Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More on Schools - August 15

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A woman named Victoria drove me to three schools in the farthest north east part of the circuit. The farthest school was about 90 minutes away from Manzini. There is miles and miles of nothing but a few trees, a lot of dirt, a few cows and goats, with small groups of houses along the way between the few towns where the schools are located. This area has almost no water. There are a couple of rivers that wind through it. One was dried up. The other, the Black Mbulzi River still had water in it. The area is very hilly, hot, dusty and dry. People walk for miles to get to the few bore holes (wells) or the rivers each day to get their water. The cows and goats forage on their own looking for food. It amazes me anyone knows whose cow is whose but supposedly they go home at night.

The government provides desks for the schools when it is registered, but no chairs. It also provides basic books on the required subjects with the corresponding workbook each year. In the primary grades students are required to learn English, Siswati, Math, Science, Social Studies and Religious Education. In 6th grade students are required to take home economics and they must grow a simple vegetable garden and raise a chicken to maturity and then cook it. The students are allowed to eat the chicken after their home economics exam. I’m not so clear on who eats the vegetables from the garden if it is the school or the students.

The first school, Black Mbulzi Methodist Primary and Pre-school is quite a distance off the road. There are 450 students with 13 teachers. There are no teachers quarters here so teachers must travel quite a distance by some sort of “public” transportation: a kombi (a van for hire) or bus and then finish on foot. None have vehicles. Teachers have to buy whatever they use or make for the classroom. The home economics room at this school doesn’t have pots to cook in or food to cook. The students are required to bring their own pot and firewood. The stove doesn’t work. But somehow the very sweet home econ teacher does her best. She has 62 students at a time and her course is a required one for the students to pass.

The school gets it water from the Black Mbulzi River which is way down the hill. There is a pump house at the top of the hill to pump up the water into a tank so they can use it. However the pump isn’t big enough to do the job and it is broken anyway. Therefore, students have to take containers down to the river each day and carry up water to cook the beans and rice or mealie for lunch; for washing and to drink. From where I was standing, looking down at the river, the cow that was standing in the river looked so small I can’t imagine making that hike in an entire day, let alone in time to have water to cook the lunch. They eat about 10:00 as children don’t eat breakfast. Keep in mind that the beans are dried and they can’t be soaking the day before or they would be gone.

The little Black Mbulzi Methodist church, which “owns” the property the school is on, is currently housing a preschool of 15 children. There is nothing in the church for the children except a rug to sleep on. A new preschool is being built. It is a very nice, small concrete brick building on a concrete slab with two rooms and a storage room. However, the furniture, materials, food, water situation will remain the same.

Tuition is charged for the schools, and uniforms are required. I noticed several of the children had very tattered and torn uniforms or wore only partial uniforms. Many didn’t have shoes. Tuition rates depend on the grade and the school. A child is not kept from going to school if their parents cannot pay tuition. Plans are made for the parents, if there are any, to pay as they can. Most parents are seriously behind on tuition. The government is supposed to pay the tuition for the orphaned children, however, I understand that comes several months late and takes a lot of work to make sure the child is registered as an orphan.

Tuition rates for Black Mbulzi Methodist School range from R244 for grades 1 & 2 up to R317 for 6th grade and R502 for 7th grade. It appears as if the very rural Methodist schools also provide a 7th grade class. Preschool tuition (ages 3 – 6) is R345 a year, which didn’t make any sense to me. I’m hoping I heard incorrectly, but I don’t think so. I’ve been told that parliament passed a law that children cannot go to primary school unless they have attended a preschool. Children in grade 1 range from 6 to 12. It all depends on the child’s circumstance.

What are the directions to get to the school? Take the road to Sitkei until I pass the (small) sign for Croyden Manufacture and turn left at the sign. (no warning) There is little store there. Follow the dirt road down over the dry creek then up the hill, going towards the school once I can see it. I’m hoping someone will come with me a few more times! If I miss the Croyden sign and come to the Black Mbulzi River, I’ve gone too far. Piece of cake!

After Black Mbulzi, we drove about 30 minutes until we found the newest Methodist carepoint in a “town” called Nkambini. The Nkambini carepoint was just dedicated in November, 2006. It serves about 45 children: about twenty-five 3 to 5 year olds and about twenty 5 – 10 year olds. These children receive nourishment and some sort of preschool “education”, although this isn’t categorized as a pre-school. Nkambini doesn’t have water. They have to fetch it from the government primary school which is nearby. However, they are the proud owner of new pit toilets, and a kitchen. Two new eco brick stoves with a shelter will be built. In the mean time, they cook the meal over an open fire outside and then bring it into the kitchen to serve. The kitchen is about 8’ by 8’ so it is mainly used to serve the food and store the pot when it isn’t being used.

Many of the homes in this area of Swaziland are mud and stick structures. Most people are unemployed and the land is so dry growing a garden or crops is not feasible.

From the carepoint, a local Manyano lady showed us the way to the home of a handicapped student’s home that the Young Men’s Guild at St Paul’s in Manzini pays to go to the Catholic school for the handicapped. The young man was home on school holiday. His family lives in a very small round mud and stick structure. There is no water, no garden and I doubt much food. His mother and father don’t work. The boy, in his wheelchair, and his family were sitting outside. The family insisted I sit in the prime spot in the lone chair in the shade. No one spoke English. I fought back the tears and prayed silently for them. Thank God that the Young Men’s Guild has adopted this young man, but I couldn’t help wonder what the next three weeks of holiday were going to be like for him, or what awaits him when he is too old for the handicapped school.

Please pray for the dedicated teachers. They are doing an amazing job with what little they have. And always, pray for the children and people who are living in such extreme poverty under such extreme conditions. My camera batteries died (I did have spares) and then the memory stick was full so I couldn’t take all the pictures I would have liked to, which is a good thing. Taking pictures of some of what I saw today just wouldn’t have been right.

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