The Matopo Primary School Teacher-to-Teacher project is documented here. It is kindly being supported by ETAS (English Teachers Association Switzerland) and the Roger Federer Foundation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

David Coltart, Minister of Education in Zimbabwe

In the photo below you see me, Cindy Hauert, on the right, on the left Norma Ferguson, a partner in our project, and in the middle David Coltart, a civil rights lawyer who is now the Minister of Education in Zimbabwe. I was very fortunate to be able to meet David during our last visit and get his insights into the state of the education system in Zimbabwe.
Things might seem to be hopeless, but despite the challenges David keeps an upbeat yet realistic view of what can be done given the constraints. There are some good things happening too, and we want to focus on what we can aim for. The gains may seem small, but you have to start somewhere, and every child we can touch with our efforts has a chance he or she wouldn't have without us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Things are moving!

Things are moving on apace! The "Spend a Penny" Project is about halfway there--Norma Ferguson, one of our partners in the project, has reported that the walls are climbing. There has been some rain--never enough, but it's still early days--and the "Teacher Twinning" scheme (pen friends for Matopo region teachers with Swiss teachers) is in place. We still need volunteers to be pen friends. I'm going to be recruiting at the ETAS AGM in Biel in January.
Plans have been laid for a meeting of the committee for GEM--Girls' Empowerment project, which the Federer Foundation will be sponsoring. I'm very excited about this project as it will support girls and give them a chance to continue their education beyond primary level to secondary. The local pilot project is located at one of our cluster schools, Sigiti Primary School, where Eleanor Chiwaka is working hard to promote it. As her Deputy Headmistress, Omina Nalevu, who gave a speech at the last Teachers Workshop Day put it, "These girls must have a chance to go on to secondary school. Otherwise (to put it bluntly), they will be pregnant in a short time."
There are plans being laid by Norma and Chris Ferguson and Denis and Sandy Paul to obtain materials for refurbishing the shabby classrooms and furniture, starting with painting the blackboards. Those of you who are spoilt by IWB can laugh, but for these schools having a pristine black surface upon which to write notes is a real luxury. We plan to furnish text books for the schools this year too, but the blackboard is and will remain an important tool for these teachers.
For my Swiss readers, I hope to see you in Biel for the English Teachers' Association annual meeting, where I will be presenting an update with slide show. For those who can't make it, I'm posting some photos from the Teachers' Workshop Day in October 2009.
Please let me know if you enjoy these posts--a short comment is very welcome!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Teachers Workshop Day, October 3, 2009

We've just returned from our trip to Zimbabwe--the Teachers Workshop Day on the 3rd of October was exhilarating, soulful and very motivating. You'll be pleased I'm sure to know that I finally got delivery of the parcels--just in time! The only thing missing was 50 erasers--inexplicable, since there were more valuable things in there, but anyway, not tragic.
On the following Monday we made a tour of the other schools in the region which will be part of the expanded project, thanks to the financial support we're getting from the Roger Federer Foundation. The conditions in all of the schools is as dismal as Matopo Primary was in the beginning, with broken windows, 3 to 4 kids sharing dilapidated desks meant for 1 or 2 children, cracked blackboards, a lack of toilets and clean water. But I am always amazed at the discipline, motivation and eagerness to learn and teach that I see every time in Zimbabwe. They may be dressed in rags, but the children stand up straight, look you in the eye and smile! The teachers' pride in what they can accomplish against all odds is humbling and inspiring.
As you may know, I'm trying to recruit teachers here to be pen friends with Matopo teachers. At the Teachers Workshop Day, the queue to sign up for a Swiss pen friend stretched the whole length of the room! Please get in touch with me if you would be interested in corresponding with a Matopo teacher. You needn't be a primary school teacher to take part--everyone is welcome--you don't even have to be from Switzerland.
I've gotten cannier about which activities work well at these Workshops. In previous Workshops, I have always used the idea of stories, especially folk tales, as a springboard for many games and activities. This time we acted out, translated and drew illustrations from some Ndebele tales which some teachers from Matopo had prepared in advance for the Workshop. It was wonderful! I also used a version of one of my favourite childhood stories, "Stone Soup", and it was great fun.
Stay tuned for more developments and please encourage us by leaving a short comment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

slow progress, ETAS SIG Day

Well, the parcels are still sitting in customs in Bulawayo, but some small progress has been made. Several people have initiated action to help us liberate the goods, and with any luck, I will have my materials for the next Teachers Workshop Day on October 5! Please cross your fingers!

We held our annual SIG (Special Interest Group) Day in Basel last Saturday. I gave a short presentation about our project, including the exciting news about the Federer Foundation support. I introduced my "Teacher Twinning" Scheme as well, and have already got a handful of interested teachers to partner with Matopo teachers. I think this could be the start of something big!

If anybody would like to participate in this please get in touch with me. It would mean so much to the teachers in Zimbabwe, and would certainly also be an enriching experience for you.

I'll probably have time for one more update before we leave for Africa on September 27. Lots to do until then--looking forward to it, to say the least!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A blow

Just when we finally get a breakthrough, the bill comes in, literally.

My husband Peter and I spent long days collecting donated materials, books and other things in preparation for our next visit in October, when I'll be giving the third annual Teachers Workshop Day, a much-anticipated event. Packing, weighing, sorting and lugging the boxes to the Post Office. Paying over CHF 1,300.00 to send 200 kilos of goods. But, I kept telling myself it's all worth it to see the looks on the faces of the teachers and kids when the lovingly prepared items are distributed.

To my amazement the parcels arrived in good time--only 7 weeks.

Now for the blow: Zimbabwe Customs has decided in their wisdom to charge a tariff based not only on the value of the donated items (which is actually less than US$100)but also on the cost of the air freight! 40%!!! HUH?????? We don't get it either, but it's going to cost us US$500 just to get the goods into the country.

I'm convinced this is a rip-off and nothing short of highway robbery--in the end, they are only stealing from their own people, as the money I'll have to shell out would otherwise have gone for things for the schools and the children.

It's one thing when bandits rob you at gun point and take your car. But when the government officials do so too? Rule of law? It's badly missing in Zimbabwe.

The really unfortunate thing is that I will certainly not be sending any more materials to the school--not like that! And who misses out?

Innocent children, hard-working teachers, and parents who are sacrificing everything so their children can get an education.

Some people should be really ashamed of themselves.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Amazing news!

We just got the most amazing news!
The Roger Federer Foundation is going to sponsor our project at Matopo Primary School!!!
This will give us the opportunity to do so many things we just couldn't afford before--for the next three years at least, we can build on our small beginning in a truly meaningful, sustainable way.
I'm over the moon!

Please help me celebrate this wonderful news by posting a comment!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

little victories

Although the situation in Zimbabwe is far from clear, we have achieved some little victories. The "Spend a Penny" project, which is going to rebuild the Blair toilets at Matopo Primary School, is finally getting started. Thanks to so many kind people who listened and took action, we have managed to accumulate the necessary funds to repair the toilets.
This may seem trivial to those of us who walk into a room with a clean flush toilet, spend our pennies and walk away without a thought, but for the children and teachers it is a big relief to have decent facilities to get them through the school day!
I am presently collecting ideas and materials for the next Teachers Workshop Day which will be held on October 3, 2009. Thanks to the Internet, I have made contact with some really interesting people who do similar work in developing countries, such as Bill Templer, who gave me some excellent tips on activities which don't need much in the way of resources. Bill is a member of IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and in the Global Issues SIG (Special Interest Group).
My summer "holiday" will partly be spent on preparing the activities for the next workshop. This will be fun now that I have so many good ideas!
The ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland) link will always show the latest article about the project. I hope you will be interested.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

struggling on

The letters from Matopo Primary School which I recently received paint a gloomy picture. 98%--that’s right—of Zimbabwean schools have shut down in the face of overwhelming disasters including economic collapse, the wide-spread cholera epidemic and starvation. Inflation has been estimated at over a quadrillion percent. A single egg costs $35 billion. News that forex is now being accepted and circulated may or may not be good news. Most people haven’t got any money of any kind.

Mind-boggling numbers, indeed. But the situation at Matopo Primary School is not entirely hopeless. Thanks to ETAS support, morale there has faltered but not disappeared. Patson Mpofu, the Deputy Headmaster, thanked us effusively in his letter for the materials we collected and shipped to the school last year (they particularly admired the T-shirts with phonetic symbols donated by OUP!) and expressed his gratitude for my facilitation of the second Teachers’ Workshop Day which took place on October 6th. Incredibly, Matopo is still fully staffed with teachers eager to begin the new term, despite the fact that there was no electricity or water.

From Patson: “Thanks for taking your precious time to be with us—helping us, encouraging us and uplifting our spirits…we remain hopeful. We will not give up!” As I read these lines I must confess they are blurred by the tears which well up in my eyes. Patson also had these words to say about my husband, Peter, who took the marvellous photos some of you saw at the AGM in Chur and acted as my assistant and general dogsbody at the Matopo event: “Thanks to Peter your precious, handsome, kind, fatherly husband. He is …a living legend…”. This praise has swelled Peter’s head to unbearable proportions but its sincerity is not in doubt!

How can I get discouraged in the face of such courage? So I’m determined to go forward with the project and not let Patson, the other teachers and the children down.

In concrete terms, here is what I’m hoping to achieve this year:

Spend a penny?

The entire school infrastructure has been badly in need of a total overhaul for years, but the most critical area at the moment is the repair and re-building of the “Blair” toilets. For those who may not be acquainted with this style of loo, a “Blair” toilet is an outdoor cubicle which shelters, not to put too fine a point on it, a hole in the ground. Surprisingly, if properly maintained Blair toilets are quite effective at doing the job and not at all disgusting—I can personally attest to that. (In any case, flush toilets of the type we take for granted would be impossible in the arid climate of the Matopos.) The Blair toilets at Matopo Primary School were badly damaged in torrential storms a couple of years ago—it’s either deluge or drought in this part of the country—and I’ve been anxious to tackle this project for some time. The problem is that even amidst all of the administrative chaos so prevalent now in Zimbabwe it’s always possible that some civil servant could get wind of this state of affairs (sorry!) and come along and close down the school due to a lack of adequate facilities for the number of pupils. So re-building the Blair toilets is at the top of my list of priorities this year.

Team up with and sponsor a Matopo Primary School teacher

Another brainwave I’ve had concerns teacher training and support. I hope to continue with the annual Teachers’ Workshop Days, but while these events have done a tremendous amount of good they’re still only once a year. The fact that the teachers are left for the rest of the year without direct support has always bothered me, and I was discussing this recently with Brigitte Zulauf, an ETAS member and friend of mine, when we came up with a brilliant idea: long-distance teacher training by “twinning” a Swiss teacher with a teacher from Matopo Primary School.

Many people have approached me at ETAS events and asked how they could get more directly involved in the project. Here’s your chance to do that! The idea is that a teacher here in Switzerland would volunteer to partner with a Matopo teacher with whom he or she would set up regular correspondence in order to exchange teaching ideas, stories, poems, and so on. The teachers at Matopo would be very grateful to receive worksheets and other materials to help them with their teaching, and the Swiss teacher would surely gain some insights from reading about the experience of teaching in Zimbabwe.

If you’d like to take it a step further, ETAS member Jane Coughlin has proposed the idea of sponsoring a teacher. A teacher at Matopo Primary School should get $US 50.—per month, a paltry enough sum which they have not received now in many months. The government is broke (except when it comes to lavishing extravagant goodies upon themselves, naturally). Until that situation changes, if you would like to sponsor a teacher’s salary for $US600.—per year it would be an enormous help. Of course, you can both be a teacher’s “twin” and sponsor him or her as well! I plan to do some recruiting for this endeavour at the SIG Day in Basel, but in the meantime if you’re interested in participating in this project please get in touch with me. (

I’m a bit concerned that our current economic crisis may distract us from remembering that there are places where life has been a struggle for survival for countless years. But I do hope that our commitment to Matopo Primary School will not weaken despite our own difficulties, which are, truth be told, very small compared to those in Zimbabwe. I’d like to thank all of you for your continued support for this very worthy project, in particular ETAS member Fay Rogers and her husband Raymond, who encouraged me to submit a proposal to the company where Raymond works, Cargill International S.A.. The company donated $1.000.--!

Just what the toilets at Matopo Primary School need!

Thursday, April 2, 2009


The school is finally open--and a really exciting new project is taking place. It's a Pony Club, sponsored by our friend Sandy Paul, whose rescued horses are what brought me to Matopo in the first place.
What Sandy is doing is called Equine Assisted Education, and it's a lot more than just bouncing around a ring on a pony. Sandy's goals include teaching the children about how to care for animals, how to understand how they think, and at the same time developing the children's skills in team work and taking responsibility.
It's a marvellous undertaking and I'm so happy that the children at Matopo have this chance to participate. They deserve this and so much more!
Things are still very unsettled in Zimbabwe and as the world drags its heels in response, speaking for myself I'm very proud to be able to help these small initiatives in a small way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

...and still not open

Things were finally looking positive for school opening when last week's tragic accident threw the country into grief. Everyone is still in a state of shock.
However, it does seem now that Matopo will finally open its doors this coming Monday, nearly a month later than they hoped. News from Patson Mpofu paints a depressing picture of uncertainty and frustration, but as always he remains as determined as ever to stay the course and not let the children down.
There are a few rays of hope--ETAS is continuing with the project for this year, and I and my husband Peter are starting to plan our next trip to Zimbabwe. If all goes well, we will hold the third Teachers' Workshop Day on October 5th. It is already being eagerly anticipated by the Matopo teachers and those from the surrounding schools who took part last year!
Sandy Paul has also organized a Pony Club for some lucky Matopo children. Their first session will be next Monday. They are all looking forward to learning how to ride, care for the horses and have some fun at the same time. I'm so glad I can also support this endeavour by helping Sandy out with the costs for feeding and caring for her herd of 14 rescued horses.
If you're an ETAS member, watch for my article which will shortly be appearing in the Spring Journal.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

still not open

Matopo Primary School is still not open--nor are any of the schools in the Matopo area. They were due to open a couple of weeks ago, but there are many problems. One is that the teachers have not been paid for several months, and also not received any compensation for the time they put it at the voting polls last spring. They have also not been given anything for the time they spent checking the exams taken at the end of the last term.
Of course, even if they had been paid, the money is worthless anyway.

Another worry is that the cholera which has caused so many deaths in the rest of the country has not yet come to Matopo. There are concerns that when teachers and pupils from contaminated areas return to Matopo they will bring the dreaded disease with them.

A parcel I sent to the school last December 18th finally arrived last week! I had just about given up all hope.

Travelling in Zimbabwe now is getting dangerous--we heard reports of banditry along the way from Beit Bridge, which is where we usually cross into Zimbabwe from South Africa. Going to have to find another route this time...

I'm working on getting some corporate support for the project--as generous as the English Teachers Association has been, the funds raised so far just keep the school from drowning. For serious projects, more money is needed. Any ideas out there?


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

School opens on a difficult note

Most schools in Zimbabwe have closed, due to lack of resources, including teachers, many of whom have fled the country in the face of the present hardships.

An exception is Matopo Primary School, where Patson Mpofu, the Deputy Headmaster, and Newman Ncube, the Headmaster, are determined to stay the course. Thanks to the donations of the English Teachers' Association of Switzerland and other generous benefactors, the school is better off than the majority of schools there--they have books, materials, and 9 teachers.

What they don't have is electricity, needed not to run the non-existent computers or even lights, but the water pump. Denis Paul, our friend who has helped so much in keeping things going at Matopo, has promised to try and help out with that problem. Denis is also organizing a food package to tide the teachers and their families over--they have not been paid for many months.

The infrastructure in the whole country is breaking down. What you read in the newspapers and hear on the news about cholera and the crippled health care system is all true, and phone lines and the post are also providing very sporadic service.

What is so frustrating for me is that during my teacher training workshops there I was able to observe how well-trained and competent the teachers are. If only they had the means to do their jobs, the education system in Zimbabwe could once again be the best in Africa. The will is there, the motivation is there. People outside the country are willing to support those professionals and help those kids.

Why can't it happen?

Monday, January 19, 2009

a little good news

For the English Teachers' Association of Switzerland event in Chur this past weekend, I prepared a short presentation of the project which included pictures and even a recording of children singing! I had a wonderful time preparing the show and the response was overwhelming! So many people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it and asking how they can get more involved.

There are many ways to help out. For example, if you are a teacher, you could create a lesson about the problems in Zimbabwe and get your pupils to write letters to the children there. The address is:

Matopo Primary School
P. Bag T 5391

You could also collect school materials and send them to the school--pencils, pens, drawing materials and so on are very welcome. So far the shipments we have made have all arrived intact, although it can take up to six weeks.

You could also collect money for the project--let me know if you would like to do this--I can help with advice about that.

If you are a primary school teacher, I would be delighted to get some ideas from you about your favourite lessons which don't need any materials or infrastructure, stories, games and so on. These can be sent to the school and are very much appreciated!

Thank you all so much for your kind words and support. We collected over Sfr. 3,000.-- for the project in Chur! That's a record!

I'd love to hear from you
best wishes

Thursday, January 8, 2009


As things drag on and nothing good seems to happen to bring a glimmer of hope, it's all too easy to feel like giving up!
However there are a few people who regularly read this blog, and some of them even leave nice messages--thank you all for that.
You have doubtless read and heard the news about Zimbabwe recently--cholera, which Mugabe denies even exists, desperate people clogging the borders as they try to obtain a few meager bags of corn meal, stalemate on the so-called agreement between the ruling party and the opposition--the list goes on and on.
In Europe and the US people are understandably focussed on our own economic woes. At the risk of seeming moralistic, our problems are nothing compared to those of the teachers and kids at Matopo Primary School--indeed, everyone in Zimbabwe has to suffer hunger, disease and dangers that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
Please, spare a thought for those who are undeservably much worse off than we are.
School term should have started, but I am sure that most schools in Zimbabwe won't open. Matopo Primary School is one of the lucky ones--as long as they continue to get our support.

best wishes