbabwe but continue nevertheless.

 

Despite the development of the drop-in centres, some areas of the country are still not covered by CZ. This is addressed as far as resources allow by taking roadshows to remote areas and providing mobile phones which can be accessed by children in remote communities. On average, 19 calls per phone are received from these phones each and every week.

 

What does CZ need to continue to provide and develop its services?

  • The Bulawayo call centre is very small, housing only four counsellors. A donation from the UK is going to purchase a bigger property so the service can grow.
  • Two more call centres are needed in the north and south of the country.
  • More drop-in centres will fill in some of the gaps in current coverage.
  • The mobile helpline platform needs to be upscaled in line with developing technology.
  • More vehicles would facilitate home visits in rural areas.

 

What can we do? Through the friendship link between SI Yorkshire and SI Zimbabwe we have a ready made conduit for aid. Stella told us that they are in great need of our old mobile phones which they will reconfigure so that they can only be used to call Childline and distribute among children in particularly, though not exclusively, rural communities. Here’s how:

  • Go through your cupboards and drawers to find those old phones you left there ‘just in case’. These need not be smart phones – any mobile phones will do.
  • If you still have the charger, attach it to the phone.
  • Bring it to the RCM.
  • When we have enough phones we will send them to Zimbabwe. Getting them through customs is a potential problem but CZ has enough clout to have an arrangement with customs, so if we let CZ know in advance they hope to receive them without paying duty.
  • This method means sending them by post which will be very expensive. Perhaps when members give a phone it would be acceptable to donate £1 with it towards the postage?