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A Shortage of Schools

A letter from Doug Tilton serving as regional liaison for Southern Africa, based in South Africa

April 2015

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Dear Friends:

Driving along the dusty route from Epworth, south of Harare, Zimbabwe, to Rock Haven Lay Training Center, one passes a score of large UNICEF-branded tents pressed up against the road.  While hardly luxurious, the tents are an improvement on earlier shelters, cobbled together from bits of wood and canvas, that housed dozens of families evicted from neighboring farms during successive waves of land seizures and government “clean up” operations.  Although the tents offer slightly more reliable protection from the elements, the families that live here have little in the way of access to other services—electricity, water, health and education.

It was in part because of the displaced households on their doorstep that the Harare Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP, one of Presbyterian World Mission’s global partners), which owns and operates Rock Haven, discerned a call to start a high school at the center.  Rock Haven Academy opened last year with 4 teachers and about 50 secondary students—Forms One to Four in the parlance of Zimbabwe’s British-style educational system—preparing for the national ordinary-level examinations (“O levels”). This year the number of students more than doubled to 110. The school added a Fifth Form class—with plans for a Sixth Form class next year—to enable pupils to take the advanced-level examinations (“A levels”), which can be the gateway to university admission.

Tents at Epworth

Tents at Epworth

To date classes have met in some of the training centre’s meeting rooms or even outside, under the trees. Not only has this created scheduling issues for the centre, which is a popular venue for meetings and workshops for the larger ecumenical community in Harare, but it also prevents the school from being registered by the Zimbabwean government.  Registered schools receive teachers and textbooks from the government, so registration would enhance the school’s resource base and sustainability.  In order to be registered, though, the school must meet certain basic requirements—including the need to have dedicated classrooms, administrative offices and rest rooms.

So at the beginning of this year the CCAP began building a school at Rock Haven. It includes four classrooms and is expected to accommodate up to 200 pupils.  “We made the bricks on our own, using the anthills [adjacent to the site],” said Rev. Libias Boloma, the General Secretary of the CCAP Harare Synod. “We molded the bricks and dried them, then we put them in a kiln and fired them, using the gum trees here.”

“The surrounding community was also helping to gather sand” in order to keep costs down, Rev. Boloma explained. When I asked why they were so involved in the project, he replied, “Their children are not able to go to school because of the distance, so having a school nearby will assist their children to be trained.”  He noted that the school is a particular asset for girls. When school is far away, he said, “many parents would opt to keep their girls at home rather than to expose them to any danger. The bush is very thick, and you can’t expect some children to be walking so far alone in the bush.”

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe has a shortage of schools—last year Zimbabwe’s Minister of Education said 2,700 new schools were needed—so many pupils end up walking substantial distances anyway.  Mr. Girson Dzonzi, Rock Haven’s principal, said that many of the pupils come from remote farms.  “They walk an average of 10 kilometers every day, to and from school,” which means that they often have to set out at 6 am to make it to school in time for an 8 am start.  Before the school opened most of the students would have just stayed at home, Mr. Dzonzi said, because there are no other secondary schools in the vicinity.

Students fetching water supplied by the solar borehole at Mnondu School

Students fetching water supplied by the solar borehole at Mnondu School

The school faces other challenges too. “We’ve only got one textbook per subject,” Mr. Dzonzi observed sadly.  “Students don’t get textbooks.  We only have the teacher’s copy.”  The teachers themselves have not had special training to be teachers; they only have A-level diplomas and they work long hours for  just a “token” income. Although the school charges nominal fees of $20 per month, only about 10 percent of the students  can afford to pay. Because the school is not registered, the students must go to other sites to sit for the “O level” exams, and most families struggle to come up with the $124 examination fee.

Given the incredible dedication of its founders, its teachers and its students, Rock Haven Academy lives up to its motto “Endure to Succeed.”  Like the CCAP’s primary school, which serves 960 pupils at Nyabira, northwest of Harare, the school strives to provide quality education and to impart Christian values of honesty and perseverance.

The Presbytery of Zimbabwe of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA), the PC(USA)’s other global partner in Zimbabwe, has even more extensive involvement in education, dating back to the early 20th century.  The church operates 11 primary and secondary schools, mostly in the southwest portion of the country, around Bulawayo.  One of the newest is the secondary school at Mnondu. Now in its third year, the school’s 135 pupils share facilities with the primary school that the church has operated on this site since 1946.  A new classroom block stands completed up to the tops of the windows, awaiting funds for trusses to support the roof.

But the UPCSA’s priority has not been completing the classrooms—rather, it is meeting the pupils’ and the surrounding community’s more urgent need for clean, healthy drinking water. The church recently installed a borehole, a solar-powered pump, and a 10,000-litre storage tank to provide safe drinking water for the drought-stricken Mnondu community.  With a reliable water supply the school can also look into developing boarding facilities for students who are walking more than 10 kilometers to attend daily classes.

The PC(USA) shares our Zimbabwean partners’ commitment to education as a key factor in addressing the root causes of poverty in southern Africa.  As we accompany our partners in these efforts, we seek not only to mobilize resources for basic educational needs, such as classrooms and teachers, but also to promote creative and effective teaching methods, to encourage measures that create a safe and healthy learning environment, and to foster holistic approaches that also address students’ and teachers’ needs for water, food and shelter.

I am so grateful for the prayers and support from Presbyterians across the U.S.A. that make it possible for me and other PC(USA) mission co-workers like me to walk alongside amazing, inspiring partners like the CCAP and the UPCSA and find practical ways to encourage and build their ministries. Please continue to pray for the work that God is doing through the PC(USA) and our global partners.  I ask your continued prayers, correspondence and finances for my sending and support as we minister together with our global church partners in southern Africa.  And if you feel called to participate in these ministries more fully, you might wish to consider making a gift to the Extra Commitment Opportunity accounts that assist the work of the UPCSA Presbytery of Zimbabwe (E052041) or the CCAP Harare Synod (E052040) and enable them to do more to educate a new generation of Zimbabweans.

Grace and peace,

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 162

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