By John Mokwetsi
A building just stone’s throw from a half-full Grade 7 classroom at Murambe Primary School in Chegutu District, billows white smoke from the farmed tobacco being cured inside the large barns.
Francis Machingura, 13, the head boy at the school looks on from his classroom that was also once a barn.
Through a small window that only measures 40 cm by 40 cm, he can also see cattle roaming about and women washing and hanging clothes on a line situated between two of the sheds.
The barns that are now in a state of dereliction, once belonged to a commercial farmer.
Murambe is a satellite Primary School that was opened in 2002 after the country’s fast track land reform programme. Murambe Primary School is situated about 28 kilometres off the Bulawayo-Harare highway.
The road that connects to the school is a narrow weather-beaten dirt road with barely noticeable patches of tar standing as evidence of a once tarred road in better condition.
It has an enrolment of about 700 students from early child development (ECD) to Grade 7. Fourteen barns have been converted into classrooms.
Chegutu district is primarily a mining area. Large gold deposits are found in the district.
The area’s population includes resettled farmers and many illegal gold-panners.
“This is the worst time of the year,” Francis said with a sigh.
“The air is populated and the activity from the community that uses the barns during this time of the season is a distraction.”
He added that the smoke, during peak tobacco curing periods, easily dispersed into classes bringing with it airborne contaminants for the 46 students in his class and many others.
Francis said: “It does not help that there is no effective air circulation due to the number and size of the of the windows.
“What that means is that we often have many cases of flu during this season.”
But Francis’ mood lights up when he speaks of the new building blocks being built about 3 kilometres to the east of the school.
New building blocks
Francis, who wants to be a pilot when he finishes school, is ecstatic.
“I visited the new site and saw the new classroom block,” he said.
“I am happy because we are often mocked as students from the barn. Some of my friends dropped out of school because they couldn’t take being made fun of anymore.”
“I am very happy that we will now have a good space far away from this noisy one.”
The school started construction of the block in 2019 after it became one of the 194 beneficiary pilot schools for the Complementary Funding disbursed through School Improvement Grant (SIG) programme.
The Complementary Funding was made possible thanks to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
The Complementary Funding Programme (GPE-funded SIG modality) supports the disadvantaged schools’ efforts in infrastructure improvement, such as construction of classrooms, WASH facilities and science laboratories. the funding is aimed at complementing the construction and rehabilitation of structures that had already reached a certain stage. GPE supports the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education initiatives towards improving the quality of education for all children, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged, with UNICEF managing the funds and providing technical support.
Pearson Makaure, who has been at Murambe Primary School for 19 years rising from being a teacher to school head knows what the SIG Complementary fund means to the school.
“The environment in which we are learning from is not conducive,” Pearson said.
“The barns belong to the farmers and it is a shared resource in which we are the poor cousins. During the curing season we have a lot of disturbances. Most classes either do not have windowpanes or are broken and insects have a home. During summertime the heat is unbearable. The new block means a lot for the community,” he said.
Pearson also added that the ablution facilities are shared with the community.
“The toilets are used by anyone and most disturbingly by people drinking beer at a nearby beerhall. Children are also prone to abuse and we have had cases of drunk people chasing our female students.”
Pearson said the SIG complementary funding allowed them to buy window frames, door frames and roofing material.
“Two classrooms are almost done, and we are now working on another block,” he said.
“The material for an extension of the blocks is stocked in our offices. We want to move Grade 7 classes first.
“Although we are still to fully complete it, it helps to move the students to the new school so that we have the goodwill of the community. That way we can have them contributing in building more classrooms for other grades.”
A community relieved
Farai Jongwe is a resettled farmer and believes the developments at the school will change the face of the community.
“My son was a student at Murambe Primary School and he passed his Grade 7. There is a reason for that,” he said.
“A lot of people have moved into tobacco farming hence the use of the barns have also increased.
“We also did not have shebeens mushrooming.
“It might be one of the reasons the school recorded 0 percent pass rate last year.”
Farai said UNICEF’s intervention ensured a bright future for students.
“There is every reason to hope. Hope is a powerful emotion and a needed one. Educating a child is ensuring that a future of upstanding citizens can be guaranteed,” he said.
This is a point 11-year-old, Polite Dhokotere reinforced: “I feel that as a girl I am safe at our new school.
“I want to become a nurse and help people. Maybe one day I will also help my school build more classes. I am happy that we have organisations that are remembering us. I cannot wait to be in the new class,” she said. – UNICEFZimbabwe