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.

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!