Last week one of our partners Liz Bentley from Sorrento Australia visited Mambanje and spent three days at the school and in the community. Sheila Hammer from the USA had expressed interest in visiting Mambanje and she joined us for the 3 days and she will hopefully come back and volunteer for a month at the school in the next few weeks, which is greatly exciting for the Foundation and Mambanje Community. It is always so moving to find someone else who has a passion and heart for these children.
The SDC (School Development Committee), teachers and village heads were all present to give Liz a warm welcome and update on everything that has happened in the two years since her last visit in 2014. We also talked through the current projects and some of the challenges they currently face. They then gave Liz a tour of the school and projects, including the Mobile Cattle Boma, a program we began in March this year and has been extremely successful in the community, not only with meeting certain needs for their livestock but also in bringing people together.
On Tuesday we spent most of the day in the classrooms with the children, we started reading with the grade 0, 1 and 2 class in the new school library on some second hand carpets a friend had donated. We used puppets, songs and actions to involve the children. We also had the older students read to us. A reading program and general reading culture is one of the main aims of the library. Another friend who runs a pre-school in Bulawayo donated a large box of art supplies and we did some painting and crafts with the Grade 4, 5’s and 6’s which was fun for us all, the kids walking home proudly with their elephant masks on at the end of classes that day.
We have recently put a lot of resources into reviving the Conservation Club at the school and we spent an hour with them, going through some nature booklets. The children then showed us what they had learned so far and gave us a tour of the school’s nature corner, a project which is judged in all schools in the area and a big event in the school’s calendar each year.
The children then put on some drama and poetry for us, performing with amazing joy and confidence.
Wednesday morning we went out to the fields where one of the mobile cattle boma’s was due to be moved – we all got stuck in along with the villagers who have their cattle in the boma, took the boma down and carried the poles, ropes and canvas about 1km away to the next field in which it would be erected – a process which is done every 15 days and took us about 2 hours from start to finish.
Our next stop was the building site where Mr Moyo, the building manager and Hydraform expert, is training the community and overseeing the building process. He took his training role very seriously, making us mix our own pile of cement, mixing the sand and clay by hand first, then mixing in the cement and water and making our own bricks. 35 bricks get made from one cement mixture – we all felt our back muscles saying hello to us the next day!
They had made over 8000 bricks when we left and still had an estimated 6000 bricks to make before they start with the foundations which have been dug for the building. The community are all in awe of how quickly the bricks are being made, their size (they weight 12kg each) and how strong they are. Mr Moyo is equipping the community with the skills to use the Hydraform machine for future income generating activities, the community already have 2 orders of bricks for building projects and Mr Moyo himself wants to hire the machine for other future school building projects. This creating a way for the community to be self-sufficient and generating an income to help members care for their families.
In between all of the activities, we spent a lot of time with children in the school yard and classrooms, talking with them, participating in their lessons, them asking Liz and Sheila many questions which was heart warming and really enjoyable for all. The students being so outgoing is something I have never seen them do before and by the third day they had lost all of their shyness.
Some of the major changes and developments that Liz commented on were the children themselves. They all seem so happy, they smile at you, greet you and talk to you, not only answering questions but also asking questions, something they never used to do. They never used to look at you when you greeted them let alone answer you when you spoke to them, due to shyness and a language barrier.
When Liz was last here, we spoke of many challenges and needs which have now been met and of course new ones have arisen in the meantime!
For me it was also humbling and joyous to see the village heads with us the whole time, taking pride and ownership in their school and community. When we first started working with the Mambanje school and community, there used to be great discord amongst the 5 village heads who are responsible for the community and they fall under the regional councillor. They hold all of the power within the community and any decisions need to be vetted by them and they in turn then mobilize the community to carry out their decisions.
A lot of new needs and challenges were discussed, however we are really focused on the need to consolidate the projects which have been started in the community and having these thrive and be successful.
I was really inspired by the visit, as was Liz and she is full of new ideas on how to improve some of the existing projects as well as establishing more links and partnerships with the school and in particular the students. With the students now having computers and access to internet, this is an amazing resource we can use to connect the children and community.
See The Full Gallery Here