From Rural Student to International Teacher

Well, where to begin with this story? I think it best to start at home. It is the story of my friend, and a key Friend of Pakati, Mr Bothwell Riside. His family home is very close to Pakati Secondary school as can be seen in the picture below.

On the left is Pakati Primary school, in the middle is Pakati Secondary school, and circled is Bothwell’s family home

Bothwell’s story is one of hardship, hard work, and a determination to succeed in life. It may be difficult to believe some of this tale, but as I have had the privilege to live and work in this community, I can personally vouch for much of it being true. I also had the honour to stay at Bothwell’s family home for a few days last year, an experience I treasure.

It is almost impossible for those who have spent their entire lives in developed countries to understand just what it is like for people in places like Pakati. Those of us who have spent time in such places have gained an invaluable insight into the lives of a rural African community. Let’s hear from him, mostly in Bothwell’s own words, here is at least part of his story….

Bothwell’s family home is about 50 metres behind me to my left as I approach the entrance to Pakati Secondary school ahead

Tell us how it was growing up and going to school at Pakati:

“I have been through a lot in my life. I have experienced the real abject poverty whereby you will have almost nothing. I know of not having a meal, and the issue of sleeping on an empty stomach. I have experienced decades of going to school barefooted, often with no breakfast, inability to have clothes, growing up without knowing what a tarred road looks like or not knowing any urban electrified area.”

Bothwell in Grade 2 at Pakati Primary school, along with teachers Miss Valley and Mr Makara

What was it like for you, given your circumstances at the time?

It was never easy when l molded bricks to go to school (to pay for school fees), and did menial jobs to ensure l finished it. But where there is determination God blesses. Where l am today is no reflection of my past. I don’t blame my parents for anything, for giving birth to me and fending for me as what they did was quite enough and l thank them.”

Mrs Maenzanise, former teacher at Pakati Primary school who remembers the young Bothwell

I have contacted others who know Bothwell, and some are willing to give us their memories of him as a young boy. We can hear from Mrs Maenzanise, who taught Bothwell at Pakati Primary school. She is now Head of nearby Mapanga Primary school; she gave a typical teachers answer!

What do you remember about Bothwell back then?

“He was a very inquisitive, competent young boy. He had neat hand writing. and was soft spoken. We often used to send him on office errands.”

Back to Bothwell himself. The man I know is always willing to share his thoughts about his past, and can be said to be a bit of a philosopher….below is something he sent to me recently, calling it ‘Creating an advantage frrom a Disadvantage’:

At Pakati, September 2019

Tell me what you mean by that, please Bothwell?

“Well ‘Rural life is horrible ‘, some say. ‘Oh, you are an SRB’, l have heard these names calling. SRB is an acronym for strong rural background. Well, today l thought of dedicating my time talking about an advantage in a disadvantage. Growing up in a rural setup like Pakati secondary school may appear a great disadvantage with some students cursing their lives and parents for such. But today l have come to let someone see twinkling light in what seems to be a darkness. There are a lot of advantages in the disadvantages.

Can you expand on that please?

“OK, firstly, Health – Most of the food you eat in rural areas are very healthy to the body. There are plenty of vegetables and both indigenous and exotic fruits. These are good for the provision of vitamins. Research has also indicated that sweet potatoes, which are a common diet in Murewa, are good at preventing cancer. Students in rural areas walk long distances like up to 8km to and from school. The distance walked is enough exercising, so that there is no need to think of an early morning jog, gym or any other facilities. Besides this, working in the fields, looking after cattle, or doing work and sports at school keep one healthy. Ailments will not follow a healthy person.”

Yes I can see that. Anything else?

“Secondly, being focused. Urban setups have a lot of distractions for children. Too many people plus social media can distract a student from learning. Rural students with enough support and motvation may do better than their counterparts.

Furthermore, It is interesting to move and stay in an urban setup from a rural area. And you can troop back to rural areas without being pained again. A rural child in urban areas finds life good, while an urban child in rural areas would curse his or her life. Mostly rural children in urban areas have a rich knowledge of their culture and identity, while an urban grown to child does not know some rural ettiquetes. Urban brought up students may never know what rural areas are.”

These students are getting their first lesson on computers from Bothwell, in September 2019 in an impromptu session at Pakati Secondary school.

Here are other people’s thoughts on Bothwell’s progress from childhood:

“…He so much values Education…it is what has transformed his life”

“Bothwell is in his element in a classroom, whether in a rural setting or an international school, or indeed even online.”

“Bothwell is a well of knowledge. I first met him in the ward 14 group when we were preparing to receive Chris Walker in September 2019. From the onset I saved him as Dr B and upon meeting him, he confirmed his true status as a Dr in education.
He really impressed me with his ability to translate Shona into English and vice versa without any hiccups. You will not miss him with his eloquent speech. Even though he speaks so fluently as if he was raised in the UK you will never mistake his love for Zimbabwe. I have heard about him speak with passion to see this country succeed. I read that he said “I will always maintain my love for this country…. because Zimbabwe deserves to be a great country!”

In Harare, October 2019

Here is a quote from him on his Education at Pakati, taken from the Foreword he wrote for the booklets recently to exam students at 5 local schools:

“If there is anything I am forever grateful of it is my being a former student of Pakati Primary and Secondary schools. They have literally equipped me with skills which others do not have….if ever you have a chance to learn, you must utilise it.”

Soon after my visit in 2019 he left Zimbabwe for South East Asia, where he now teaches in an International school. Since the outbreak of the Corona virus, he has like so many teachers the world over, been conducting lessons online.

At home in his natural environmet – a classroom

Still to come on Friends of Pakati:

Fundraising news & updates

The return of Pauline Machengo’s story ‘Outside Zim Borders’, plus news of Pauline’s other work..

Updates on Pakati schools under renewed lockdown


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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