Two teachers from Barlborough Hall School, the preparatory department of Mount St. Mary’s College in Spinkhill, recently travelled to Zimbabwe to take gifts from their students to the youngsters at Makumbi Primary School near Harare.
The two schools have been linked since 2005 thanks to support from the Jesuit Missions Companions Programme and the British Council Connecting Classrooms project.
Barlborough’s Maria Neal and Rachael Cockell were able to present a cheque for £1,400 to their counterparts at Makumbi Primary to pay for books, resources and teacher training for a major new reading initiative.
The money had been raised by pupils via a ‘bob-a-job’ scheme which saw them being paid to carry out small tasks for family and friends.
Backing the Happy Readers project is the latest in a series of Barlborough Hall fundraising projects for the Zimbabwean school. Previous initiatives have paid for a water tower, a generator and a roof on Makumbi’s library and ICT block.
However, as Maria Neal is keen to stress, the link between the two schools is just as much about friendship as it is about fundraising.
She said: “This twinning scheme is a great way for pupils from very different backgrounds to come together, interact and learn about each other’s lives.”
And Mrs Neal also pointed out that the British school can learn a lot from the African one in a number of key areas: “The method of teaching handwriting at Makumbi achieves excellent results, perhaps because the children begin by writing in sand rather than on paper.
“They can also teach us a lot about recycling, because as a poor country they re-use everything they can, and throw very little away.”
However, despite these positive features, life remains extremely difficult for many people in a country with a failing economy, rampant inflation and widespread fuel and food shortages.
Mrs Neal added: “HIV also remains a huge problem in Zimbabwe, with new children arriving regularly at the Makumbi orphanage following the death of their parents. This is very difficult to witness, as are some everyday features of the children’s lives.”
“Some pupils have to walk several miles to and from school, yet they literally have no food to eat at lunchtime. It’s very hard to watch.”
Nevertheless, in spite of these ongoing problems, Barlborough Hall and Makumbi staff are determined to maintain the cultural and spiritual links between the two schools.
For example, on their recent visit the two Sheffield teachers took with them ‘British culture in a box’, the top ten features of life in this country as selected by the Barlborough Hall pupils.
These included the Queen, a British Christmas, the BBC, the union jack, Big Ben and fish and chips!
Now the plan is for staff from Makumbi to come to Barlborough Hall later in the year when they will bring with them their pupils’ selection of what constitutes ‘Zimbabwean culture in a box’.
“This sums up the real value of this scheme,” said Maria Neal. “It’s about fun, friendship, and learning from others, while sharing our common spiritual inheritance.”