For 15-year-old Betty Mkhabela, pursuing her high school education had always been a big challenge.
Coming from a poor community, Betty, a student at Emthonjeni High School in central Eswatini, didn’t only lack money for school fees. Finding the bus fare to get to her school, approximately 70km away, was also a huge struggle.
Then, when Betty’s father died, things got even tougher for her and her family. Her mother was unemployed and left to take care of Betty and her six siblings.
Betty’s father had paid for her schooling. But because of the family’s difficult financial situation, Betty’s mother had no choice but to confront her was the harsh reality: she had to drop out of school.
But for the 15-year-old, seeing the other kids in their uniforms going to school every day was very painful. Betty and her elder sister had to come up with a plan. Determined not to drop out of school, they decided to source chicken portions to sell in their neighbourhood to raise the bus fare to school.
The plan seemed to work as the two sisters were able to raise some money each week to enable them to get to school - though on an alternate basis. Each week, one of them would attend school for three days and give the other a chance to attend for the remaining two days. For them, this was better than dropping out of school and missing out on their education.
However, the issue of school fees, which had remained unpaid for several years, was the next challenge. Luckily, the school didn’t pressure Betty to pay, and she continued with her classes, even if for just a few days a week.
Betty wasn’t the only student at Emthonjeni High to be touched by Eswatini’s high unemployment levels. For 16-year-old student Mzamo Mndzebele, life is a struggle. Both his parents are quite elderly and unemployed. In fact, no one is employed in Mzamo’s entire family.
Because high school education is not free in Eswatini, in 2021 Mzamo’s parents could no longer afford to send him to school due to poverty.
However, in June 2022, things changed for Betty and Mzamo when they were enrolled in a project funded by the European Union aimed at improving access to education through school reintegration, remedial education and drop-out risk reduction.
The project, implemented through UNICEF, targets more than 200 of the most vulnerable learners in selected schools in the Manzini region of Eswatini. This includes children who have lost parents or guardians as a result of COVID-19. The project also reaches out to pregnant adolescents and adolescent parents, and teens with disabilities who dropped out of schools to help get them back to class.
Betty and Mzamo are among 10 learners at Emthonjeni High who have benefitted from the project already. Through the project, the EU will pay for their education for the next two years
“I had already given up on education and had already resigned myself to a bleak future. So, when I was called back to class, I could not believe it,” said Mzamo, whose name actually means effort.
Betty received some other good news - some teachers at the school volunteered to take care of her transport to and from school. Her dream of becoming an artist one day is back on track.
EU support to the education sector in Eswatini dates back many years and continues to assist the country’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 4 to "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
These important efforts will ensure a brighter future and greater chances for all Emaswati children to pursue their dreams regardless of gender, disability or background.