Giving Children Roots to Grow and Wings to Fly
Guest blog post by Fiona Thompson, Director of Ngoko Safaris
PVF hosts a designated fund for Generosity in Action, a conduit for U.S. travelers to make tax deductible donations that support international projects, such as the Lesedi Primary School. The school was founded based on the efforts of a single safari guide, Benson Siyawareva, and the generosity of travelers to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Fiona Thompson is the director of Ngoko Safaris, and she partners with Benson to support Lesedi Primary School. The following is an excerpt from her report.
When schools in Zimbabwe finished for the Christmas holidays, we were expecting to welcome the students back in early January. However a spike in covid infections and a strict lockdown meant that the re-opening of schools was postponed. Schools eventually re-opened in March and not only have we welcomed back all our existing students but another 53 children have enrolled at Lesedi.
Here is a summary of some of the notable events at Lesedi Primary so far this year:
Library and Staffroom
Our fifth and final classroom block has been completed, majority funded by donations from OAT guests who visited Lesedi on their travels (in pre-Covid times!). One of the rooms is being used as a library and the other is temporarily being used as a staffroom until we build the long awaiting administration block. The library is proving extremely popular, with children borrowing books and reading at home.
We are very relieved to be able to feed the children at school again. During the school closures we were providing food parcels to the most needy families. Over the rainy season many families were able to plant a few crops so there was food at home. Now that the children are receiving two meals at school each day, it has relieved pressure on parents and guardians as they only try to provide a light meal in the evening.
We are grateful to a joint initiative between Grand Circle Foundation, Children in the Wilderness and Wild Horizons which has made regular distributions of highly nutritious porridge meal packs to feed over 1,400 students and teachers across 4 schools, including Lesedi, for 5 months.
Donation of Literacy Lights
Our learners in Grades 6 and 7 received solar reading lights from the Jafuta Foundation to enable them to continue to study and read after dark. Many of the school-going children in rural areas rely on candles, paraffin lamps or even read over the fire, exposing them to health hazards and affecting their ability to pass their exams. The teachers also received solar lights to help with planning and marking.
Donation of Bicycles
Lesedi is delighted to have been included in a distribution of bicycles by Greenline Africa Trust in partnership with World Bicycle Relief Zimbabwe. All our children who stay about 3km or more away from the school were issued with bicycles which has relieved them of transport struggles.
Lesedi Secondary School
We are thrilled to report that official permission has been granted for us to construct a Secondary School at Lesedi. The funding of the secondary school construction and ongoing operating costs is clearly a major concern. However, we have confidence from the fabulous continued support we are receiving from our ever-growing supporter base. Our fundraising had a huge boost before permission for a secondary school was even granted, with an awe-inspiring single donation of $47k from one of our child sponsors. Words cannot express our gratitude for this incredible gesture. It has enabled us to acquire and fence the land, and construct the first classroom block. Another substantial donation has just funded drilling of two boreholes and installation of water tanks, pipework and pumps. We are so grateful to the donors for their immense generosity.
The clinic continues to be a vital resource for the school and teachers, along with serving the wider community. Earlier this year the clinic received a solar EPI fridge from the district hospital for storage of vaccines, enabling us to offer a full vaccination programme at Lesedi. The Zimbabwe Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) aims to reduce vaccine preventable diseases. Targeted mostly at the under-5s, vaccines protect from Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Meningitis, Polio, Pneumonia etc. The clinic is also giving the HPV vaccine to girls aged between 10-14 years for prevention of cervical cancer. More recently, a typhoid vaccine has been introduced to be given to all children between 9 months and 14 years. In addition to Lesedi, another school – Monde Primary School – falls into the clinic catchment area so our nurses are travelling around to administer vaccines. Lesedi Clinic is now a designated vaccination centre for the COVID-19 vaccine donated by China. Our teachers and nurses have been fully vaccinated – as has Benson– and the Sinovac vaccine has been made available to the elderly and vulnerable in the community.
At the time of writing, 257 of the 294 children enrolled at Lesedi Primary School are sponsored. This is especially pleasing given the pandemic backdrop, with no tourist group visits to the school for over a year. Another 28 children are patiently waiting to find a special friend to sponsor them. Without sponsorship, many of our learners would not be regularly attending school, and certainly wouldn’t have expectations to continue past their primary education. Our school meals are crucial to the welfare of many children, and for some the access to healthcare is proving to be a lifeline.
The sponsored children write to their sponsors each term, or the younger ones do some colouring or a drawing. It is a privilege to read all of the letters, not only seeing the progress the children are making but also getting an insight into their world. We thought it would be nice to share a few extracts from the letters:
“The opening of schools this term made me happy. I did not think we would ever learn as normally as we are doing now.” Thandolwenkosi, Grade 3
“I would like to thank you for choosing me and paying fees towards my education. I am very happy. Last year I stayed home because my parents could not afford paying school fees. It is good you are helping me.” Charity, Grade 4 (newly enrolled at Lesedi – to new sponsor)
“It has been a long time without seeing visitors at school. We miss you. I wish the corona can just end so that you can come and visit us. Our school is now big we have a secondary school and I would love to complete my education here.” Philip, Grade 6
Finally, you may remember us mentioning Karen in our last report, elder sister to three of our learners. Karen attends Mosi-oa-Tunya Secondary School in Victoria Falls town, is a prolific reader and wants to become a lawyer. She wrote to me recently and this comment made me smile:
“Congratulations are in store for me. I was nominated the debate captain and I feel pity for our competitors.” I also pity her competitors as I would not like to compete against Karen in a debate. She will no doubt make a very good lawyer one day.
For anyone who asks “what is the point” in educating all these children (as they do from time to time)…this is exactly the point. Together may we give the children roots to grow and wings to fly. We applaud our Sponsors and Supporters for your tireless generosity in supporting our developments at Lesedi. You are moulding the lives of our learners, staff members, our parents and the community at large.