How did I end up at Pakati?

A recent post on Facebook, and on twitter, by Vari Mayez of VaTonatsa Foundation – – saying “It all began with one September afternoon and now we are here @guiuan03 @friendsofpakati @vatonatsa” just reminded me of how it really started for me….here is the story I posted last May, now as one full story, of how I came to be a teacher in a rural school in Zimbabwe…

It began when I was living in Sheffield really, in early 1984. I was out of work & a bit lost to be honest. A friend of mine told me she thought I would make a good teacher, suggesting I applied for a teacher training course which would start in September that year. She also thought the best way to find out if I would enjoy it would be to volunteer in a local school.

I worked 2 days a week at a Middle school (ages 8-12), for 5 months, supporting a class teacher but also trying some lessons under his guidance. I ended up being invited to join them on a couple of school trips. When it came to the interviews for the course I had some good experiences to draw on, and knew I would enjoy teaching.

I trained at Bradford College, a 4-year B. Ed. (Hons) 1984 to 1988. As a student, I went out with friends, drinking in local bars where there were live bands playing. I watched one particular band often, who had a Zimbabwean bass player called Cecil Zinyuku. I got to know him and his family well. His sister (Dorcas, sadly now late) once asked what I was doing, and when I told her, she said “oh, you should come to Zimbabwe, we need teachers”. The idea was planted in my head…

As I completed the course I started applying for teaching jobs locally, but without success. Another friend thought I hadn’t really tried that hard, thinking I had already decided I wanted to teach abroad …

One weekend as I walked through Bradford city centre I saw a large double-decker bus parked up, with the letters VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) on the side. I had heard of them, so I was intrigued enough to go on board and find out more. I picked up some leafets & an application form. I filled it in & sent it off…this was August 1988. Within a few days I got invited for an interview….this turned out to be a whole day, early in September, with different activites including a 1 – to – 1 interview, brief lesson planning & delivery examples, and group discussions.

Some 10 days later lying in my bed in my flat, I heard the post arrive. I heard a thud hit the floor, and I knew before looking what it was – I had been accepted by VSO. Their letter had lots of information in it, with plans for my pre-departure training. Also by this time I had a temporary job which lasted until the Christmas period of 1988.

Throughout this time VSO were trying to source a job for me. It started with Sierra Leone, but they turned me down as I was a newly qualified teacher. Then it was the Solomon Islands, but that fell through as there was a coup, so no new volunteers would go there for the time being. It got to early December, I had done all the training….I had nowhere to go. Then out of the blue…

….Zimbabwe came to my rescue! I just wanted to go SOMEwhere..I said YES straight away, and things moved very quickly. By early January I was getting everything ready, for a departure from London Heathrow Airport on friday night, 6th January 1989. My parents and some of my friends came to see me off, quite an emotional time I can say….

While I was moving from being a student teacher into a potential VSO volunteer, Mr Samakomva, then Headmaster of Pakati Secondary school, was approaching VSO at their office in Harare to ask for a new Maths teacher for the school.

There was an arrangement between VSO and the Zimbabwean Government, specifically the Ministry of Education. Schools could request a teacher from the UK if they could meet a basic standard of accommodation.

VSO staff would visit the school more than once before agreeing to send a volunteer there, and a serving volunteer would also visit to do a report. The outline of VSO’s report combined the findings of both staff & volunteers, and it was sent to the prospective volunteer back in the UK.

The report I recieved about Pakati made it interesting to me….VSO staff’s part of it was fairly factual – ‘the school is in a remote rural area, east of Harare, with access by dirt road. It has around 300 pupils & 10 staff’. The serving volunteers part, who taught at a school North of Murewa, was more intruiging….

‘Pakati has a remote but pleasant feel about it. There is a small township a few km away (Musami), around an hours walk depending on the height of the intervening river (and the mood of the crocodiles…)’

My departure (along with 11 other new volunteers) turned out to be an anti-climax…we were booked onto a flight with Air Ethiopia, due to fly that Friday night, 6th January 1989. Having done the goodbyes, we waited…waited…and finally….

…our flight was cancelled! We were taken back through customs & booked into an hotel close by. We were fed & watered, then 24 hours later, we took off for Addis Ababa. On arrival, it became clear that there was no connecting flight to Harare until the Tuesday, so the Airline had to put us up in another hotel, in Addis, until the Tuesday. Our adventure had begun in an unexpected way…2 days & nights in the Ethiopian capital proved a real eye-opener to us all.

We did arrive in Harare on the Tuesday afternoon, to be met by VSO staff. We were taken to a training centre where our in-country training had been reduced. By the Friday evening several of us were ready for a night out, & ended up at Jobs Nightspot to watch the Four Brothers play live. Very enjoyable!

Saturday 14th January meant we were being taken to, and dropped off at, our new schools & homes. 3 of us went together, along with the volunteer who had done the report about Pakati. Firstly, Darren was dropped at Shamva, then Lucy was dropped near Mutoko. As the afternoon wore on, we finally arrived at Pakati. The other volunteer, Mick, helped me settle in by staying overnight.

Sunday 15th. I met the Deputy Head, Mr Nyamauya, and several staff for the first time. We went around the school and to the nearest store, 40 minutes walk away, where I met several members of the local community.

Monday 16th January 1989, my first official day as a teacher, is now a blur…I remember very little of it if I am honest. But it was, as they say, the first day of the rest of my life. An experince I will never forget, and I will always be grateful to Pakati school and the community for the opportunity to become one of them.

That, dear readers, is how I came to teach at Pakati 30 over years ago.


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 have been a Civil Servant in Bradford since 2005.

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