Dorcas Mhungu Post Correspondent
Their day starts very early in the morning, braving the chilly weather of the pristine upper Vumba resort area, including small Early Childhood Development (ECD) learners.
Their quest to go to school and be counted among the literate population of Zimbabwe, is as lofty as the Vumba mountains. Their determination is as deep as the valleys Excelsior Primary School learners walk to school and a distance about 7km for some of the learners.
The terrain is characterised by steep slopes and wet plains that the learners have to ascent and descend every school day and in some places they have to cross the ice cold perennial streams barefoot. Their parents said they slash the paths their children use to get to school saying unless they clear the foot paths, they would be rendered impassable by the rainforest vegetation and high rainfall typical of this part of Zimbabwe.
Along the way, some slip and fall and the morning dew wets their clothing but this does not dampen their spirits and desire to learn.
After snaking through the forest and arriving at school, they fetch water to drink and wash their hands from a nearby source before lessons start. This is a daily undertaking. When The Manica Post travelled to the school on Tuesday, it was after 8 am and the learners were still fetching water and carrying 20 litre buckets on their heads and they were going to the classrooms, wading through the creosote soaked ground, blackening their feet.
One of the parents told The Manica Post that the children are now using longer routes because the shorter routes are impassable because of timber logging activities in the Vumba area. She said children who opt to use the shorter routes slip and fall over the debarked logs “some of the logs have been lying there for three years,” Mrs Sekai Murukwa said.
“It is a big problem. The children slip and fall while trying to go over the big logs left lying across the paths and get to school dirty and their uniforms soiled,” Mrs Murukwa said about the difficulties their children have to endure going to school.
She also said parents are finding it difficulty to pay school fees and supplying writing books because most of them are no longer employed.
Mrs Precious Ngondonga said when the coffee company — Falls Croft was still operating and running the school, the learners used to get all the learning material. She said parents contribute 25c per child for relish if there is mealie-meal to provide sadza and relish for the school children. We take turns to cook for the children. Vumba residents from Mazarotti, Three Streams, Eden Lodge and Manchester take turns to cook for the learners only if there is mealie meal,” Mrs Ngondonga said.
Excelsior Primary School has only four female teachers including the headmistress. The acting headmistress Ms Memory Mudzinganyama said the school’s learners come from poor families from surrounding farms and estates. “Paying fees is a serious challenge because the parents say they are not being paid wages by their employers and some lost their jobs,” the school head who has been at the school for 16 years shared the problems affecting the efficient running of the school.
“Some parents have not paid fees for four years. We have no electricity and potable water. There used to be running water when Falls Croft was running the school. We are four ladies and we have composite classes.”
The classrooms are partitioned by wood poles covered with sacks making it extremely difficult for the learners to concentrate. Ms Mudzinganyama said the standard sports ground have not been functional for three years due to lack of support staff. Each teacher teaches two grades and switches from one grade to another, a situation the teachers say is debilitating and time consuming.
The teachers live in the compound formerly built for Falls Croft workers with other residents from the area,” some of them leak and some of the pit toilets are now full,” Ms Mudzinganyama. There is an unfinished block that, according to Mrs Mudzinganyama was commissioned by the late Dr Joshua Nkomo in 1997. “If only we could have the block completed it would ease the classroom shortage and storage space.” Her office is multifunctional serving also as a storeroom for books and gardening tools.
The deputy headmistress Mrs Joyce Matungwana said the children cleared a netball ground after a call to parents to come and clear the ground fell on deaf ears adding that parents contributions towards school development and maintenance is poor.
Contacted for comment, Manicaland Provincial Education Officer, Edward Shumba said he was not aware of the situation at Excelsior Primary School.
“This issue has not been brought to my attention. The issue of parents’ inability to pay depends whether they genuinely cannot pay or unwillingness to pay. There is need for the school development committee to sit down with parents and find a solution to the payment of school fees. There are flowers blossoming in the desert,” Mr Shumba said.
He however, confirmed that the school is an old school serving a sparsely populated community. “We need to visit the school so that we can help each other to solve the challenges. It is unfortunate that the children are going through such difficulties fetching water and exposure to hazardous chemicals. The school premises must be cordoned off so that outsiders do not just come in and use the school premises,” Mr Shumba said.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Manicaland provincial manager, Kingstone Chitotombe said, “EMA officers went to the operational site and there was evidence that the place was once used for treating timber using creosote. The affected area is approximately 10 square metres. Oral evidence claimed that the site operators have relocated to Nyanga.
Evidence on the ground showed that the area was used for a period which does not exceed three months. There were creosote spills and scattered timber logs which still need to be cleared and removed. The Agency is monitoring the situation and any other possible sites where pole treatment is taking place.” He also confirmed that creosote is a hazardous chemical especially in an aquatic environment.