Rural schools get lease of life

Four years ago children in the Chidamoyo rural area spent their days foraging for food or struggling to make the 30km round trip to the nearest school in the area to learn how to read and write.

New desks provided by the ZRSDP.
New desks provided by the ZRSDP.

Now, 351 children have a brand new school with the luxury of an actual classroom to learn in, textbooks and qualified teachers. This has all been made possible by the dedication of a handful of ex-teachers who set up a charity in the UK to raise money to improve the educational prospects of children in deprived rural areas. In the past 10 years, the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Development Programme, has raised more than £117,000, which has been invested in seven rural schools across the country, helping more than 1,000 children gain a vital education.

From humble beginnings, the charity now aspires to raise more than £50,000 a year to invest in Zimbabwe's most deprived rural schools. As well as providing vital text books and organising donations of computers through corporate sponsorship, the charity also focuses on providing schools with proper infrastructure so children have a good learning environment.

Diverse projects

The ZRSDP has been involved in a number of projects, including helping rebuild Mpane Primary School near Bulawayo which was completely destroyed by a vicious storm in 2008. They are also working with another charity to provide funds to Mpumelelo secondary school which is 150km outside of Bulawayo and in desperate need of rebuilding and text books. But, the biggest project the charity has been involved in is building a new school in Makowe, 300km North West of Harare.

One of the committee members, Justin Hess, visits the projects often with his wife Nikki to make sure they are staying on track.

“When we started working with that community, there was no school there. The parents were desperate. Some of the children were walking to a school 30km away, which is outrageous.”

Since 2008, the charity has built one classroom block, accommodation for teachers and it is just about to finish the second classroom block. At first there were 50 children attending the school. There are now 351. It costs $20,000 to build and kit out a classroom block. To minimise costs, the charity makes sure the local community are fully involved in planning the project and helping construct the buildings.

The charity aims to involve members of the local community in all aspects of the building work.
The charity aims to involve members of the local community in all aspects of the building work.

In Makowe, the villagers all pitched in to make bricks, transport sand to the building site and help out with their time and labour.

“When my wife and I visited the school we were blown away by how much having it there meant to the community. Every single parent and child came to the school to see us to say thank you. Just one classroom block made a phenomenal difference. For the first time, these kids had a roof over their heads and could learn off a chalkboard with text books. Before this, they were using rocks to draw on the ground, there was no running water and teachers would only stay for a term because there was nowhere for them to sleep. We realised there was so much more that we could do.”

Teacher training

As well as fixing the water pump and building teachers’ accommodation, the charity has started a teacher training programme to attract better qualified teachers to the area.

“We are looking at getting five teachers from every school and putting them into a week-long course to give them skills they can use in the classrooms and pass along to their colleagues,” explained Hess.

In addition, the charity are also giving the local communities skills to help them in the future. When the charity visited Makowe in September 2009, they realised that one of the biggest problems preventing the children from getting to school was hunger. Their parents did not have enough food for more than one meal a day and many of the children spent their time foraging for food. The charity organised enough maize to be delivered to the community to see them through to the next harvest. They also arranged for three days of specialised training for the subsistence farmers to help them maximise their yields.

More than 300 people turned up at the specialised training provided by the charity Foundation for Farming. The overwhelmed community donated much of their extra harvest that year to the local hospital in gratitude and are now able to feed themselves and their children, as well as sell extra produce to get an income.

The charity is also now focusing on making all of their projects sustainable so, eventually, the local communities will be responsible for supporting the schools in their areas.

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