To go to school in Zimbabwe, school fees must be paid. It costs around £21 a year for a primary school child to remain in school and £45 for a secondary school student, but for some children, especially orphans, this might as well be a million pounds. It is simply money that they do not have; neither do they have a means by which to make that amount of money. The level of attendance at rural schools is the worst it has been for decades and in many communities, more than half the children are failing to attend class due to a lack of fees.
The school authorities might want to accept students even without fees, but their hands are tied. School fees pay for the exercise books, text books, pens and pencils; so without fees the child will have nothing to write with or write on and also nothing to read. Some schools have building projects going on and they may employ children or their relatives to make bricks or build classrooms in lieu of fees. But in the vast majority of cases, lack of fees means a child will not be able to attend school.
The Africa Trust has developed a solution to this problem which does not involve simply paying fees for children. Instead, an arrangement with a banana export company means that children can grow bananas in their school to pay for their own school fees. A variety of bananas is being grown called Sweet William which is exported, mainly to South Africa. The company provides training in each community as to how the banana plants should be grown and they have even agreed to provide fertiliser. The cost of the fertiliser is subtracted from the money raised when the bananas are harvested. In addition to guaranteeing a market for the bananas, the company has also agreed to provide transport. It takes around nine months to grow a banana plant to the point where the bananas are harvested. A net profit of around £3.20 can be achieved per banana plant after th cost of fertiliser has been subtracted.
This is based on an assumption that the banana plant is watered and fertilised properly throughout and no cows or other animals eat or destroy the crop.
So this means that if a primary school child has twelve plants to look after, they can hope for around £38 profit when the bananas are harvested assuming that all the twelve plants survive. This will be enough to pay for the child's fees for one year and will also pay for new seedlings (suckers) to replant for the next year (80p per seedling - this produces better results than using suckers from the existing banana plants).
A secondary school student needs to look after twenty banana plants to produce £64 profit which pays for fees plus new seedlings for the next year. This model does mean that in the first year, fees must be advanced by The Africa Trust if a child is to remain in school, but this advance is recovered when the first crop of bananas is harvested or that money is used to pay for the next year's fees if the child is still in school. The banana project provides each child with a sustainable way to pay for their school fees right through school from grade one to grade seven then from form one to form four (eleven years at school).
The Africa Trust also provides investment for a banana plantationto be set up at each school including paying for the first seedlings, for fencing to ensure that the crop is not damaged by livestock and for piping and/or an Elephant Pump to provide water for irrigation. The child must then water their plants right through the year including during holidays where children often take turns to ensure that the whole plantation is watered.
The cost per child for this investment varies from school to school due to the piping requirements, but the average is around £28 at primary level and £46 at secondary level. There will also be need for some additional investment over the years by The Africa Trust to ensure that plantations are properly managed, with additional training where necessary and some repairs to fencing and water supply systems. So we have decided to raise £77 per child. This will provide a sustainable source of income to pay fees throughout each child's time at school. Are you able to help us? We are looking to raise £7 per year per child for them to stay in school throughout 11 years of primary and secondary education. A direct debit of just £3 a month will be enough to keep five children in school. We really need your help because there are currently more than a million children in Zimbabwe alone who are not going to school due to lack of fees.