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Community Advocates Help Dozens of Marginalized Youths Enroll for Nursing

To debunk myths that in Matabeleland there are no qualified youths, community advocates help dozens of youths enroll for nursing. Image by NewZimbabwe

With over 500 applicants from Matabeleland already assisted, they are working to improve their initiative.

BY DIVINE DUBE | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JAN 27, 2023

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — In one of Bulawayo’s oldest townships, approximately two miles from the city center, lies a renowned hospital, the second largest in Zimbabwe. For 36 months, the hospital christened Mpilo — a Ndebele moniker for life — will be home to 18-year-old Nicole Sibanda* who has just been enrolled in a general nursing course.  

Sibanda, born in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North, lost her mother when she was 17, leaving her with a younger sibling, a primary-school-aged toddler. As the elder sister, Sibanda knew the burden of fending for the family lay entirely on her shoulders.

While working at a local bar in Dinyane, Tsholotsho, Sibanda met a man with some good news that would later change her life for the better.

“I was working at a bar in Tsholotsho when I met a man who happens to be a traditional leader of the area," Sibanda narrates.

“He told me about ongoing applications for the government nurse training program.”

But as fate would have it, Sibanda did not have internet access to apply online. Neither did she have any cash for a bus fare to travel to the nearest town, about 85 miles away from Tsholotsho center, where she would beg well-wishers for an internet connection.

“But even if I applied, I thought to myself at that time, perhaps I would not be enrolled,” Sibanda who graduated this month recalls.

“I just qualified and I’m waiting for employment. I’m in the process of enrolling in the government system. I’m busy with registration,” Sibanda says, ending her WhatsApp chat with a smiling emoji.

While thousands of young people from Matabeleland have persistently tried to enroll in the government-run diploma in general nursing course to no avail, Sibanda is happy that her dream of becoming a qualified healthcare worker has come to fruition.

Although there is no official government data that shows how many students per province or district are enrolled in each nurse training intake across the country annually, human rights campaigners from Matabeleland believe aspiring students from the region are deliberately sidelined.

In 2019, the Central government introduced an online nurses’ application platform after investigations by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) unearthed massive corruption in the traditional application process.

However, the new centralised application system was saddled with technical glitches that cast aspersions on its effectiveness in curbing corruption. The cumbersome application process associated with the new system was also blamed for further marginalising aspiring applicants, especially those from poor backgrounds and underserved communities. 

In Matabeleland, the new system further bolstered claims of marginalisation. In 2019, the same year digital applications were introduced, Mpilo Hospital, one of the major nurse training centres in the region, enrolled 24 students, and only four of these were from Matabeleland.

The scandal spurred three community advocates to implement a community-driven intervention to address the problem.

In late 2019, Michael Ndiweni and his three colleagues — Descent Bajila, Mlungisi Dube and Phumulani Sibanda — began to build a database of aspiring student nurses from Matabeleland.

They gave priority to applicants residing in rural areas since most of them did not have access to the internet to submit their applications through the online digital system introduced by the Health and Childcare Ministry, a government arm that oversees the nurse training program.

“We wanted to prove a point,” Ndiweni says.

“We wanted to debunk myths that in Matabeleland there are no qualified youths who can enroll in such training courses (nursing).”
Michael Ndiweni

Buoyed by the increasing volumes of young people across Matabeleland seeking help to apply for the nurse training program, Ndiweni and his colleagues decided to launch Izenzo Kungemazwi, an independent nonprofit organisation that has helped thousands of youths apply for the nursing course since 2020.

The social justice organization was born out of an urgent need to address our problems as a region, instead of just highlighting them, Ndiweni says. He adds that through the initiative, they have assisted more than 500 young people in applying for the nursing program in the past three years.

“Our goal is to get thousands enrolled in the program. So far we have helped over 500 that were invited for interviews and of these 200 were enrolled,” Ndiweni adds.

Although the digital application system was introduced to curb rampant corruption in the selection process, anti-corruption activists believe the system is susceptible to manipulation, as it is used by unscrupulous members of the selection committee to sideline well-deserving applicants.

“I suspect they have managed to manipulate the digital platform like the old manual one,” says Dube, a human rights campaigner and co-founder of Izenzo Kungemazwi.

Dube says although their initiative has been a game-changer in terms of ensuring that underserved young people from Matabeleland are enrolled in the training program, there has been a "reversal of the gains” they had achieved since they launched the initiative in 2020.

“In terms of enrollment, maybe one in 50 applicants gets shortlisted for interviews,” argues Dube.

“This decreases the chances of applicants getting selected. In the long term young people are discouraged from applying if they think their chances are low.”

Patience Dlokwakhe, a member of the initiative, says when the program started the numbers of assisted applicants who got enrolled were high, but those numbers have since dwindled.

“We caught the government unawares,” she says.

“When we began, the numbers of applicants who got enrolled were so high but now they have dwindled. I believe it’s another act of sabotage. Even claims that selection is done electronically are far from true.”

The government denies any wrongdoing.

Dube says their initiative alone cannot bring the desired results despite the efforts they put into ensuring that there is equitable enrollment in the program.

“I would say a new approach is needed and community voices need to be amplified and more stakeholders like Parliament engaged to get better results,” he says.

In 2020, an uproar over the marginalization of nursing applicants from Matabeleland triggered a brief debate in Parliament. However, no motion was set for further debate, and the issue was left unresolved.

Although the initiative is yet to hit its intended target in terms of enrollment, Ndiweni says its major success lies in that they have built a community of purpose among young people who share common challenges.

“The impact is that as much as there is a conviction that young people from this region are marginalised, they can come together and address their challenges as a community,” Ndiweni says.

And beyond being indebted to those that helped them, they will also consider ploughing back into the community so that at the end of the day we have a snowball effect, he adds.

“Obviously, because I am a beneficiary of a community initiative, I have a moral obligation to assist others too.”
Nokuthaba Ndlovu*, a 22-year-old Plumtree-born student nurse assisted by Izenzo Kungemazwi

Despite the success of their initiative, Ndiweni and his colleagues are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Instead, they are considering establishing an independent nursing school that will give more young people from Matabeleland the opportunity to get trained as nurses.

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“I think we are learning that we need to make the initiative more sustainable instead of being reactionary,” Ndiweni says.

“We want to ensure that beyond relying perhaps on the government to train nurses we may actually explore ideas of establishing a private training institution to address gaps that the system is failing to bridge.”

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