Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Community School

Tuesday 20th October

Unusually I am writing this as the sun shines almost overhead. I have just returned from visiting a local community school and decided to take the opportunity to bring you up to date.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the hospital and met with the universal cry – 'my computer is not working properly'. In Human Resources the computer claims to have insufficient memory to run ACCESS though nothing else is running. Sr. Juunza's old computer gets stuck when trying to boot and Motty told me was having problems with his computer and when I popped around in the afternoon an attempt to reload Windows on the machine was failing.

Jennipher called around to try to sort out seed and fertilizer for her group. She did tell me that she hadn't in fact parted with any cash for the health product but just had a sample – I had wondered where she could have got the money and was surprised. I should have had more faith in Jennipher's common sense. I have still written to the company complaining about their tactics.

A few days ago a guy asked me if I would go to see a community school nearby. Although I am more than fully committed, I was interested to see what a 'real' community school looks like and how it operates. So I told him not to expect anything from me, but that I would see the school and be pleased to hear more about it.

There seem to be a number of community schools dotted about. Many communities are too poor to afford to send there children even to local government schools where the children need uniforms etc. So the communities find, or erect a basic building and find some teachers willing to help. The community tries as best it can to support the school, though with few resources the facilities are extremely basic. Although I have been aware of these schools for some time I have never seen one except from a distance.

As we approached a reasonable looking building I was surprised. However, this was someone's house – the school was the other building that I had mistaken for a toilet block. The owner of the house allows the local community to make use of the building as a school. The building is split into three/four classrooms and an office. The classrooms have basic blackboards and the students use bricks/concrete as chairs – there are no desks. The ground is just dirt, so I was told that children can come clean in the morning but go back home dirty at lunchtime. (I will include some photos with this blog.)

Children here are keen to learn and will attend classes despite the lack of facilities. The older children should be sitting their grade 7 exams but problems with the administration means they weren't registered and will now need to wait a further year.

Despite these problems the school has been running for almost two years teaching from grade 1 to grade 7 (roughly equivalent to primary school in England). The community does what it can to provide support but obviously any additional help that allows them to improve things a little would be welcomed.

There are two teachers who work voluntarily. In Zambia there are more teachers trained than have been given jobs – though if all children were to get an education I am sure there would be a shortage. Today only one was present. Nyambe told me he had a job that he does for part of the day to earn enough money to survive, the other teacher is a married woman and presumably her husband supports her.

I visited each class and met the children. While I was their one of my next door neighbours appeared with a couple of guys from the sports charity that they are with and started playing games with the children which seemed to be going down very well.

There are two long drop toilets that have no roofs at the moment. These will be difficult to use in the rainy season as they are – they might also be damaged being mainly mud construction. So the community will gather some grass and put on thatched roofs before the rains.

The committee chairman for the school (who we met at the Southern Comfort Motel – where I think he works) has a building that he has offered for use to raise chickens. The community members would look after this project, if it could be started. The idea is that once started they could raise chickens in about 6 weeks providing an income to help improve the school.

Siboma said that he will give me details of the set-up cost of this project. My guess is that it will cost about 1.5 million kwacha (£200) to raise 100 chickens and they should sell for between 2 and 2.5 million. If there is the market they could raise perhaps 500,000 kwacha every 6-8 weeks (£65), which would make a lot of difference to this little school. I will see how their figures compare with my quick estimate. If anyone would like to help set up this little project please get in touch. From what I have seen it appears that this is very much a community project, where the community is the owner and is just looking for minimal support to give them a boost that might enable them to develop their school.

This afternoon I secured my accommodation for a further 12 days to save me moving. The owners run a business in town providing mainly building materials. Peter was managing much of the project at Monze Basic last year where I also became involved.

I visited the hospital later and seem to have picked up a job tomorrow as data entry clerk. Reymond popped along in the evening and shared supper. I showed him my house and some of the places around Cheltenham using Google Earth. (Without Internet connection the amount clearly visible is limited.)

Best wishes


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