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Small stones building mountains in Zimbabwe

by Bríd Dunne, Trócaire Education Officer

Upon arriving at Amazon school in the Insiza District, our Zimbabwean colleague, Walter, summed up our overall feeling: “30 years after independence and this is a school”. 

Only one classroom had four walls. Friday’s lessons were still on the board as Orpah, the teacher, showed us around.

Old Classroom Amazon Zimbabwe

Orpah shows us a classroom with open sides, Insiza District, Zimbabwe. Photo: Brid Dunne.

“This is the kinder garden area for 45 children”, she said, pointing to an open space with no roof. 

Grade 3 were learning number sets. I noted how 35 children squeezed into 8 benched desks. 

Thirty years after independence and this is a school.

It was a Saturday when we visited and so there were no children around. The absence of children made it all the more haunting. There was no distraction from the physical condition of the school. 

And then it hit me: we were there in winter. It was cold in the mornings, cold in the evenings. These children would be walking to school, to a classroom with open sides and ventilated bricks, sitting in the cold. Sitting in the freezing cold. 

When and if the rains came, what about those children in those three-sided classrooms walking up to 10k to school. And if the rains didn’t come, then what next for a community so reliant on agriculture for survival? 

I looked around and saw the footprints on the red sandy earth of those children we never met. Smiles we didn’t see, laughter we didn’t hear.

Leaving the school Orpah told me about her colleagues, each of them qualified teachers, resourceful and imaginative. I admired them instantly.  But there was something special about this community. Despite their limited means, this community had decided that this school was not good enough.  They secured land from the local government, 2km from the original site, and were not about to wait for the government to build it. 

New community school, Insiza District, Zimbabwe

Orpah shows us around the new community school, Insiza District, Zimbabwe. Photos: Brid Dunne.

This community came together in small groups to begin to mould red bricks from the dusty earth and row by row slowly began to build their own school. Committing to putting a few dollars a month away for as much as possible within their means, they paid for cement and drafts men. They were building a new school, brick by brick, row by row. 

This place was transformed from our experience of hopelessness only 30 minutes before.  This new school will give this community new hope and new possibilities. As Orpah told us, “it takes many streams and rivers to make an ocean”. 

Which leads me to ask you to reflect on this African Proverb: “If you dream of mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting small stones today.”

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