Text and photos: Teresa Grøtan
“Welcome, visitors. Welcome, visitors!” Eight women in burgundy-coloured skirts and white T-shirts – some hailing from a Norwegian jazz festival – greet us with singing, clapping and dancing.
We have arrived in the village of Dopota in south-western Zimbabwe, where Norway’s Sabona organisation first began its work and is still active. The members of our reception committee belong to a seamstress group which makes school uniforms and weaves baskets for sale.
Over a three-hour car journey, the overcast heavens at Bulawayo to the south have given way to a wide blue sky and a dry landscape has become progressively greener. Our group includes Anette Ruud Hennum, Sabona’s programme manager, Inger Elise Iversen, general manager, and Teresa Grøtan of the Kavli Trust. Also along for the ride are Thomas Ndlovu, operative manager at Sabona, and Theresi Sibanda, an MSc student receiving financial support from Sabona and the trust.
A white wall marks the entrance to Dopota primary school, and also carries the painted slogan “Welcome” as well as cheerful images of giraffes, elephants, children and the Zimbabwean flag.
Delight Moyo ran here every day as a boy, primarily to be fed. Although the food drew him, his time in class also had an educational outcome. This 22-year-old, who grew up next door to the school, is now pursuing business studies at university in Bulawayo (read more about him here).
We meet grandfather Elijah Moyo, seated under a grass roof in his front yard and displaying the same broad smile as his grandson.
A number of simple buildings have been raised around the yard, hens peck about and two wrecked cars are parked for eternity. The site is airy and spacious, but plainly marked by poverty.
Elijah thanks us for all the help Delight and the rest of his family have received from Sabona.
On our way into the school, we meet a crowd of small children – some in uniform, others not, and one in a Norwegian sweater. They run laughing up to us and pose for the camera.
Well-fed and on their way home, some still have food around their mouths. Free school meals remain essential, since Zimbabwe – and particularly Matabeleland, where Dopota lies – has lagged behind economically.
Ndlovu recalls that neither electricity nor water was available during his own schooldays in the village, but he always had food. Conditions are so precarious today that the school lunch is often the only meal for the pupils, who are by and large malnourished. Four million Zimbabweans need food aid.
The teachers who live near the school now have power, toilets and showers in their own building – more than many of its counterparts in the area can boast. This is another result of collaboration between Sabona and locals. Food is cooked over an open fire, while washing up is done in a tub among flowers and green plants.
Inside the school, in an open area under a tin roof, two women stand bent over a long row of plates and share out soya beans, sardines and maize porridge. The parents take it in turns to feed 360 children every day from three huge pots over the open fire. Each child takes its plate and sits on tree trunks, fences or the bare ground.
We drive off the next day along a narrow road which constantly crosses similar paths. No stranger could find their way around here, everything seems to blend together. Our destination is Nechilibi secondary school, which Moyo also attended. A lot of the pupils who started their studies gave up because no food was provided.
We meet children whose fees are paid by the trust. Seven girls and three boys silently fetch chairs from the classroom and place them on the parched ground.
Dressed in uniforms of burgundy and cream, they sit with serious faces and respond politely to questions about what they want to be – fashion designer, nature manager, and several doctors, teachers and nurses.
Asked what challenges they face, their initial answer is a little timid – to learn new things. But field worker Meshack Mpofu, who knows them well, draws out other responses. These include having to walk so far to get to school (eight kilometres each way), lacking the right uniform, not having enough to eat at home and not having enough textbooks.
They have no more to say, and asking further questions is difficult.
Another group of pupils sits in a ring around Theresi Sibanda, who has agreed with Sabona to write his MSc dissertation on why the dropout rate is so high. He appears to be establishing a good dialogue with the children. Some of the reasons for the problem are obvious, but he will devote time to identifying others.
That evening we sit under a huge star-spangled sky on chairs donated several years earlier by Norway’s Toothfairy record company, and eat a festive meal cooked over an open fire.
Our thoughts are with these youngsters, who face almost insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to achieve a better life. We hope it might help them a bit to know that some people, other than their own family and friends, in a country far away also support them, believe in them and want to help them.
- Sabona is a Norwegian organisation which works on health, education, agriculture, culture and commerce in Zimbabwe.
- It was founded in 2001 by Ynghild Solholm.
- Sabona has three employees in the southern African country – Sungano Amuli as general manager, Thomas Ndlovu as operative manager and field worker Meshack Mpofu. In addition, it has recruited a network of local representatives and volunteers
- The Kavli Trust has contributed since 2014 to Sabona’s fund for upper secondary, vocational and higher education grants.
- General manager Inger Elise Iversen and Teresa Grøtan from the trust visited Zimbabwe in March 2016 to learn more about the organisation’s work. They were accompanied by Anette Ruud Hennum, Sabona’s programme manager.
Read the earlier article from Zimbabwe here.
Read more about Sabona (in Norwegian only).