From a vicious to virtuous cycle: How Zimbabwe Educational Trust is tackling child poverty

By Isobel Roberts

Zimbabwe is amongst the poorest countries in the world with extreme poverty reaching 34% in 2019, meaning 5.7 million inhabitants live on less than $1.90 per day. Even the large majority of the population (74%) live on less than $5.50, with children considered the primary victims of this penury. More than 70% of children in rural Zimbabwe live in poverty, where chronic food insecurity caused in part by recurrent droughts has pushed children of school age to the brink of starvation.

Members of the Trinity Project with Zimbabwe Educational Trust in Zimbabwe, November 2019. Photo credit: Zimbabwe Educational Trust

Zimbabwe Educational Trust (ZET) is a Leeds-based charity that works with partner organisations in Zimbabwe to keep children in school and out of poverty. ZET believes education plays a key role in breaking the cycle of poverty. Indeed, young people must learn the skills needed to enter the labour market and begin to climb the ladder towards a more prosperous future. All of ZET’s work links to education, either by improving the social conditions that shape children’s access to education and their attainment whilst enrolled in school, or by helping to improve the material conditions within Zimbabwean schools.

The Trinity Project: Improving access to education through birth registration

One of ZET’s partners is The Trinity Project, an organisation that addresses issues surrounding birth registration and access to birth certificates. A birth certificate is essential in realising fundamental human rights, and in Zimbabwe, to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. Formal recognition of a child’s identity is needed to access essential services such as education, healthcare and social assistance. In later life, it is needed to open a bank account, to register to vote or sometimes to enter the formal job market. In Zimbabwe, children need a birth certificate to register for their first national exams in Grade 7. Without taking these exams, the child cannot advance to secondary or higher education, meaning that lacking a birth certificate at this point significantly hampers future job prospects and presents an obstacle to a route out of poverty.

Despite the significance of a birth certificate, considerable numbers of children in Zimbabwe, most of whom live in rural areas, do not have this document. In fact, only 34% of children under five in rural areas have been officially registered with the Government, which is needed to receive a birth certificate. Birth registration is especially tricky for those in rural areas who live in isolated villages and survive on low incomes. They may face difficulty in accessing distant registration offices, but may be subjected to fines or late fees if they fail to register their child’s birth within the short time frame required. Further, some parents are unaware of the importance of birth registration, meaning that the first time they are confronted with the issue is when trying to access basic services later in their child’s life, at which point they may also be subjected to these fines.

A representative from The Trinity Project raising awareness of the importance of birth registration in a community where ZET works. Photo credit: Zimbabwe Educational Trust

ZET supports the Trinity Project in providing free legal services and advice to vulnerable children, with a special focus on orphans, helping them navigate their way through the registration process and obtain their birth certificate. To date, the Trinity Project has helped over 3,000 individuals obtain their documentation, ultimately opening up the possibility for this huge number of young people to attend school, as well as other lifelines that are closed off for those without identity documents. The Trinity Project also works within communities, raising awareness of the importance of birth registration, and is a prominent advocate for making the registration process more accessible. In the last year, members of the Trinity Project have also met with national officials to discuss the possibility of opening up online registration, the need for which has been made especially stark since the coronavirus pandemic hit and registration offices have had to close.

Other partner organisations: The Rafiki Girls Centre and Foundations for Farming

ZET also works with the Rafiki Girls Centre, which offers vocational and life-skills courses to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young women in Harare, and Foundations for Farming, an organisation that teaches children sustainable farming methods in schools, whilst also enabling the school to provide students with a nutritious meal – much needed to maintain their concentration in class. Click here to find out more about ZET’s work with the Rafiki Girls Centre, and here for Foundations for Farming.

If you would like to find out more about ZET’s work or support any of its initiatives, there are numerous ways to do so.

Izzy is a recent graduate in International Development from the University of Leeds. She has volunteered with Zimbabwe Educational Trust for over two years, including completing one internship with them during Summer 2019.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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