**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.

Author:

My name is Chris Walker, and between January 1989 and September 1991 I worked, through VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), at Pakati Secondary School in Murehwa South district in Zimbabwe. I was a Maths teacher for 2 years, the Acting Head for the last 8 months there. I have also taught in Botswana & the UK, had 4 years working for VSO, and spent the last 13 years as a Civil Servant in Bradford. I married a Zimbabwean woman & we have 2 sons.

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