Dear Friends & Supporters,
Despite the lack of foreign news at the moment, we’re sure you know Covid-19 is also affecting southern Africa. Like most countries round the world, the Zambian government has restricted travel, told its people to stay home, and shut all schools and businesses. In these difficult times, we want you to know how we are responding to this challenge.
While we hope for the best, we fear the impact of Covid-19 on such a vulnerable country with minimal medical resources (there are only 36 ventilators for over 16 million people). Sadly, but realistically, we don’t expect any Zambian school to re-open for several months.
Of course, it is only thanks to your generosity last Autumn that we have the funds to continue paying our fourteen dedicated members of staff through the closure, without any income from school fees.
The staff were sad to close their classroom doors knowing the challenges pupils face at home and in the community. Social isolation is more complex with no electricity, no running water and little food. Plus, our staff can’t provide online learning as their pupils don’t have internet connection.
Whilst our teachers cannot solve these problems, they are working hard to ensure the school will be even better when it re-opens, and are focusing on their professional development throughout the closure. Local issues with electricity and the internet make this difficult, but everyone is committed to increasing their knowledge and skills. Currently, with the advice and support of Iram Siraj, a Professor of Education at Oxford University, we are assembling a package of training resources to courier to staff.
2020 began with positive change. We started operating as a ‘company limited by guarantee’, and used your generous gifts to increase staff salaries and launch a scholarship and bursary fund for the most at risk. Before the school closed, the fund was already providing 33 pupils with a completely free education.
We established new management systems and processes, resolved all the longstanding financial problems, agreed and registered a new 50-year lease for the site, and saw a huge boost in teacher confidence and morale.
The bore hole and pump you funded last year enabled us to begin a systematic ‘greening’ of the site as part of our Agriculture lessons. Pupils have planted huge quantities of chillies, peppers and cabbage to sell to the local community, and as much grass as possible to make outdoor activities and sports lessons more pleasant.
Our Sports Day was very competitive! 46 of our aspiring athletes reached the standard to compete in the regional championships; naturally, they’re disappointed these now can’t take place.
Valentine’s Day was even more special. Staff and pupils spent the day visiting the most deprived children in the vicinity of the school, taking them stories and roses to celebrate a day of love. It was a wonderful occasion. How we long to have the funds to provide all these incredibly vulnerable children with a free education!
One consequence of solving the big issues over the last six months is that we’ve had the time to consult much more with staff and look at the other areas of school life which need improving.
The staff have made it clear we need to begin delivering a daily food program to our pupils, and to start providing daily transport for children who live far from the school grounds. This will ensure more children can access the quality education our team provide. They also think it’s time we erected big signs at the gate so parents, passersby and the community know where we are!
Looking forward, we now realize we’re going to need at least two more classrooms quite soon, some more toilet blocks like those we built for the girls last year (the tin roof blew off the boy’s toilets in February), and better teacher housing to ensure all our staff have safe and reliable accommodation.
Most of all, we need to respond to Zambia’s enormous issues with power by using its most consistent resource: the sun. One supporter has offered to provide pupils with a small solar lamp so they can study at home in the evenings, and we are investigating the cost of installing solar panels and batteries to supplement the national grid system so we can operate more efficiently as a school.
Fifteen years ago, Zambia borrowed hugely to invest in hydro-electricity, but climate change means there is now too little water to power the national system. Consequently, there is no grid electricity in the daytime and only a few hours during the middle of an occasional night. At the moment, if staff need to print something, someone has to get up in the middle of the night and walk across to the school!
We are not asking you to give anything at the moment for any of this while the future is so uncertain; however, we will write again when we know the school can re-open. By then, we should know our priorities, have them fully costed, and have a new website up and running.
Of course, if the Zambian economy is completely wrecked by Covid-19, local parents may not be able to afford even our minuscule fees – and other schools in the region might be forced to close. We might suddenly be facing both unprecedented opportunities and a whole different level of challenges. If this happens, we know you’ll want to help quickly and we will keep you posted.
With best wishes for a safe and healthy future,
Laura Manni, Maggie Botha, Batuke Walusiku-Mwewa, Timothy Pain
Directors: Mukwashi Trust School Ltd.