THE impending closure of the Hlekweni Friends Rural Service Centre on the outskirts of Bulawayo is a cause for concern.
According to reports, the donor-funded vocational training institution has run out of funds for operations and will shut down at the end of this month after a sterling contribution to the Matabeleland region and beyond. The Hlekweni board says it has explored all options to allow the institution to continue its operations, but has come to a conclusion that none would work.
Therefore, a decision has been made that the institution will wind up its operations after the graduation ceremony set for this month end.
A number of workers would lose their jobs and their families would be left without any income. More disturbingly, the region would be deprived of an institution that equips otherwise unemployable youths with life skills.
Hlekweni was founded in 1967 as a rural training centre specialising in bio-intensive agriculture and also offered practical training courses on subjects from building and carpentry to garment-making and early childhood education. It was founded by missionaries Roy and Irene Henson as a partial response to problems young primary school leavers who were unable to proceed to secondary education or find formal employment were facing in the late 1960s.
Hlekweni filled a gap created by the school curriculum that puts more emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of practicals.
President Robert Mugabe has on numerous occasions acknowledged this deficiency in Zimbabwe’s education system.
In his latest Cabinet appointments, he created the Psychomotor Activities ministry headed by Josiah Hungwe to address exactly that shortcoming. Hungwe should now step to the plate to see to it that Matabeleland does not see a reversal of these gains with the closure of Hlekweni.
The region has no vocational training institutions of note and that privately-funded centre was playing a critical role.
Allowing Hlekweni to close down would be a serious abdication of duty by the government and it is our hope that the authorities will be jolted into action immediately.
A new financing model could be developed to ensure that the centre continues to train youths that represent the future of this country.