Writing an article for the African Bush Camps Foundation is not an easy task. How can I accurately convey my experiences during the last four weeks in Zimbabwe?
I suppose the best place to start is by saying that I am not ready to leave.
I arrived in Dete, a remote township on the edge of the Hwange National Park four weeks ago. I am a teacher from Australia, and like many of my countrymen before me, decided to travel to Africa to do some volunteer work. But where should I go?
In hind sight, Mambanje Primary School found me.
Mambanje Primary School is rural and isolated. The road in is in very poor condition and the staff, and the vast majority of locals, do not own vehicles. Visiting the closest ‘strip of shops’ is a 2 1/2 hour walk (one way) through the bush. The staff live on site and there are approximately 120 students enrolled. The school facilities include six classrooms, staff accommodation, a staff room, a flag pole, a small parent run community shop, a patch of dirt with a couple of poles for a sports field and a bore which is the main source of water for the school and locals.
As you can imagine, on arrival I was quite overwhelmed. However, on my first and second day in Dete, a women’s health program was being run by Family Life. This cut through my first impressions and I witnessed a school bubbling with life and laughter from the community’s women and children. I felt energised and this feeling continued for the rest of my stay.
As an Australian secondary school Science teacher, working in a primary school was already outside my comfort zone and I was unsure how, or if, I could help. I shouldn’t have been concerned as I quickly discovered ways to contribute to the school community. The days were rapidly filled with a bone rattling journey to school, teaching, building resources, attending sporting events and giggling, along with the students, as I tried to explain how to play games such as ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Beat the Teacher’. Those of you from my generation will know this as ‘Hangman’, we just don’t ‘hang’ a stick figure anymore.
Even though I was surrounded by smiling faces, I could not help but be aware of the signs of poverty. The teachers at Mambanje have a very challenging job with little or no resources to support them. Families struggle to provide three meals a day for their children, let alone pay for school fees, uniforms and all of the trappings that go with education. With so few material
possessions, and no access to things that I take for granted such as electricity and running water, I was surprised at how happy people are. Zimbabweans acknowledge that life is hard, but they do not dwell on it and choose to look for opportunities to improve their fate, or accept what can’t be changed. I learnt a lot.
When I return to Australia, I look forward to hearing from the Mambanje staff about how the Prefects are growing into their roles, if the Rewards Program is working, if the mothers finished the book bags for Grade 0 students, if the students are enjoying having a Wildlife Club and if staff have seen an improvement in literacy through the use of the Happy Readers Program. This program was sourced and funded by the African Bush Camps Foundation. It is hard to recall how I wondered what I could do in my new school just four weeks ago
The staff at Mambanje Primary and the school board, a group of determined and committed parents, are inspiring and amazing. They work tirelessly to improve the school and local community. I was immediately welcomed and involved and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with these dedicated people. Their task to improve educational outcomes is huge.
As I reflect on my experiences in Zimbabwe, I realise that my perception of what is important has changed. I’m aware of how privileged and protected my life is in Australia. Things are easy, safe and comfortable in comparison to the lives of the Zimbabweans I met and worked with.
The challenges in Zim are many and resources scarce. However, despite this reality, my lasting impression is of colour, positivity, strength of mind and body and a determination to see change.
Thank you to African Bush Camps for facilitating this journey for me, and to Sophia for her vision and support. As one of the staff at Mambanje Primary said, ‘She has brought the community to life’.
See the Full Album of Ingrid’s Time at Mambanje