Back with the program today – and everyone in Zambia has a ‘program’ which they stick to as tightly as African time allows.
I haven’t blogged much about leaving Simakakata school behind because, well, there’s no way I won’t be coming back to visit. The staff, George, Sonia, Beatrice, Loveness and Edwin, are quite possibly the most driven people I’ve ever met. The kids – Sonet, Vincent, Saviour, Vaalencia, Alex, Brighton, and of course, little Irene – couldn’t ask for better teachers. Now we just have to build them a school.
Today, though, we went what you might call off grid. At least 10km, probably more, into the bush to see two more schools. We picked up a Response Network volunteer along the way. Which meant the four of us were squashed onto the backseat of the 4×4. Cosy, to say the least. Painful and exhausting too.
The first school was much more basic than Simakakata. Makumba Community School isn’t too far off the road outside Zimba, but it’s a simple three room mud hut with no desks and chairs, no electricity and a badly thatched roof. It’s been here since 2004, but in order to attract government assistance would need completely rebuilding to something approaching acceptable standards.
Right now, the school is concentrating on putting up decent accommodation for teachers to stay. They have no salaried staff: the headmaster, Mark Sibalwa, is a retired teacher, he lives nearby and works for free. The other two volunteer teachers come from the community and have no training. At least there’s a borehole right next door so the kids have water.
Mark’s influenc is evident from the moment we turn up.
Even by the time we left Simakakata many of the children were still shy around us, running away and laughing every time we offered to shake their hand with a friend ‘mwa bukabuti’. At Makumba, though, three years of having someone with training around meant our greeting was much more confident and the standard of English incredible (English is the lingua franca in Zambia, encouraged by the first president to break down barriers and promote in a country with 78 official languages. All children have to learn it as well as their native tongue from grade one).
Mark joined us on our mega-off-road drive to Siakayuwa. This is the school LearnAsOne will be helping if enough funds are raised for Simakakata. It’s much, much more remote than anything else we’ve seen. Here, the arrival of mazungas is still greeted with dancing and feasting and a cute sign chalked onto one of the latrines marking it for ‘Visiters’.
Just as I was starting to feel uncomfortably like the colonial imposter, the head of the PTA turned round and offered me his email address. He commutes regularly to Livingstone by walking to the bus in Zimba, to see his university educated sons. While he’s there, he pops into the internet cafe. The lesson is you should never underestimate anyone you meet.
The school here is a poorly built structure with gaping holes in the thatched roof, no books and two volunteer teachers who only graduated to grade 10 themselves (GCSE equivalent is grade 12). They went for a day’s orientation at the nearest ‘proper’ school before taking up their posts.
We didn’t spend long enough here to talk to all the kids in these two schools and get to know them in the same way as Simakakata. I hope to be back here soon.