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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Tichakunda School

On Thursday, November 22, 2007, prior to my departure from Zimbabwe, my friends and I had planned to take a roadtrip to the Eastern Highlands. Our plans had to be postponed when my friend called to say her home had been burgled and she had cut her foot in the process. When I got there her family, friends and neighbours were there to check on her & see if she was ok. We decided to drive to Hatcliffe clinic where her mother is a nurse in order to get her a tetnus shot for her foot (the private clinic she'd gone to earlier had failed to giver her one). I had never been to this clinic before & thought it would be a great opportunity to find out what their needs were. I am a member of a new Facebook group called Yamura Zimbabwe (Help Zimbabwe) -, and we are currently in the process of identifying organizations in need of assistance, especially schools or organizations supporting children in Zimbabwe.

Hatcliffe is a low income high density area in Northern Harare & it is located about 2 - 5km from the wealthier northern suburbs. The clinic was was quite impressive. It was spotless, patients were few and were being attended to in rapid succession. I was relieved to note that our standards had not changed in spite of the harsh economic climate the country is currently facing.

The majority were young mothers who had brought their children for the basic injections required for babies when they reach certain ages. I watched as these cute little things smiled & gurgled at the nurses, not knowing what they were in for! One baby was injected on one thigh first then on the other. Poor thing just cried & cried! I watched with interest as the nurses joked with the patients and questioned the mothers about why their baby had a rash and what they had done about it etc...

Nurse Muchemwa also told us about the outreach work performed by the clinic. For example it was recently annonced that our neighbor, Namibia, had just had an outbreak of polio, a disease long eradicated from Zimbabwe. On December 8th, the nurses at the clinic were going to vaccinate the people in their designated geographical area to reduce the risk of the outbreak in the country. The local newspaper had also written an article about the outbreak and all clinics and hospitals were preparing for the outreach program.

After watching the 10th or so baby being injected my friend announced that the clinic used to have a feeding program where malnourished childred were brought and fed a nutritious meal. Her mother agreed but said the program was cancelled due to the introduction of an alternative supplement known as Plumpy Nut. She took out a sample and showed us. It's basically a small foil packet which contains a high level of engery & nutrition. It is given to mothers whose children are malnourished. She showed us how they determined if a child was undernourished too - see photo & video below.

I asked whether there was a need for any volunteers at the clinic and the nurse suprised me by saying no. She went on to say "not here, but at the creche (nursery school)". I wasn't sure what she meant then she explained that there are about 5 nursery schools in the greater Hatcliffe area which were formed by members of the community & with support from local organizations such as churches, and they have a great need for volunteers, equipment etc.. She offered to take us there and off we went. The homes in Hatcliffe Extension are very poor. Structures are made from plastic donated by the Catholic church. What struck me most was how clean and attractive the plastic homes looked even though the residents were living in poverty. There were flowers outside almost every house and the yards were swept clean. It reminded me of a the tin city in Soweto except there were fewer homes with a smaller population, and it was also fairly quiet compared to Soweto.

When we finally reached the nursery school, nothing had prepared me for what I saw. Coming from my temporary home in the West, the land of excess and credit cards, it was hard to reconcile my life over there with this school over here, in my own country!! It was one of those visits with little meaning unless you visit in person..but I will try my best to paint a clear picture.

As we got out of the car and walked towards the structures it still hadn't really registered that we were at a nursery school. A nursery school has a playground with grass and trees, swings and toys. A nursery school has color and cartoons on the walls. We walked into a plastic structure with the sign "Under 6" outside it & low & behold there were about 30 little faces sitting on the dirt floor, some standing. The teacher was beaming! She just seemed genuinely happy. She made the children stand up and sing a welcome song, and they did. Some sat i.e. the younger ones & just stared at us, and 2 of the older ones lead the others in the welcome song.

The kids sang, oblivious to my distress at the condition of their school... which I internalized. Their welcome song was so cute it made us all smile. They were so proud to sing for us. After listening to them for a few minutes we moved out and on to the next class.Below is the picture of the exterior of the classroom and a video of the youngest class, the first class we visited, singing us a welcome song.

After the warm welcome from the first classs we moved next door to another class with slightly older children (about 5years old). Again, the teacher asked them to sing for us which they did with much enthusiasm. The head of the school is also a volunteer and his name is Mr Hove. He is the one who took us around the school to introduce us to the teachers and children. We stood outside the last classroom and surveyed the school yard. The sun and the heat were BRUTAL. In the distance we saw 2 small wooden structures:

"Those are the restrooms for our 400 children here" Mr Hove said in Shona (one of the main languages spoken in Zimbabwe).

I noticed that the kids had no hats on and some of them were not wearing any shoes either. The school yard had no grass and no trees. Can you imagine the health risks associated with sitting in the boiling sun all day, with no hat and feet burning from the heat of the hot soil? When I attended primary school in Zimbabwe (which is 1 to 7th grade) , hats were mandatory and anyone caught without one had to write an essay on skin cancer. Mr Hove pointed out a section where some of the classrooms were torn down to make way for wooden cabins donated by someone. It felt good to know that we were not the only ones concerned about how to help. The eldest group of children (6 year olds) were sitting in the school yard with their teacher. Mr Hove walked us towards them and asked them to recite poetry for us. One child after another took a step forward and recited a poem or a nursery rhyme for us in English. Some of the poems were about their aspirations (eg I want to be a fireman, so I can save lives, be a teacher, so I can teach..etc...); and others spoke about love, family and triumph over hardship and difficulties. It was all very moving but unfortunately as I started to record the poetry my memory card was full!!! I have added what I managed to record before my camera stopped the recording. ALL the children wanted to recite a poem for us until Mr Hove had to say "Zvakwana" (ie "that's enough now"). It was quite amusing to watch and their enthusiasm was infectious. As we continued to walk Mr Hove explained that the children attend school in shifts and this is how they end up with a head count of 400. I am definitely visiting this school again. In that moment (watching the mini-poets), I decided to make a personal committment to help them out. They had nothing. Small donations would make an unbeliveable difference. Mr Hove was given a cell phone by a Belgian visitor (probably from one of the embassies based in Harare) but he does not have a phone line. My friend decided she was going to get him one.

Next Mr Hove introduced us to the kitchen and the two ladies (volunteers) who cook the food for the children on a daily basis. He announced that they were 2 of the best cooks in the world, which made them smile at the compliment. The children are given a meal of cornmeal porridge twice a day - once at 11am and again at 2pm. The food comes with no sugar, milk or anything else. Mr Hove pointed to a pile of sticks outside the kitchen and said that each child is required to bring a piece of firewood to light the fire for the days meals.... Does anyone reading this blog have experience with solar energy or alternative energy? If you look at the pictures you can see that there are no trees to be seen for miles. This means the environment is also being affected. but what can they do? No fuel means no food, and so many trees are being cut down without being replaced. A donation of an alternative energy source would make a tremendous difference.

The final stop was Mr Hove's office. He showed us some of the things that had been donated to the school. Such donations included:

- books (some were too advanced though),

- toys (cloth dolls were covered in red soil due to the lack of surface and grass in the school yard. if you want to donate, plastic toys are much better)

- there were 2 or 3 blackboards leaning against the wall (no chalk, plus their classroom structures are too weak to hold the boards)

- Used A4 paper for the children to draw pictures
If you have children, think of their nursery school/kindergarten and visualize what it looks like. Then compare to this one. If you can't think of something to donate the comparison should help.

Our tour ended in Mr Hove's office. We went back to the classrooms to wave good bye to the kids and they all waved back at us. Some of the youngest kids danced for us & it was hilarious because one of the little boys was quite comical. As I was preparing to reverse our car away from the school I could see little heads poked behind their classrooms watching after us. Eventually they moved from behind the wall and came out into the open to say goodbye.

As we were driving away we heard one little voice shout "please bring us bannana's and oranges" and we all laughed.

We laughed, but really an orange and a bannana to these children, is a real treat. So again, if you're reading this blog, we're not asking for IPODS and Nintendo DX's or barbie dolls. Just an orange and a bannana. This was such a simple request but i knew it would be SUCH a delight to all these children. My time in Zimbabwe was running out so I was barely able to make inquires of fruit suppliers. What I do know though is that fruits and vegetables in Zimbabwe are plentiful and cheap. Every other person is selling seasonal fruits or vegetables. It would just be a matter of finding someone to supply and deliver them, which would be no problem either. has committed to donate 5% of all Afrobag gross sales to this nursery school. I hope to bring you more pictures and stories of positive changes being made at this school.

So at the end of the day, even though our journey to the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe was postponed, we had a good day. I think this day happened for a reason. My friend may disagree as she is the one who was burgled!!! But yes, I think it happened for a reason because we would never have stumbled upon this school otherwise...

Answer: A Zimbabwean living in New Zealand has formed a non-profit organization to support this school. Shaye Boddington is a talented artist as well and she has donated one of her paintings towards the raffle. Please see more on