It has been a while since I talked about some of my own recollections from over 30 years ago, but every now and then, something triggers a memory or two.
Recently I met someone from a different country who had only been in the UK for a short time. I thought about how they came to be here, what made them travel half way across the world, and how it felt to be in a foreign land for the first time. I remember vividly some of my own thoughts & feelings from January 1989…
For me, it was a choice, a decision I made myself, to apply to VSO and see where it might take me…the idea of doing what I did – teaching abroad – came coincidentally from a Zimbabwean family who I knew.
As a student teacher I became friends with a Zimbabwean musician. and when I first met his sister in around 1986 she asked what I was studying. When I told her, she said ‘Oh you should come to Zimbabwe, we need teachers’. So two years before I qualified the seed was planted about working overseas.
Having got through the VSO selection process in September 1988, and after Sierra Leone and the Solomon Islands decided they didn’t want a newly-qualified teacher, in very early December that year, Zimbabwe accepted me, and VSO matched me with Pakati Secondary School. It turned out to be a near perfect match.
After a delay arriving in Harare due to flight problems, which resulted in a 2-night stsy in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, a small group of new volunteers made it to Zimbabwe halfway through the week, and our in-country training was cut short. We landed on a Tuesday and were all being taken to our schools & colleges that weekend…
I believe we travelled on a Sunday, with two volunteers being dropped before me…one went to Shamva, the other to Mutoko. On the way back to Harare, myself and a serving volunteer who had visited the school before my posting was agreed, were dropped at Pakati just before dusk. I remember feeling as we drove further along a number of dirt roads how remote it seemed…daunting to say the least.
We had to unload the equipment given to me to use – bed, 2-ring gas cooker, a few pots, pans & cutlery, a table & chairs, etc. – then set up what we could before dark. That first night (& several subsequent ones too) I was terrified of EVERYTHING! Every sound was new, I had no idea what a mosquito was like, whether I would wake up to scorpions, or any other creatures, in my room….I don’t remember a lot but I didnt sleep much that night!
I woke up the next day early as the sun was rising, and the other volunteer had to leave for his own school somewhere North of Murewa. I then spent the Monday meeting the other teachers, with the Deputy Mr Nyamauya showing me around the school.
My first thoughts were somewhat less than complimentary…as I wondered what exactly I had let myself in for. But even then I was determined to make the best of the situation. What really helped me was the reaction of the people I met – staff, students and the wider community. They did their utmost to make me feel welcone, helped me settle in, sort out any issues for me, and I was very grateful for it all.
The school was small, around 300 or so students & I think we had 10 or 11 staff. The buildings looked to me to be a bit run down, with doors & windows in need of repair, desks & text books were too few, class sizes mostly too large, equipment generally in short supply. Plus there was no electricity or running water.
Mr Samakomva, the Head, spent the first week taking me out of the school! We went to the District Offices in Murewa and Provincial Offices in Marondera. Passed through Harare more than once! I think I spent 1 day at school that first week…..At first, I couldn’t wait to get back to the city. By the end of my first term I couldn’t wait to get back to Pakati! Something had changed: it felt like home, like I belonged there. That feeling has not left me to this day.
Because of that feeling I have become involved once more with Pakati, and now I see similar issues as before…too few resources getting to where they are needed – for the benefit of the students. Still now there are too few desks & books & equipment. Still the teachers need materials to help them teach. There are developments – new buildings, teachers houses, electricity, fencing, the outside of the classrooms have been spruced up as have the paths around the grounds. But if the school is to develop a better learning environment for the students, it needs some help. Our help. To make some improvements will not cost a huge amount, and to bring Pakati – both schools – up to scratch, we are looking for help with 1. Internet, 2. Printers, 3. Security, 4. More IT, 5. Text books, and 6. Desks/seating. Plus the need to freshen up the school buildings interiors too. All of this comes at a cost….
Please help: donate money and/or goods to Pakati schools via the contacts below:
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