Ziga means ‘surprise’ in Ndebele. And that sums up my experience of it. A troubling one in 2008 when I joined Sue Goatley who runs Children in the Wilderness (CITW) Zimbabwe on a visit; during the first CITW Zimbabwe camp to be run, we’d been gobsmacked at the fact that the kids were literally starving. So Sue decided to go see the headmasters of the village schools on the border of Hwange National Park, close to the concessions in which we operate there – Ziga Village being one of them – and see what was going on for herself.
I joined her on the journey. A scattering of neat, well-made homestead with the obligatory hens, goats, donkeys and scrawny dogs, at that time all that could be said of Ziga village was that it was neat. Not much food around for anyone.
The primary school was quite simply a shocker. I remember how my heart tore in two as smiling, tattered kids, so excited to see us and sing for us, spilled out of two dilapidated roofless buildings, peeling walls, no windows – just holes – uneven broken floors… and one headmaster who was also the only teacher for the entire school. At that time, teachers had literally left the country to work in SA where they at least would be paid a salary as opposed to Zimbabwe at the time. The headmaster had just two school leavers to whom he told what to teach and they tried to teach grades 1 through 7.
Sue took one look and decided that was it: CITW was going to start feeding the children and building the schools – starting with this one. She started raising funds via some of the guests at our Hwange camps, and the good reports began trickling, then pouring in: basic ingredients were being bought and taken to the school where the parents took turns to make food so that every child had at least one good meal a day. Then we began reading about how the building was going, the borehole was being repaired, desks being delivered… it was exciting and inspiring.
Five years later, in April of this year, I returned to Ziga. That is, along with the CITW directors and coordinators from all seven countries in which CITW runs its programmes, plus some advisors and hangers-on (that would be me). Despite being April, it was hot with those enormous, blinding-blue skies, and we’d enjoyed a long, jackal-filled game drive (oh and some lovely eland too) through Wilderness’ private concession in Hwange to get to the village.
And now the surprise was one of delight, awe and joy.
Instead of the ramshackle structures are four new smart buildings, painted a bright blue to match the sky, tin roofs gleaming in the Zimbabwean sun. Inside each one are three classrooms, all with chairs, desks, chalk and blackboards, projects and pictures decorating the straight, painted walls.
Four (blue obviously) rondavels have been built at the front gate; these are homes for the teachers. The headmaster has his own office and house, complete with a computer, printer and even internet access!
The borehole is another miracle. Not just that it now works, providing a basic necessity to the children and teachers, but where formerly it sat sadly in the midst of a dustbowl, there is now a thriving organic vegetable garden. That’s because the school cannot rely on donors forever; it must become sustainable. So CITW started an Eco-Club, where the school kids who are members meet every Wednesday afternoon, and amongst other things work in the vegetable garden, complete with a worm farm and other innovative ideas that allow food to be grown in one of the driest areas in Zimbabwe. In fact, there’s a veggie for their parents too!
On the other side of the school grounds is the open-sided kitchen where the feeding scheme takes place every school day, as well as a chicken run – again, looked after by parents so that the kids and teachers get eggs and meat – and of course the toilets. No ‘of course’ about it, I’m afraid, as these also needed donations in order to be built…
No kids came out to meet us this time because it was school holidays, but the “knitting mothers” had arrived, all smart in clothes they’d made themselves to show off their wares. This is another of Sue’s initiatives: these women have learnt how to knit and can now knit in anything from wool to plastic, turning out bags, scarves, jersey and hats. Their pride was palpable and as we left, they danced and sang us out.
I asked Cain (an ex-teacher now working for CITW) what they were singing. He said, “They’re singing ‘Something is moving forward at Ziga, something is growing.’”