Review of Children In Our Midst: Voices of farmworkers' Children - Tobacco News

Children in our Midst

Listening to the voices of farm workers' children

Reviewed by the TOBACCO NEWS

THE VIEWS and lives of the children of farm workers in Zimbabwe have been recorded in a publication conceived and funded by Save the Children, Harare.  The contributions of over 850 children, from grade four to seven include drawings and their testimonies reveal new perspectives and considerable wisdom
The book is not an objective assessment, it is a complex record of the perceptions, opinions and aspirations of children living on commercial farms.  The charmingly illustrated book will be a source of satisfaction for farm owners able to identify with the positive comments.  However, on some farms, development has lagged behind acceptable standards.  Simba Dzinamareka, aged 15, writes, "The living conditions of our farm are not good.  Things are not in a right way.  Things which are wanted on our farm are water, toilets and houses."  It is hoped that the upheaval and change in the country's commercial farming sector will not adversely affect the impetus to improve conditions.
Researched, edited and designed by Irene McCartney, Children in our Midst was produced to make lives of children who live in farming communities better understood and better supported.  She was assisted by SCF field workers and other concerned people, and acknowledges the co-operation of school heads, teachers and farm owners.  The introduction is written by SCF Programme Director, Chris McIvor, and the chapters are accompanied by brief notes and photographs, giving a unique insight into life on a farm in Zimbabwe.
McIvor observes that one of the problems associated with development work is that people who are targets of assistance often become objects, statistics, passive recipients of aid.  The lack of understanding that arises from not having an equitable partnership is one of the factors which leads to abandoned projects.  He calls for interaction so that the people concerned are actively involved and 'own' the development.  This view is reflected by the contribution of Anna Malunga aged 11.  "The whiteman wanted Blair toilets to be built, but people refused to dig pits."
Studies on farm worker communities have tended to highlight the hardship, cramped conditions, poverty and hopelessness.  Chris McIvor acknowledges signs that the 'era of marginalisation is coming to an end'.  He notes, "Partly through the catalyst of the SCF farm worker programme in Mashonaland Central, government services in health and education are now being extended to formerly neglected communities in commercial farming areas...  Moreover, encouraged by evidence that a better-serviced work force is a more productive one, farm owners are also manifesting greater commitment to the welfare of their labourers."
Milestones in the development of farm communities included the adoption by the Commercial Farmers' Union of a five- and ten-year programme in 1997.  At the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association Congress in 2000, two resolutions were adopted prioritising a Code of Practice, which incudes acceptable standards of worker conditions, and effort to find incentives.
Farmers have borne the responsibility for housing, sanitation, health facilities and schooling with minimal tax relief.  Development is therefore closely linked to viability and profitability and is adversely affected by poor commodity prices and difficult seasons.  However, conditions on the vast majority of farms were showing marked improvement as McIvor notes.  It is also too soon to know the extent to which development programmes will be derailed by the compulsory acquisition agenda.

I am a child
"A child needs to be cared for like an eagle's egg",
Mwada Ruwa 13

"Truly speaking, my friends, life at the farm is not very easy,"  Simbai Chaparira, 13

"In my family we are 12 children.  My father has three wives...I am worrying to be sent to secondary school.  I am not worrying about food," Maxwell Mwale, 13

"The farm owner shows us films, dramas and many other things.  He did it for us children to grow up cleverer and to beware of HIV/AIDS which can't be cured and it kills," Naison Aaron, 16

"I am an ophan.  My parents died last year.  They were sick with malaria...The way we survive in that we are being looked after by the farmer.  He gives us everything such as mealie-meal, money, clothes," Friday Petros, 13

"The health worker who stays here listens to people's problems.  She does everything she will be told.  That's why many people like her," Tarisai John, 14

"On the farm things are done for you by the whiteman; you just buy mealie meal and soap and other things [and on] other farms these are given too," Shepherd Eddias, 12

"The problems in my life are that our living conditions are not good.  We are always sad.  And I wonder what I have done wrong," Llyod Pakati, 13

"Farm people's living conditions are better than those in cities, I don't want to stay in a city, because city life depends on begging," Joyce Katsarapfuwa, 18

After school I fetch water from the borehole, wash the dishes, sweep the house, take a bath [and then]...I go to the field my grandmother look for herbs in the forest," Netsai, 11
.  The average size of a farm-worker’s family is six
.   Discipline is harshly enforced
.   Living conditions are often cramped
.   Many children come from broken homes
.  Many farm workers are itinerant
.   Many do not have birth certificates
.   There are few recreational activities or role models
.  Adolescents have little or no access to family planning  
information, girls are particularly vulnerable and often marry
young for survival
.  An estimated 100 000 farm children have been orphaned
through HIV/AIDS

Review of Children In Our Midst: Voices of farmworker's Children - Southern African Feminist Review

Scribes Scroll

Catherine Mwauyakufa

Saturday 22 September 2001

The Herald, Zimbabwe

‘Voices of farm workers children’

Children in our midst: Voices of farmworkers’ children, by Irene McCartney

Published by Weaver Press, Harare, Zimbabwe, 2000, ISBN 0-7974-2075-4 9 (SCF)

Reviewed by Jabu Z. Lukhele:
Southern African Feminist Review

Children in our midst brings to light the people that are hardly ever thought about when issues on farm workers are considered: the children.

It documents what the children think of the world and of themselves. In the past it was common for adults to decide for the children what they thought they felt, liked, needed and what would be best for them. Voices of farm workers’ children tells of what the children have to say about what is happening around them. One can view the world through the eyes of a child, and not imagine what the child thinks of the world.

Farm workers and especially their children have been marginalised, labelled the ‘periphery of the periphery’ and their views considered to be unimportant. They have not been adequately consulted on issues that affect them directly.

For instance, building a well too far from the homesteads and schools, with such heavy pumps that one child cannot operate it. it is disappointing to think that the reason for these pumps being so heavy is to avoid the children playing with them, forgetting in most cases that they are the ones who collect the water and not adults.

Children in all spheres of life are usually forgotten, or simply ignored, victims of circumstances that they cannot control, in this case the farm workers’ children. It breaks the heart to read what the children want in life and they really are not asking for much.

Watson Dzuda, aged 15, says all he wants from his parents is that they "send him to school, buy some clothes for me … and also give me enough food". The children wonder what they have done wrong that they have to live under such conditions. Lloyd Pakati aged 13 says, "The problems in my life are that our living conditions are not good. We are always sad. And I wonder what I have done wrong?" Castern Bvuma aged 10 says: "In my family everyone is always unhappy". What is surprising about the children is their level of knowledge, for example, Blessed Chipere aged 11 says this: "I do not want my child to have disturbances in life such as … being raped …" and Steria Sipiriano aged 13 says: "… People are now cruel and some are rapists …" The children demonstrated that they fully are aware of what is happening in the world around them and they already know what is good for them. They know about Aids and how it is contracted. Tichaona Chidzomba aged 14 would like her parents to protect her "… from many diseases such as Aids". Such statements coming from children in the urban area would not be surprising but from children of farm workers, one marvels especially given their young ages.

There are debates about Child Labour and Rights of The Child, with culture becoming problems, for example in defining child labour in the context of the African Family. Despite this, the children appreciate that they need to help in the home but it should be within their capabilities.

They do not dispute the fact that to work in the family is expected of them, an ‘African tradition" as has been argued. They see it as their duty, a part of life for them. parents in most cases think they are training children by making them work hard, that somehow they become better equipped later in life if they are strict with them.

the problem is, where does one draw the line that this is now too much for the child to handle? Maybe the answer is with the children themselves. Joseph Zamela aged 15 says, "Parents do not have to grumble at their children for silly mistakes, they do not have to give them hard household chores that they cannot do and they do not have to beat them for no reason".

Castern Nyandoro aged 10 says: "When I come home from school, I do all the chores, before finishing the chores they will send me to water the garden.

"After watering they will send me to go to look for firewood, a long distance. I am still young, I am only ten years old … We do not eat when we come from school."

These are young children, who are forced by circumstances (Or maybe just their parents) to be ‘adults’. They hardly ever enjoy the joys of childhood, the joy of simply being a child!

What is also disturbing is the fact that the children are brought up to think that household chores are a woman’s domain. Leonard Corffat aged 15 says, "I help my mother in the field. My sister helps mother wash dishes, do the laundry, fetch water, and look for firewood … Girls are the ones who are supposed to wash dishes." When asked who told him this, "My father …", he answers. Can one then blame the children for thinking that certain jobs are for men and others for women when the parents themselves bring them to think that way? The highest salary a farm worker can earn, in the top grade, is Z$1 424 per month, the average size of a family of six, given that school fees can be as high as Z$100 per term, but are more usually between Z$10 and Z$30, and that a school term is three months and a family has to send four children to school, even if tuition is free, still school uniforms should be bought and books, pencils, pens, exercise books and other school accessories, the family is not left with not much to live on. Considering that we live in a patriarchal society, it is not surprising then that the female children are the first to drop out of school due to insufficient funds.

Still the farm workers still love to have their children learn as Makomborero Magwa aged 14 says. "Even parents are passionate for us to learn with hope … You hear mother and father saying, ‘… my child, I want you to be a doctor or a teacher’". But, can they afford to send their children to school? Can the children’s right to education be achieved?

Save the Children, Harare has managed to bring to light what most people probably hardly ever think about. It has done what most projects fail to do in the rush against fixed time schedules and fight tight financial budgets. By documenting the children’s voices hopefully other projects will begin to listen to the children and what they have to say. All plans should be made with children in mind. This collection of children’s voices has successfully dispelled the notion that children are uninformed and incapable of thinking for themselves. Reading through the book one realises the extent of knowledge children have and one cannot help but admire them.

It has also not shown the world that children feel but has also helped the children themselves. By being asked questions about what they think has given the children confidence in themselves.

This equips the children to be better leaders, who are assertive and confident. It creates a society of people who are well informed about current issues and can analyse situations and draw meaningful conclusions. After all the children today are tomorrow’s adults and some of them will be our leaders.

Review of Children in our Midst: Voices of Farmworkers' Children - Children, Youth and Environments

Children in our Midst: voices of farmworkers’ children
compiled by Irene Staunton
Weaver Press with Save the Children (UK)
2001: (pp: 160) 210 x 226 mm, with over 100 photographs and children's drawings
ISBN: 0797420320

Children, Youth and Environments
Vol. 14, No. 2 (2004) (

Reviewer: Christopher Lowry

In our efforts to understand the contested world of child labour, it is refreshing to be able to take a close look at the lives of working children in particular contexts, and to hear what the children have to say about their work. In these two new books from Zimbabwe, Earning a Life: Working Children in Zimbabwe and Children in Our Midst: Voices of Farmworkers’ Children, Weaver Press (in association with Save The Children (UK) and Redd Barna) has done an admirable job of bringing together child-centered research and even-handed analysis of the issues.

Children in Our Midst is a rich ethnographic resource, beautifully organized and designed. Over 850 children from several farmworking community schools in rural Zimbabwe participated in the research project to speak on a range of issues that affect them. Statements from the children are edited and arranged under thematic headings, with editor’s notes in the margins drawing the reader’s attention to key points in the children’s comments. The chapters, composed entirely of the children’s written or recorded statements, cover many aspects of the children’s lives, including their sense of self ('I am a child'), families, homes, work experience, school, customs and play ('Sometimes we have fun'). While the text is balanced with the voices of several optimistic and resilient kids, many of the testimonies describe a very harsh life, with difficult labour, unwanted pregnancies, the death of loved ones from AIDS, hunger and beatings for common transgressions such as stealing food. The words of the orphans are heartbreaking, such as this comment from Vengai Madya, age 14, 'I sometimes think that if my mother was alive, I would be happy and I would have clothes' (Staunton, 32).

The reflective introductory essay by SCF Zimbabwe Director, Chris McIvor, offers candid criticism of development practice that pays insufficient attention to children’s agency. He makes a strong case for children’s participation, describing the ways that charitable projects often proceed without sufficiently consulting with the beneficiaries of aid, resulting in negative impacts on communities. He raises, yet again, questions asked by advocates of participatory research for several years now, which bear repeating: 'How did we interact with the people in these villages? How many of our project staff understood the language of the communities in which we were located? Did we take time to listen to their perceptions and views?' (Staunton, xiii). If working children were more visible and respected as workers, then forestry officers might speak to groups of children who have the job of collecting firewood, and water engineers might consult with the young people who collect the household water to ask where they should site a well or what type of equipment would be best. Agricultural advisors would focus agro-ecological education efforts on children and adolescents as well as their parents. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case in East Africa, although it is more common is other contexts such as in Latin America.

This is not simply a book that publishes the opinions of working children. It is a book that challenges our Western assumptions about healthy childhood. It paints vivid pictures of what it is like to grow up on commercial farms in Zimbabwe, with work responsibilities from a very young age integrated into education and upbringing, as a legitimate aspect of the local traditions. 'The concept of childhood,' suggests McIvor, 'is not only a luxury that few other cultures can afford, but is also something that local tradition implicitly rejects' (Staunton, xvi).

In Earning a Life, Michael Bourdillon also takes up this theme. Speaking to those who would promote the Western concept of work-free childhood as universal, he suggests that 'perhaps it is time to turn the argument on its head and say openly that a ban on child labour [sic] inhibits the proper socialization of children' (Bourdillon, 7). In this useful collection of research papers, editor Bourdillon establishes a balanced, child-centred perspective, demonstrating a realistic understanding of the hazards and benefits of work for young people. While Voices of Farmworkers’ Children is aimed at a broad readership, including both development workers and general readers in Zimbabwe and outside the country, Earning a Life is a policy advocacy document more explicitly aimed at influencing NGOs and government in Zimbabwe. The book provides a valuable service in its balanced tone and firm evidence-based approach.

Bourdillon and other authors in the collection acknowledge the pioneering work of Pamela Reynolds in this field, whose books Dance Civet Cat, Traditional Healers and Childhood in Zimbabwe, and The Tonga Book of the Earth are all fine works of anthropology and celebrations of their subjects. Earning a Life presents good practice on the issue of child labour for the Zimbabwean reader. The book benefits from the influence of 25 years of international research and advocacy for children in adversity by anthropologists and social scientists such as Olga Nieuwenhuys, Jo Boyden, Bill Myers, Ben White, Nandana Reddy, Martin Woodhead and Fabio Dallape.

Although the chapter on street children from the Harare NGO Streets Ahead does not say anything new about street children, it restates perennial issues with the support of new Zimbabwean research. It serves a valuable purpose, confronting entrenched prejudices and inappropriate reactionary attitudes that persist despite the sense of déjà vu that it may provoke in many of us who are close to these issues. Their analysis of street kids’ involvement in sex work and sexual activity is superficial, and fails to make use of current research including that of Rajani and Kudrati (1996), founders of the street kids’ NGO Kuleana in Mwanza, Tanzania, which deals with this taboo area in a very open and compassionate way.

It is very good to see macroeconomic dimensions of the child labour issue addressed in this book, with explicit reference to the neoliberal policies imposed on developing countries by international financial institutions. In the chapter on child vendors, for example, Victor Muzvidziwa engages in some useful discussion of the harsh negative impact of structural adjustment programmes (SAP) on children of poor households in Zimbabwe since 1990. He quotes a mother complaining about SAP-driven user fees for health services: 'I cannot take my children to hospital because it is too expensive. I rely on prayer because at least there I do not have to pay anythin' (Bourdillon, 68).

Like McIvor, Bourdillon urges us to listen to children, insisting that they know best about their lives, and what it feels like to be in their (working) shoes, or barefoot in the fields. He suggests an insidious reason why, despite the power of their testimony, children’s voices continue to be marginalized. It is simple: 'A child who challenges our assumptions is as troublesome child' (Bourdillon, 21). It is hoped that these books will generate some productive debate and political action on behalf of these troublesome, courageous children in Zimbabwe.

Rajani, Rakesh and Mustafa Kudrati (1996). 'The Varieties of Sexual Experience of Street Children of Mwanza, Tanzania', in S. Zeidenstein and K. Moore (eds). Learning about Sexuality: A Practical Beginning. New York: Population Council.

(Christopher Lowry is a consultant in child rights, ecology and education who has worked as a program director and media producer with agencies such as Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (Canada) and Street Kids International (co-founder). He recently completed a research paper on child rights and agriculture for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)).

© The author/publisher

Review of Children in our Midst: Voices of Farmworkers' Children - Financial Gazette

Children in our Midst: voices of farmworkers’ children
compiled by Irene Staunton
Weaver Press with Save the Children
2001: (pp: 160) 210 x 226 mm, with over 100 photographs and children's drawings
ISBN: 0797420320

The Financial Gazette
26 October–1 November 2000
Reviewer: Grace Mutandwa

Book speaks with the voice of children

Education is the horizon beyond which [children] see a better future other than an extended life on the commercial farms.

But they face many obstacles even before they can achieve a primary education, and only a comparatively small proportion of these children go on to secondary school. Most families living on commercial farms can not afford school fees even when these are low.

In Children in our Midst, Irene Staunton looks at the lives of farm workers' children in Zimbabwe. She notes that even though education is free on some farm schools, school uniforms, exercise books and pens are items that parents are often unable to afford and consequently many children have their education disrupted.

Lasting memory
The stories about these children are mostly told in their own voices and the emotions expressed by the children about their hopes and experiences etch a lasting memory on the reader.

Girls tell of how they are disadvantaged when it comes to paying fees because some parents still have the tradition of paying for the boy child first in circumstances where money is a problem.

Chapter two of the book explores how the girl child's chances for a better future are put on hold so that other members of the family can go on with their lives.

Girls are responsible for household duties and, if the mother is working, young girls are often required to stay at home to do the housework, fetch water and firewood as well as look after younger siblings.

Child's rights
While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child states that a child has the right to adequate nutrition, recreation, housing and medical services, this is not always the case on some of Zimbabwe farms.

The majority live where there is inadequate housing, sanitation, water, lighting, fuel and access to land for growing their own vegetables.

'Life on the farm is very difficult. People are not paid enough money to buy what they want or need. The houses are thatched with grass and there are no toilets. At most farms the water comes from unprotected wells and we have to walk long distances to get to the shops or nearest clinic,' says 14-year-old Lizznet Robson.

Early hours
Child after child tells his or her own story in a way that graphically illustrates their lives on various commercial farms. The children also speak of how, in some cases, they have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to work on the farm fields to supplement household incomes or as a way of paying for their education.

But while others like 11-year-old Anna Malunga clearly want to be educated and are determined to experience life beyond the farms, their hope is tinged with uncertainty as they speak of lack of identification papers. Malunga wants to go to high school but she has no birth certificate, a major requirement for her to even be able sit Grade Seven examinations, the very first step towards high school.

Birth certificates
Mike Josamu, a teenager, says that there are many farm workers' children without birth certificates because some parents have no identification papers so they cannot get birth certificates for their children. In some cases, the parents do not seem to find it of much importance for the children to have birth certificates as they believe their children's future is on the farm.

Children in our Midst
provides us with the voices of several hundred children collected through essays and interviews. It breathes an atmosphere of freshness, innocence and integrity unique to the young.

Positive thinking
Although, for most, poverty is a source of great hardship, their voices are laden with a strong sense of positive thinking and tremendous hope for a better tomorrow.

In 160 pages, you also read of profound experiences of loss, deprivation, work and marriage at a very young age. But when you put the book down after the final word, one cannot help but marvel at children who can go through so much hardship and pain but still emerge with a sense of humour. The maturity too that oozes out of some of their comments is astounding.

© The author/publisher