I was struck by something a friend said to me recently, when we were talking about Friends of Pakati. When I told him I had lived & worked in 2 African countries, and visited 4 more, that he was full of admiration – said he simply could not see himself doing that. It was not said as a disparaging remark, but an acknowledgement that it can be hard to take time away form a life, a career, especially to try something so far from a persons comfort zone, as I did when I signed up with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas https://www.vsointernational.org/ ) to be a Maths teacher at Pakati Secondary school in Zimbabwe, back in January 1989.
There is a lot of information already here on this blog/website about how I came to be at Pakati (see https://friendsofpakati.com/2020/06/29/how-did-i-end-up-at-pakati-2/ ) and what it was like for me personally there (see https://friendsofpakati.com/2020/07/02/pakati-memories-part-1/ as well as https://friendsofpakati.com/2020/07/07/pakati-memories-part-2-sports-entertainment-and-so-much-more/ and https://friendsofpakati.com/2020/07/13/pakati-memories-part-3-acting-head-and-beyond/ ).
As briefly mentioned in part 3 of Pakati memories (see link above), I also worked in Botswana, one of Zimbabwe’s neighbours. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any photographs from that time, but I taught Maths & Development Studies to O Level classes, at Mater Spei College in Francistown. The contrast to Pakati was remarkable…a well funded school, frequently in the top 3 schools in the country for exam results, with all the resources to match any International School – Botswana had even put its entire school network in the internet during 1997! The school was in the middle of Botswana’s second largest city (Francistown) and had all the facilities needed for everyday life as you would expect.
Mater Spei was a very large school when compared to Pakati – the stats were as follows: Teachers/students – Pakati – 11 to 330 and Mater Spei – 100/2000. The staff were truly global, with half being Batswana, the rest were from Ghana (the Head), South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, India, USA, Cuba, Ireland, UK, China – staff meetings were like the UN!
With its proximity to Zimbabwe, we regularly crossed the border to visit family & friends. We also particularly enjoyed the tourist attractions on the Western side – Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, and Matopos Hills just outside Bulawayo. The Great Zimbabwe ruins were a little further, but definitely it is a fascinating place to visit.
Since returning to the UK in 1997, I have been fortunate enough to visit two other African countries – Malawi (2007) and Uganda (2010, 2012, & 2014 with a round trip to Zimbabwe included) – in both cases, visiting relatives. Again, I have very few pictures from Malawi, but a fair few from Uganda. Here are a few of them…
How has my time in Africa affected me? I think it has brought me to realise how fortunate I am to have been born into a relatively wealthy society, with good facilities in health, education, employment, opportunities to travel…but also more importantly, patience, respect for those who are different to me, but to always remember that people are essentially the same, with hopes and dreams…
I learned how to be more relaxed, more flexible, better able to cope in different settings & cultures. I believe that what is important is how we treat each other as fellow humans, on an individual/local community level, and to have an open mind to how things are done. That, really, is what the community at Pakati have done for me, why still I feel strongly attached, and why I feel compelled to improve the schools if I can, for that community who welcomed me back in 1989.