By Rutendo Mapfumo
Gone are the days when the menace of wild animals, which roam free in the verdant, untamed Hwange forests, forced parents to take drastic measures with regards to their children’s education.
Guardians and parents often faced the tough decision of whether to send the younglings to school when they were older and stronger or just let them stay at home and get other forms of education that are not academic.
This was because walking in the thick Mopani woodlands to school, a daily routine for most children in the communal areas of Hwange, was an everyday high stakes gamble. School children in these areas had to look over their shoulders, literally, for the rest of their schooling days – as a cruel death – likely as part of a meal of some carnivore – was always nearby.
Back then, even the school premises were not safe as lessons were conducted under trees.
However, things began to change – Destined to Africa’s Father Peacock Tim, believing that he was ordained to change the lives of these rural children for the better – began an ambitious building project.
And years down the line, buildings have sprouted where makeshift classrooms and office once stood.
Born in England, Father Tim has made an impact in the Mwemba community socially, economically and spiritually.
First appointed at St John’s Makwa on January 1, 1983 – Father Tim told Indaba that he fell in love with Hwange District the moment he laid eyes on the land and its people.
He has so far helped build 10 schools, 24 Roman Catholic churches and 20 dams in the Hwange district. He continues to pursue the fulfillment of various projects even as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc around the world.
Hwange rural district has a lot of satellite schools established to curb the long-distance walks by pupils to the nearest school. Bush boarding schools were established to assist pupils who live far away from the schools.
Recently, Father Tim had to grab the bull by the horns despite the negative economic impact caused by Covid-19. He built a home for the pupils.
However, the major challenge in these schools is overpopulation, which may result in the spread of diseases such as Covid-19. With this in mind, Father Tim has constructed some hostels for boarding facilities at Neshaya Secondary School to reduce overcrowding.
”The boarding facility is very affordable; the bush boarding school was built to consider rural pupils who stay far away from schools,” said Father Tim.
”My main goal during Covid-19 is to concentrate on improving the hostels that I have built at Neshaya Secondary School, which is in Makwa, just near our mission.”
With the help of World Vision, Father Tim has started to build a girls hostel at Nechishala Secondary, which is a sister school to Neshaya Secondary. The school is at Mashala, 17km from Hwange.
At some of the learning institutions, the situation is dire as students use classrooms as hostels.
”Up until now the girls and boys who needed accommodation were sleeping in the classrooms. Surely that is not healthy and it leaves the girl child vulnerable. The lockdown has been a challenge but on the other hand, with the schools empty for six months, it gave us a free hand in our building work,” said Father Tim.
The boarding, a self-catering facility, accommodates approximately 400. Mostly these come from Musuna, Gwaai, Mouth and Nkandemwe hills.
Father Tim, who expressed concern on the impact of the coronavirus, said the schools will remain affordable with no hostel fee to be paid so as to ease pressure on the parents of the pupils.
“To upgrade the school to become a proper boarding school would mean having a hostel fee. The majority of the students would not afford. Hence our desire is to maintain the school as is,” he told Indaba.
Lesly Tabona (67) who has children at Neshaya, said he was skeptical about sending his two daughters back to school when they reopened.
“I was no longer sure if I was going to send my children back to the hostels, but since the Father is assisting us again, as usual, they have enrolled again,” he said.
Meanwhile, the chief executive officer for Hwange Rural District Council, Phindile Ncube, who has been spearheading the establishment of new schools in Hwange’s rural areas, applauded the efforts made by Father Tim in providing an opportunity to learn to pupils in rural areas during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He further challenged Hwange stakeholders to assist in providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to the rural schools as well as to the teachers.
”Most of the pupils cannot afford the face masks and sanitisers at home, hence I call upon the stakeholders to assist by donating some PPE to make sure all the children in Hwange receive quality education,” he said.
Of late, Hwange rural schools have only been getting assistance from well-wishers such as the Simwenge lodge. The five rural schools in Hwange that have been benefiting from the donations are Makwaa, Simangani, Dabwamkulu, Mwemba Jembwe and Mateji primary schools, who received tap buckets, face shields, sanitisers and dish washers. Indaba