An update on the latest lessons in ALERT’s Basic Life Skills Course in Gweru
March 7 2017

The Gweru Drop-in Centre caters to the needs of the city’s street-children, aiming to rehabilitate them into mainstream society and education, reunifying them with their families, and providing a meal every week day.  Through ALERT, a Basic Life Skills course was introduced to help students develop ‘soft skills’ that will support them in their lives.

Following on from a previous session about person hygiene, a recent lesson in the Basic Skills curriculum focussed on dental hygiene in particular; an area often neglected by the children who visit the Drop-in Centre.  The objectives were to teach the children the importance of caring for their teeth and the possible consequences of their neglect.  Students were divided into small groups, with the support of community volunteers.  A group leader was appointed for each and another student given the responsibility of taking notes.  This was to echo a lesson on being a good team worker from last year’s S.T.R.I.P.E Course. 

After discussing what we rely on our teeth for, the children were tasked with saying the phrase “33 thirsty thieves” while clenching their teeth.  All agreed this was difficult to do and recognised the important role our teeth play in helping us to communicate. The children were then reminded that good dental hygiene means brushing twice a day with toothpaste, before being shown images of healthy teeth alongside others that had not been taken care of and were suffering from decay. 

A practical session followed next, demonstrating to the children how they can make their own toothpaste using just salt and baking soda mixed with water to form a paste.  Toothbrushes were handed out and they had the opportunity to try out their homemade toothpaste.  The children thoroughly enjoyed this exercise and were able to take their toothbrushes and toothpaste away with them afterwards.

With over 2,200 suspected cases of typhoid fever in Zimbabwe, the next lesson focused on educating students about this highly infectious disease.  To begin with, students were asked to give their definition of what they think typhoid is and what causes it.  67% said it was caused by a virus, 33% said it was caused by eating poisonous food.  To clarify, the children were told that typhoid fever is a food and water-bore infection caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria, and that those infected carry the bacteria in their blood, intestines and faeces. 

Next, they were given the symptoms to look out for: high fever, stomach pains, a rash, constipation, loss of appetite and general weakness, and were told that they could contract typhoid through contact with food and drink handled by an infected person, direct contact with the faeces of an infected person, or if contaminated sewage got into water used for drinking or washing food.  Preventative measures included aspects of good personal hygiene covered in previous lessons; washing hands before eating and after using the bathroom, along with washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly in clean water, making sure food is fresh and properly heated, and boiling water for a least a minute before drinking to kill bacteria.  The children showed that they had taken the potential risks on board, encouraging each other to continue using the Drop-in Centre as the source of a daily hot meal rather than resorting to eating food taken from refuse bins.    

About the Basic Life Skills Course

The aim of the Basic Life Skills Course is to assist children and adolescents to gain essential skills needed to operate effectively in society in an active and constructive way.  Topics in the course include; self-esteem, coping with stress, effective communication, decision making, problem solving and non-violent conflict resolution.  The course has been developed by David Brackstone of John Taylor High School, UK using a programme in use at that school and adapted for use in our schools in Africa.

About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)

Basic Life Skills courses are one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres.  The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students.  Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy.  In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students.  Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies/entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training.  The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK).   The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.

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