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School turns from cave into proud educational institution

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Can you imagine a student going from Form 1 up to Form 4 without ever having read anything from a textbook in this day and age?

Sadly this is the reality that for nine solid years, Saruwe Secondary School in Selous faced.

For that period, it means more than two generations of students who attended that school were in some form of educational wilderness. “The only reading the students experienced was from the chalkboard for all subjects. If the teacher made an error then that was it for them,” said the deputy headmaster of the school Last Kapasura.

But to compound the students’ misery was the physical state of the school which exhausted the parents, teachers and students’ vocabulary when they tried to describe it.

“It was dusty, windy, no doors, no windows. It was just like a cave. It was just not child-friendly. Parents used to pull out their children from this cave called a school,” said the headmistress Letwin Savanhu-Tembo.

“You would imagine that a hail of bullets had once hit this school because of the holes that were in the walls. The floors were raw earth,” said one female teacher.

“Most people never thought it was a school but a haunted place,” added Kapasura. “The school was looked down upon. If you had seen it in that state you would have asked yourself: ‘Is this a school or a barn?’” said the School Development Committee chairperson (SDC), Leornard Miles.

“The school started in 2002 when the then commercial farmer in the area Nicolson donated land to the community to build a secondary school. There was no secondary school in the area,” explained Savanhu-Tembo.

But the development of the school was halted after the chaotic land reform programme when Nicolson was chased away.

Enter Zimari and the transformation was almost magical for this school that caters for a radius of 20km half-way between Norton and Chegutu along the Harare-Chegutu highway. Zimari is a platinum project exploration campaign that commenced mid-2009, which started assisting the school towards the end of the same year.

“Zimari quickly recognised the community and assisted the school. We have mining giants who have been here for years and they are less than 5km away but have done nothing for this community — yet they pollute our environment and extract lots of wealth from this area.

Zimari are just prospectors and technically they have not found anything yet but they have done this wonderful job. They had no real moral obligation to do this,” a grateful Miles explained.

In a document, Zimari explains how this transformation was made possible:

“Together with the school staff, Zimari conducted a proper needs analysis which showed that classrooms were in a state of disrepair and there was a critical shortage of textbooks which did not provide for a favourable learning environment.”

As a result, the assistance was based on real needs unlike in many instances where it is based on donor perception.

Tariro Chitumba, a Form 3 student at the school, was excited and relieved about the developments at the school and had this to say:

“I am happy because now we are no longer squashed like rats. The classrooms were always overcrowded because the other block could not be used in the state that it was in. I am going to work hard now that I have textbooks for all the subjects.”

William Matambo another Form 3 student was excited that Zimari was also catering for the school’s sporting needs:

“I’m happy that apart from textbooks we now have soccer balls and Zimari have promised to clear our pitch for us,” he said. “Parents now want to be part of the school. The community now calls it ‘our school’, something they never said before these improvements.

They never thought the school would be developed. We are hoping for improved results next year. Most parents in this area are poor farm labourers and they can not afford fees, let alone levies for development,” the SDC vice-chairperson said.

However the school still faces serious accommodation challenges for its teachers, most of whom commute from either Chegutu or Norton — more than 30km either way.

“There is not a single house for teachers’ accommodation. One teacher commutes from Harare and she needs an average of $120 per month to cover transport costs,” the deputy headmaster said.
When NewsDay arrived at the renovated school, the bulk of students were reading hungrily from the new textbooks.

The headmistress was all gratitude for the way Zimari had developed their school and she unashamedly poured out her thanks:

“Thank you, thank you, our school is now beautiful and better than other schools. We hope Zimari will continue with the good work so that we can produce kids who will go into industry and become leaders of tomorrow.”

Feedback: kmudzingwa@newsday.co.zw or 0733916979

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