The geographies of schooling experiences of orphaned children in one rural school in the Shiselweni Region of Swaziland.
Masuku, Mzikayifani Bizzah.
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This study set out to explore the geographies of schooling experiences of orphaned children in one rural high school in the Shiselweni region of Swaziland. There is paucity of knowledge regarding the nature and extent of orphanhood and its implications on children's schooling experiences, especially in rural communities of Swaziland ravaged by poverty, unemployment and HIV and AIDS. Drawing from Children's Geographies and the New Sociology of Childhood Studies, this study provided insights into the spaces and places occupied by the orphaned children in this context and how the orphaned children negotiated the complex and varied spaces of learning. It adopted a qualitative research methodology and utilised a narrative inquiry approach in which orphaned children's narratives were elicited through individual and focus group interviews, as well as by using photo voice as a participatory method. Six (three girls and three boys) orphaned children (three single-orphaned and three double-orphaned) from Form 4 and 5 (equivalent to Grade 10 and 11) were purposively sampled to form the participants of this study. The study revealed that orphaned children experienced schooling both positively and negatively in this context. Dominating among the positives were activities like culture and sports which brought a lot of excitement to them thus motivating them to attend this school. Food provided at the school kitchen was also cited as a positive schooling experience by these children. Although some complained of its nutritional standard, the fact that some of these children had nothing to eat while at home made them to appreciate food provision in the school as a positive experience. Many of the participants singled out the fatherly role played by their Head teacher as a major symbol of love and which they claimed motivated them to attend the school. The study, however, also found out some negative experiences that the orphaned children had in this school, particularly those related to bad and disrespectful behaviour by other children. These included some discriminatory statements of pride like name calling and ridiculing of the orphaned children. For example; mocking, name calling and isolation were cited as some of the main negative experiences that orphaned children went through in this school. The study found that some children associated orphanhood with some kind of a curse ordained by providence as punishment from God for the wrong doing of their parents. Narratives of the orphaned children indicated incidents of bullying and victimisation levelled against them by both teachers and other children in the school. For instance, some teachers mocked the children taking advantage of their vulnerability, citing some local stereotypes which included the assumption that parents of the orphaned children died due to HIV and AIDS, which had a major negative stigma in these communities. Another finding was the experience of travelling a long and tiresome distance, sometimes poorly clad in rainy seasons, by the orphaned children to get to school. This predisposed orphaned children to be late, thus relegating them into conflict with teachers from late coming, and also resulting in tiredness and fatigue which adversely affected their ability to concentrate and learn in class. The study also revealed that vulnerable children were not passive subjects of their negative or positive schooling experiences. These children were found to be resilient and defying the odds that militated against their schooling in order to overcome or mitigate the challenges they faced related to their schooling. For example, orphaned children in this school involved themselves in self-generating projects like growing crops, gardening, doing temporary jobs, studying very hard and seeking assistance from friends, relatives and members of the community as coping strategies to alleviate their plight. Based on the above findings, the study recommends that there is a need for the Swaziland government to increase the amount of money awarded to schools meant to support and enhance the schooling and academic experiences of orphaned children. Some educational workshops and lessons should be held to sensitise teachers and all children about the value of embracing social diversity, social tolerance, particularly focusing on supporting and enhancing the schooling experiences of orphaned children. Some form of education is also required to falsify the local myths regarding the relationship between HIV and AIDS and orphanhood. Building safe and conducive schooling environments that cater for a myriad of learner diversities should be prioritised as an overcoming strategy to tackle all forms of discrimination in the schools.