**Saturday Star** A blast from the past…

Only very recently I received the following message from Debbie Chadbon….she was a teacher at Pakati who had arrived as I was leaving in 1991. Our paths only crossed a handful of times, but thanks to the efforts of friends, we tracked her down only in the last few weeks. We spoke on the phone, and she finally got round to sending me her story this week. Well worth waiting for, not least for her former students. Enjoy…

Debbie with her Form 4 students in 1992

“I was glad when Chris recently contacted me and told me about this blog. Seeing the photos and reading the news about Pakati School has brought back many fond memories of my time there.

I especially liked reading the profiles of old students, some of whom I knew. It is great to see how the school has developed since I was there – more buildings, more trees and even a car park. I’m happy the school has electricity now and I’m sure the computer donations that Chris organised will be very beneficial.

I taught Science and Maths at Pakati from 1991 to 1993; I arrived as Chris left. I remember everyone being very friendly and welcoming, and I took some time to adjust to living at Pakati, which was very different to what I was used to in England.

I shared a teacher’s house with Mr Veremu, the headmaster, and other teachers. I remember enjoying debates with Mr Veremu on a range of topics. He had the students’ best interests at heart and I was sad to hear that he has passed away.

Mr Mandavala & Mr Veremu

I was surprised at how frequently the teaching staff changed when I was there and I felt I was just getting to know some of them when they moved on. It must have been quite hard for students to adjust to new teachers all the time.

What made my time at Pakati most enjoyable were the students. They were keen to learn and I was impressed with their perseverance under difficult circumstances. It was common for 4 or 5 students to share a text book and a bench; I wonder if this is still the case.

(Authors note: sadly still partly true, as is the situation with desks)

The students were very friendly and I remember lots of smiles and plenty of laughter. Several students helped me paint the map of the world on the classroom wall and I was pleased to see that this has been maintained and re-painted.

Debbie’s map is a popular feature at the school

I remember sports being enjoyed by many students. I helped with the volleyball team and athletics. The interschool competitions were always fun and I loved the singing and dancing which usually accompanied them. I’m glad to see that there is now a girls’ football team which the school didn’t have when I was there. My daughter also plays football and it’s great that there are more opportunities for girls to play the sport now.

I also enjoyed the short plays which students sometimes performed, usually with a safety or health message.

I dug out my old photos and have included a couple here. Hopefully some of the people following this blog will recognise the people in them and maybe themselves.

After I left Pakati I studied for an MSc degree in Public Health in London, and have worked in health related jobs ever since. I taught Health and Social Care for a couple of years and also worked as a health educator visiting schools and other youth services.

After having such a good experience working at Pakati, I decided to work abroad again with VSO, this time with my husband. We lived in Kazakhstan for a year and I worked in public health. For the last 18 years I have worked as a health adviser in a clinic supporting people with HIV and other sexual health issues.

I live in England with my family, and have 2 daughters, aged 15 and 17. I have often talked about Zimbabwe with my daughters; school life at Pakati is certainly very different to what they have experienced.

Debbie with her famiky

My husband knows Pakati as he came to visit me when I was living there. Maybe one day we will have the opportunity to visit it as a family. Reading Chris’s blog and hearing about some of the people I knew at Pakati has certainly rekindled my interest in visiting Zimbabwe again. My over-riding memory is of the warmth, kindness and acceptance shown to me by the people I met at Pakati.”

Authors comments:

Reading through Debbie’s story it seems to be similar to my own….the contrast between our experiences at Pakati and our lives in the UK, the feeling of ready acceptance from the community, the lifelong memories we have…speaking for myself, the culture shock is not from going to somewhere like Pakati – you expect it to be different, that’s part of why I went there – I felt it more profoundly on coming home & seeing my own society through a different lens. I still do to some extent, especially after a visit to Zimbabwe. It is simply a fact that Pakati holds a very special place in my life for so many reasons, & it will remain with me as long as I live.

Watch out for a new Saturday Star this weekend…

Two Pakati Secondary school staff from 1992
Mr Mandavala (Deputy Head) & Mr Veremu (Head)

The picture above was taken, and sent to me, by a fellow Maths Teacher (she also taught Science), who came to Pakati in August/September 1991. She has sent me a brief account of her time at Pakati, and I hope she will add more to the blog in the near future. This Saturday will see her story posted on the blog

I don’t remember Mr Mandavala as he must have joined the school after I left. I do remember Mr Veremu however…he joined in January 1991 as a newly qualified teacher. As he was the only other fully qualified teacher at the time, I decided to train him up to replace me as Acting Head after I left in September that year.

His family kindly invited me to his Graduation, and he moved with ease from graduate to teacher to Acting Head in 6 months. I learned he stayed for some years at Pakati, but I waas sad to learn he had passed away. He is well remembered by former staff & students alike

View of the visit and what is coming soon…

Bothwell, my host and guide, gives his view on the recent visit…but for myself I just saw it as a homecoming, getting the chance to reminisce about my time at Pakati.

“Having taught at Pakati school in the late 80s and part of early 90’s, Chris has been one of the easiest guests for me to host, as l had offered him my car and services throughout the duration of his trip. Difference in culture, food, climate and language could have had posed a major challenge to host, but his adaptability and ability to mix and mingle with people from different social backgrounds were no drawback. Lest we forget that it’s the community that he lived in during those previoysly mentioned years. “

An appreciating community
“Having worked with Chris for years, the Pakati schools community in particular and Murewa inhabitants in general know him, and are aware of his determination. The level of underdevelopment in the area was not a deterrent when he first came to Pakati. Conspicuous was a rapturous welcome he received when he stopped by the school sign post for a photo. The inhabitants from houses near came out to welcome and greet him as one of their own. The feelings were spontaneous while the smiles and exchange of laughter were natural. Chris remains in people’s mind as they do in his. “


Brought District to a standstill
“The occasion celebrating the donations brought the whole district to a standstill, all people who are at executive management level in the district graced it. I had the privilege to have first hand information on all that was happening. Most of the people we met had genuine expressions of warmth, and we received some tokens of appreciation, while others invited us for breakfast and just a mere chat. Notable among these were the councillor for ward 14 who invited us to his house and he gave us a hen: in African culture if a visitor is given a hen you would have been given a special welcome. The MP we have was interacting with people from his constituency in such a friendly manner. A memorable occasion.”

COMING SOON….

A very special guest is busy preparing her own memories of life at Pakati….I am sure it will bring back many happy memories for those who know/knew her. I hear she is mapping out her article as I write this….

Friends of Pakati…

…was set up for one sole purpose: to help improve the development of education at the two Pakati schools, namely the Primary and Secondary. By extension, the local community should also benefit from these developments. The original intention to provide IT equipment has been partially delivered, and the promise of further equipment would mean the schools would then be able to introduce IT lessons formerly, helping them meet Ministry requirements in terms of how the Curriculum should be delivered.

The project came about through discussions with the Secondary school Head, but from the beginning, the local community and staff from both schools have been deeply involved, providing information, stories, pictures, profiles, ideas, thoughts, comments. It has been via facebook, twitter, Whats App messages, with contributions as well from former students from before, during and after my time at Pakati being significant contributors.

The author is nothing more than the conduit for the donations to the project, ensuring it meets the stated aim of assisting the development of the two schools. He does not do this for any personal gain, or glory, nor does he consider himself a hero, just an ordinary person trying to give something back to a community he served 30 years ago, and who he remains ever grateful to them for their ongoing support.

More recently, the project has come to the attention of the local councillor, District Council and local MP, all of whom have been tremendously supportive.

One person who has been perticularly supportive is my host and friend, Bothwell Riside. He sent a long message intended for publication, but given the current circumstances which will become clear, I have decided only to quote a short section (apologies to Bothwell):

Events and the aftermath (referring to the handover ceremony recently)
“I had the privilege to have first hand information on all that was happening. We had a couple of trips to the capital city as well as some time out to meet friends and relatives in Murewa, Marondera and Harare. Most of the people we met had genuine expression of love, and we had several tokens of appreciation while others invited us for breakfast and just a mere chat. Notable among these were the councillor for ward 14 who invited us to his house and he gave us a hen. In African culture if a visitor is given a hen you would have been given a special welcome. The MP also met us at the Rainbow hotel. What an MP we have who could interact with people from his constituency in such a friendly manner.”

“Sadly I don’t rule out the existence of people who might have had their own agendas, some for their personal benefit. We have an incident of some individual(s) who we believe are threatening us in one way or the other, putting the whole project in danger. We are dealing with it in whatever ways we can. “

Generous words from Vatonatsa Foundation, a local non-profit organisation…

From Vatonatsa Foundation:

Owing to the philanthropic work we do to promote empowerment of children in rural areas, particularly Murewa Ward 14, I got an invite to follow a blog titled “friendsofpakati “ by Alderman Israel Maliki, Councillor of the Ward.

Holly, Bothwell, Councillor Maliki, the Author, and Vari

I am an avid reader so I did not hesitate to click on the link shared, and that as my first time learning about Chris Walker and the initiative he started in order to pull together donations to bring to Pakati Schools in Murewa.

In order for my side of the story to make sense let me introduce myself and what I do, so that the followers of the blog can understand how Chris’ visit to Pakati Schools in September through to October 2019 had such a positive impact on me, my organization, friends and community.

My name is Varaidzo. I am an Accountant by profession but due to a calling that resonates so well in my heart, which is to empower children in underprivileged circumstances, I am the Development and Founding Director of VaTonatsa Foundation – a non profit making organization in Zimbabwe.

Our organization is still in its infancy stage and currently we pay fees for children from impoverished backgrounds, asupporting them with school supplies which we can just summarize as financial support. We believe that it’s not enough to give someone fish everyday but it’s more important to teach them how to catch fish, so we do Development programs in the community in order to help the children earn a living. For example we just started a Moringa Farming project at Mapanga Primary School in Murewa Ward 14. We offer psycho-social support, and community development is one of our key focus areas.

Alderman Maliki invited me to follow the blog where I soon learnt of Chris’ upcoming visit to Murewa, so I confirmed that I would gladly attend the presentation ceremony on Friday 27 September because I believe that anyone who is generous enough to bring development, in this case ICT development, deserves support and acknowledgment.

I got in touch with my neighbor and close friend Holly to invite her on the trip to Pakati Schools and she gladly agreed. Holly is also a philanthropist at heart, she sometimes volunteers on projects that we do at VaTonatsa Foundation, but she is also in the process of registering her own charity initiative, whose aim is to empower girls and women in rural Africa. We also got in touch with Dr Bothwell Riside the Chairman of Pakati Old Students Association, who also happened to be Chris’ host and right hand man on the trip, in order to see what we could also bring to make the reception ceremony fun.

We arrived at Pakati Schools at Midday and met Chris for the first time in person. We also met members of staff such as Mr Chifaka the current Headmaster of Pakati Secindary School. We had the privilege to meet several other delegates such as Member of Parliament Honorable Sewera, Councillors from the District and the Chief Executive Officer of Murewa Rural District Council, who had come to witness and share in their excitement to receive the gifts that Chris brought, namely 8 desktop computers, two laptops and sports kits.

The vibe at the Schools was exciting because in Africa when we celebrate a good thing, we do so in full style. Students also presented poetry and speech in appreciation of what Chris had done for the schools. It was exciting to hear about the fundraising initiatives that he did such as a sponsored walk he went on with his son. I felt grateful to learn that he also got the main donations of computers from the supportes of this project.

We shared a heartwarming meal prepared by the staff and parents at Pakati school. In Shona culture they say “Ukama igasva unozadziswa nekumwa” which translated to English means “All meaningful relationships should be celebrated with a hearty meal to make them long lasting and fruitful “.

Holly in deep discussion with the Author during the meal at Pakati

We made an instant connection with Chris because he is such an easy-going and humble person, so after the Murewa visit it was my pleasure to host him and Bothwell at my home in Harare for breakfast, together with my friend Holly who is also my neighbor. We managed to reflect on Chris‘ visit and in the process discussed possibilities of partnering in future on other Developmental issues for the benefit of Pakati Schools and Murewa community as a whole. We look forward to working with Chris on areas that we discussed and more.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who helped to make Chris’ vision for Pakati community come to life, especially the project backers and everyone who paid something into the gofundme account. I believe that all these people are not only friends of Chris but they are True “friendsofpakati” and it is my prayer that together we will develop the community in order to create a bright future for the children . To Chris I say thank you so much. Keep the vision alive, I absolutely love your work. They say there is so much joy in giving and I believe you have joy from all that you are doing.

Vatonatsa Foundation at work at Mapanga Primary school, Muerwa

Pakati – latest news…

The author has had some interesting news this week… a former student writes:

“I was speaking to the Head about how the computers arrived, how the sports shirts came to be there….”

“He was also talking about a new development – possible introduction of Adult IT classes for the community. I take this as a new and noble idea. It will help our elders to get the opportunity to learn about computer technology…”

“The discussions went on to the internet…the Head says it will be organised soon with help from the SDC (School Development Committee).”

Regarding the surprise promised on the previous blog post….there are a couple of things being discussed with several people. Not sure how they will be recieved, but you cant keep everyone happy, can you? The pic below is just a small hint of something…..

A chance to look back on things…..plus maybe a surprise to come

Having been back home for nearly 2 weeks now, I thought it would be useful to look back at what has been achieved, what more there is to do, and where http://friendsofpakati.com can go from here.

The visit to Pakati went incredibly well, beyond my wildest dreams. From the moment I arrived and started to unpack the donated goods, the welcome I received just blew me away. The computers & sports equipment were very well recieved at both Pakati schools. The official handover of the donations was a wonderful occasion, enjoyed by all present. The installation of the computers at both schools was an exciting time, not least for the students who were invited to trial lessons.

What I feel we achieved is not as much as I had originally planned, but the fundraising has been the main limiting factor. It started out as a plan to use one of the charity organisations who get used IT equipment from businesses and individuals, clean them up, instal software and then offer them to be shipped to schools in Africa. The costs of sending a large number (50+) proved too much. However, the offer of a donation from the Stephenson Group from Leeds, came about through a radio interview I did.

This lead me to look at other donations, but mostly of money. The more I raised, the more I could look for additional equipment, through local second hand computer/phone shops close to home. I picked up an extra PC, 2 laptops, 5 monitors, cables, muliti-plug sockets. Then, the largest individual cost, the transport of the goods from my home to Pakati.

The next thing we would like to get organised is internet access to the schools, via satellite due to the schools’ location. Following on, as I understand it, there are more computers to be donated. They will also need more monitors, cables etc., and of course transportation.

Where do we go from here? Well the fundraising needs to get moving again, so any ideas or suggestions about what we can do would be welcome. friendsofpakati@gmail.com or http://facebook.com/Friends-of-pakati or http://twitter.com/friendsofpakati to let us know your thoughts. It is possible we can collaborate with other organisations such as Vatonatsa Foundation, or look to discussions with others about how best to continue.

Finally, a possible surprise – I am waiting to hear from someone else who has fond memories of Pakati…hopefully they will be willing/able to provide some extra ideas, maybe practical help for the blog. More next time!