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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I hope some of you might be interested in this show!

Federers visit to Matopo, plus an interesting event

We have all been very excited in the last couple of weeks, as Robbie and Lynette Federer and Janine Händel, the new CEO of the Federer Foundation, prepared to visit the project.
Our partners on the ground, Denis and Sandy Paul, and Chris and Norma Ferguson, put in a lot of time and effort to make the visit run smoothly, and the school Heads all did their best as well to make sure our guests of honour were made welcome.
I don't have all the details yet, but from what I've heard everything went swimmingly and everybody is very pleased with how the project is going.
A HUGE success story for us!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

News from our latest visit

It may seem strange to many people, but when we have summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter in the Southern one. So when we planned our trip to Matopo in Zimbabwe this summer we had to pack our down jackets and arctic temperature sleeping bags! Africa isn’t always hot, as you will find out if you ever venture there in the months of June and July.

However, everything’s relative, and although temperatures can quickly plunge to below zero the second the sun goes down—which it does amazingly quickly in Africa—during the day you can stroll around in t-shirts and thongs (the footwear, I mean).

I was especially excited about this visit as it was our first one since the Roger Federer Foundation has been supporting our project there. I couldn’t wait to see with my own eyes the progress that’s been made—and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished. We have truly made an impact on so many people’s lives: around 2,000 children, their parents and caregivers, plus 80 teachers, and extending to include the whole community in the school cluster where our project is happening.

The first event was the official grand opening of the row of Blair (“long-drop”) toilets which ETAS contributions built at Matopo Primary School (you may remember the “Spend a Penny” Project I’ve previously written about). With great pomp and ceremony, the day’s programme unfolded including speeches, songs and dancing. I even got to cut the ribbon which had been strung across the neatly made, freshly painted doorways! Since the toilets are for the boys, I didn’t get to try one out myself, but I’m sure they will do their job for many years to come.

Together with my husband Peter and Norma Ferguson, one of our partners on the ground in Matopo, we took the next few days to visit each of the schools in the project. Besides Matopo Primary School, there is now Silobi Primary and Secondary, Sigiti Primary, Dobi Primary, Isotscha Primary, and Lukadzi Primary, 7 schools in all. It was such a pleasure to see the smiling faces of the children, teachers and parents as they proudly showed us the improvements: renewed blackboards, smoothed floors, new window panes, doors with locks, text books and school materials. It hasn’t all gone without a few hitches and glitches, mostly because materials of all kinds are still scarce in Zimbabwe and backlogs on orders have caused a few frustrations. But some teething problems are to be expected and we’re convinced that now with some routines in place things should go more smoothly and efficiently. There are lots of plans in the pipeline, such as refurbishing desks, setting up solar-powered lights at the schools without electricity, and furnishing each school with a laptop, hopefully with internet access wherever possible.

Then it was already time for the BIG EVENT: the fourth annual Teachers’ Workshop Day. This has already become a well-loved and anticipated tradition and speaking for myself, the highlight of our visit. Teachers from a total of 14 local schools attended, 60 in all. As usual, I tried to show them lots of activities that they can use instantly, adapt easily, and which don’t require much in the way of resources except what’s in the teachers’ and pupils’ imaginative minds. A really cool part of the Workshop was the activities on how to use puppets to teach children English. The puppets were made by a local ladies’ sewing cooperative, organized by Norma, and each one is unique and incredibly creative. The teachers got right into it and were spontaneously coming up with their own ideas! The spectacle of one of the burlier male teachers with a frilly pink bunny rabbit puppet on his hand, speaking in a squeaky voice, is one I won’t soon forget. It all went down a treat and the time flew by.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage those of you who are pen friends with a teacher in Zimbabwe not to lose faith in this initiative. I know it has been difficult if not impossible for some of you to keep up regular correspondence, due to the unreliability of the Zimbabwe Postal “services”, the high cost of mailing letters from Zimbabwe, or other problems. But I beg you not to give up: the teachers in Matopo really love the pen friend project and I’m convinced it’s doing some good. If you would like to join your ETAS colleagues in becoming a pen friend, please contact me—I collected another 25 names of potential pen friends in need of a Swiss correspondent at the Teachers’ Workshop Day.

And a very special thanks goes to those of you who are sponsors. Your contributions of 600 francs a year are making a huge difference in the lives of Matopo teachers, whose meagre salaries (US$ 150.00 per month) barely keep their families’ stomachs from shrinking to the size of a walnut. New sponsors always welcome, need I mention…please get in touch with me for more information.

After the Matopo visit my husband Peter and I travelled up into the wilds of Zimbabwe to the Zambezi river valley where we participated in a canoe safari. It was an amazing adventure, filled with up-close encounters with elephants, hippos and crocodiles. We enjoyed it tremendously…but unfortunately brought back a souvenir we could have done without: malaria. Peter became very ill shortly after our return to Switzerland and almost lost his life. He is now slowly recovering, but it was very frightening.

However, we have not been deterred from continuing our work on the Teacher-to-Teacher Project, and are more determined than ever to keep up our spirits and the momentum. We’ll be back!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring update from Norma Ferguson

The Roger Federer Foundation work is moving along, with several of the schools organizing maintenance of their classrooms through the April holidays. It was interesting to see what each school ordered and what they perceived as priorities - from gardening tools to bicycles and solar panels. Some requests we referred to Cindy for approval, but generally it has been exciting to see how each school is progressing. Unfortunately not all orders have been delivered yet as some items, mainly textbooks, are not available at the moment. Hopefully in the next term the schools should have a bumper delivery. We have taken many pictures, but can only include a few as we have difficulty sending bulky emails from here. I will upload more on our facebook page for those who are interested in viewing more.

Silobi High School is the only high school in our area, but it has been great to watch the Headmaster, Mr Moyo, take hold of the project and move forward – quicker than we have been able to deliver in some cases! He has already sent us his 2nd Term order for processing – his enthusiasm is infectious and he has already done so much to improve the school - a man with a vision.

Isotsha Primary School has probably been the most neglected school because of its inaccessible position way out in the hills, along a really bad road. Teachers tremble when they are told they have been posted there and try to find alternate positions as soon as they can. For a long time there has been no bus or transport service to this isolated community and it is a long 2 hour walk to the nearest shops or transport. When they requested a couple of bicycles on their first order it made complete sense. The excitement was great when we delivered them!

New text books are like Easter eggs to a child! Even little Chiedza was excited to check out some of books while we were allocating them to the different schools. It was interesting to hear high praise for the quality and content of the books from our sister-in-law, who is a teacher in Zambia. She felt that generally, the books available in Zimbabwe are of a better quality than those available to her in a private school in Zambia where she is teaching.

I have spoken in previous newsletters about the GEM (Girls Empowerment Movement) Project. A quick recap: the headmistress of Sigiti Primary School has started this project to help orphan and the ‘vulnerable’ girl children with life-skills so they can better cope with the problems they face. Most are living in extended families with grandparents and some, at the tender ages of twelve and thirteen, have the responsibility of looking after younger siblings in child-headed families with no adults around – a situation which is becoming more common in Zimbabwe which has over 1 million orphans. Child abuse statistics are not available, but we know that it is common, particularly in isolated rural communities where help is largely unavailable. GEM has discovered that male children are also suffering abuse and so has recently launched BEM (Boys Empowerment Movement).

We had the privilege of hosting the first GEM camp in our district, at ‘Morning Star’, over the Easter holiday. Twenty six girls, from 13 schools, along with teachers and facilitators a (total of 39 participants), had fun and laughter mingled with serious ‘business’ over the 4 days. We had miserable weather, light rain a lot of the time, which of course ushers in mud and chilly nights – but the teachings and role-plays kept the children busy. On the few nights that it was dry enough to sit around the camp-fire, the singing was something special. The children were between 10 and 13 years old and, in the encouraging, nurturing and supportive atmosphere they found themselves in, were able to share some of their difficult situations. The teachings were really ‘from the hip’ and the facilitators spoke directly into the children’s lives. The usual cultural inhibitions were put aside and the messages the children received were very honest and straight. When the Provincial Education Officer, Mrs Thabela, visited and gave a talk to the girls, she spoke to them from the heart and told them just how unique and special each one of them was. She shared the story of her climb to her present position and encouraged them to never think they were not able to achieve their dreams. What a very special lady she is.

Monday, February 1, 2010


What a wonderful event it was! This last weekend in Biel, the annual general meeting and convention of ETAS, the English Teachers Association of Switzerland took place. Despite blizzardy weather almost 400 people braved the storm to come to Biel.

There were presentations, workshops, publishers' stands, plenary speakers, and a raffle for the ETAS Teacher-to-Teacher project in Matopo Zimbabwe. We collected almost 2,600 Swiss francs! A big thank you to Astrid, the organizer of the raffle, who rounded up top-notch prizes.

I gave a slide show presentation of the current projects we are working on, and half-jokingly challenged members to come with me to Matopo. To my surprise several people came up to me afterwards and earnestly expressed their desire to come and paint blackboards. I might have to think about organizing an ETAS contingent to Africa next year.

If you go to the ETAS website you'll see a nice slide show of the event very shortly.

Thank you to the people who have already volunteered to sponsor a Matopo teacher, and to the newcomers to the sponsorship initiative. I'm truly overwhelmed by the postivive response to this project, especially when you consider that we are not yet out of a recessionish economy and there is no shortage of worthwhile projects in the world...

Schools have opened now in Zimbabwe for the first term. I am sorry to say that things are not looking good. The teachers are supposed to earn $150.00 per month (!) but they don't even always get that. The threat of strike is always present.

I'll be writing a report for the Federer Foundation this month, where at least I'll be able to tell about some little victories. Let's take Roger Federer's Australian victory as a good sign of better times to come.