THE 22 mentally-challenged children at Ratidzo Zimcare Centre in Masvingo are living under inhuman conditions at a makeshift hostel, Masvingo Mirror has established.
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 defiance of a directive by Primary and Secondary Education ministry secretary Tumisang Thabela to stay the move until proper buildings had been built.
Parents who visited their children at Ratidzo this week shed tears over the deplorable conditions at the centre, where boys and girls were sharing one hostel.
Sources told The Mirror that Zimcare rushed to establish a boarding school in order to access boarding grants from government.
The current arrangement is that Alfred Walter hostels provide boarding facilities for the children while Ratidzo is responsible for the education side.
Social Welfare ministry director for disability affairs, Christine Peta expressed disgust at the opening of boarding facilities at the centre before certain conditions were met.
Ratidzo head Everjoice Runesu reportedly held a meeting with parents two weeks ago and threatened to withdraw Basic Education Assistance Module fees for anyone who did not move their children from the Catholic church’s hostels.
Runesu claimed she was given permission by Thabela to start offering boarding services although she was reluctant to shed more light.
Ironically, the classroom blocks at Ratidzo were built by the Catholic Church and handed over to Zimcare.
The children are bathed in buckets that are used for mopping floors, there are no dining room and kitchen facilities, no recreational facilities, no boreholes in light of frequent water cuts and no electricity back-up at the school.
A sizeable number of the children are epileptic and a medical attendant 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.
Acting provincial education director Shylatte Mhike said permission was granted for a boarding facility, but Thabela’s letter says this could only happen after the organisation had constructed new buildings designed for the purpose.
Meanwhile, a Bulawayo-based youth group has rallied councillors, legislators and other stakeholders to help in raising awareness on mental illness to fight stigma and discrimination associated with the condition.
They made the call during a dialogue meeting held in Njube suburb in Bulawayo on Thursday.
Speaking at the event, Youth Support Network Trust founder Ntokozo Nyathi said: “As a community, we are lacking on that front. We don’t prioritise people living with mental illness. We need to stand up, educate and advocate on behalf of these people.
“We call upon councillors and MPs to also take a lead and ensure something is done. People need to be taught about mental health and illness as they tend to mix the two.”
The call comes at a time when Zimbabwe is reportedly recording a spike in mental health problems due to the prolonged economic crisis and drug abuse, especially among the youth.
Abangane Platform founder and a mental health advocate, Zibusiso Munandi appealed for the scaling up of the fight against stigma and discrimination against the mentally ill.— Masvingo Mirror/ Silisiwe Mabaleka