We knew it would happen, we kinda planned it that way. We’ve been easing our way into Zimbabwe bit by bit and today is the day it all started to get a bit more real.
We’ve been to one wonderfully kept, staffed and resourced school (private of course), one that needs some help as its just starting out, but has a bright future. Then today was a reminder that people here really do make the most of what they have and do their best when faced with adversity. Today we visited the mysteriously named “Mrs. O”, and far from being a cast member of a Bond movie, she is in fact a sweet, knowledgeable and caring 75 year old lady who runs a day care centre from her own home. Liz Ogilbie is a veteran of the Zimbabwe school system and has seen it at its best, and certainly at its worst and wasn’t alone in her assessment that schools and education in general are at their lowest point in decades. Political appointments to the role of headmaster who know less than I do about teaching kids, has lead to widespread dismissals of amazing teachers who simply refused to lower their standards. Schools can be seen to be profitable businesses here if you play the game right and that game doesn’t include leaving your students with the ability to count or even read properly. Derek Chisora (British boxer of Zimbabwe heritage) made the headlines yesterday as he won his appeal against a driving ban after using the fact that he was taught in the Zimbabwe school system until he was 16, leaving him basically illiterate and unable to check his own documents to see if was covered on the insurance or not. This is how bad it is.
And yet, this amazing 75year old has taken it upon herself to start afresh and teach as best she can, away from the school she had to leave, and offer a great education. The school is called Robin Hood Pre School and takes children as young as 2, all the way up to grade 2.
The facilities, with all the best intentions in the world, are still a little bare. This is the best that can be done for the children, and yet it is in stark contrast to where most who are reading this blog would like to send their own children I’m sure. Thats not to say that doesn’t take care of those under her supervision of course. Mrs. O’s dedication to her children was quickly apparent. It’s just that when you become accustomed a western way of doing things, Africa has a habit of knocking that out of you pretty damn quickly!
We asked what we could do to help and were told that she wanted for very little. Modest to the end, I think we really had to push more than we felt comfortable doing to see what it was that we could do to help. Simple things like the garden swings need painting, some books for the preschool children and perhaps some toys. “Surely there must be something else, no?”
As it turns out, there was often a lack of running water in the house, and therefore in the toilets for the kids. Far from being trivial, that is in fact pretty major! We all take for granted that water coming out of the taps is a basic way of life and to be expected. If you wake up and there is no water in your taps, I know you’ll be thinking: “Ah, their must be some work being done in the street or something, it’ll be back on in a bit” and then go to sofa with a refridgerated drink in your hand and watch the TV. In the week or so since we’ve been here we’ve had exactly zero hot showers, 7 separate power cuts and water has been off more than it has been on, and toilets are “flushed” via a 100ltr container sat in the bathroom with a bucket to scoop water out and into the loo. So the lack of running water to slipping her mind is understandable, its just something that happens here and just part of life.
We’ll be trying to help fit her with a new pump that will bring water up from a borehole and then to the entire building, meaning the toilets will always flush, the children can always wash their hands and there will be no more buckets to carry for grandmother Mrs. O and her staff. It seems the least that we can do under the circumstances, but aside from that, this proud and inspiring lady wanted for very little else and for that we have the utmost respect for her and everything that she’s doing.
Now that we’ve started to have some ideas about what books to buy the various classes and children that we’ve seen this week, we took a trip into Kadoma city again. The market stall selling all your donated clothing wasn’t there today so I was unable to get a photo, but I did get chance to take a look in the ONLY book shop in town. Boasting outside that it was a bookseller and distributor of all types of books for schools, higher study and recreation I expected much, but was brutally let down! I’d seen a better collection of books at a car-boot sale. Some of the “newer” books were still 15 years old, many were so faded and old that they must have been from many a generation ago. All appeared to be 2nd hand, although this wasn’t a second hand store by any means. Some were clearly fake’s and this is a common theme here in Zimbabwe. They have nothing, so when they do get hold of something, they get it straight to the photocopier to make more of it (thats if the electric happened to be on at that point of course!).
Perhaps if this was President Robert Mugabe’s own home town, the situation might be a bit better, but here in Kadoma we had to settle for the fact that the street on which the book shop sat was simply named after him. I’d like to think that if I had a street named after me I might want to make sure that everything on that street was a credit to my name, not an embarrassment. Robert Mugabe Street is, however, home to the ONLY traffic lights in town and I have included again a photo of this beautiful crossroads so that you can really appreciate how well his government has maintained his own road.
In other news, our taxi driver today told us that Mugabe recently went on holiday with an attached cost of a cool 4 million U.S. dollars. Money wisely spent I think you’ll agree when your countries children can’t read, their parents are not paid for their jobs and the nations infrastructure is in pieces all around us.