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Photo of Karina and Milton Moyo

In Zimbabwe, MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship helps bring education within reach and improves schools.

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The gift of learning

From the Summer 2010 issue of “A Common Place.”
Story by Linda Espenshade
Photographs by Silas Crews

Sunlight streams through the doorway of Karina Moyo’s round mud-built hut and illuminates the faces of her youngest son and six grandchildren who sit on the floor around her. For the future of these little ones and the rest of her family, Moyo places her hope in education.

As subsistence farmers in Lubizi, Zimbabwe, she and her husband, Elliott Moyo, raise maize, okra, sorghum and squash and tend goats to feed their family. They have seven children, ages 5 to 28, but over the years their family swelled to include an orphaned niece and nephew, six grandchildren, sisters and brothers and mother and father.

Each year the Moyos risk their own hunger by selling part of what they grow to pay for their children’s education in primary school, a risk some neighbors are not willing to take.

Public primary schools in Zimbabwe charge a minimum $10 fee each term to help pay for the child’s education. When the weather works against farmers, families go hungry and schooling is interrupted.

The national economic crisis of recent years has made paying for school even harder. As the currency became worthless in 2008, no one was able to buy or sell anything for many months. Even now, the profit from one cow does not buy what it used to, and prices of products and services are erratic.

“I am poor,” Moyo says. “The only thing I can do is try to send my children to school so that at least they can write a letter.”

Secondary school is another matter altogether. None of Moyo’s older children had been able to attend because it is 12 kilometers from home and too expensive. At a minimum of $540 a year for boarding students and $180 for day students, plus miscellaneous fees and uniform costs, it is not affordable for most farming families.

But three years ago, MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship program gave Moyo’s orphaned nephew, Milton Moyo, the opportunity to continue his education, with his school fees and boarding paid.

“Once he is educated and gets his qualifications,” Karina Moyo says, “he can take care of himself.”

And his family. Much of Karina Moyo’s hope for the future rides on the shoulders of Milton, whose parents died of food poisoning within three days of each other, when he and his twin sister, Zanele, were 7 months old. Immediately, Karina Moyo, whose last name means heart, brought them into her family and began raising them as her own.

Milton, now 19, is taking advanced classes at Khumbula Secondary School, one of four secondary schools operated by the Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church in Zimbabwe. A committee of parents and educators chose him as one of 14 MCC Global Family recipients — all are orphans and are academically talented.

Milton is very aware that Zimbabwe culture calls for family members to support each other, a responsibility he embraces.

“If I get educated,” says Milton proudly, “I am also going to educate my family. They are waiting for me.”

Many families of students at Khumbula Secondary School, like the Moyos, are placing their hopes for the future on the shoulders of their children.

MCC is committed to working in partnership with those students and parents and with Zimbabwe’s BIC Church to support their education.

Each year, MCC through Global Family provides more than $70,000 to 12 rural Zimbabwe schools, including $9,000 last year to Khumbula to help defray costs for the neediest students and to improve school facilities. Additional MCC funding helps develop the physical infrastructure of schools — funding that is especially needed at Khumbula Secondary School.

On school days, Milton wakes at 5 a.m. in the boys’ dormitory at Khumbula. Thirty-three boys sleep on mattresses atop metal bed frames lined up one against the other. A few frames are held up by piles of rocks. Clothing hangs from the rafters.

The boys carefully ration a few liters of water that must last each boarder two days for bathing. The water comes from a bore hole that MCC funded in 2007 so the school seldom needs to use water from the nearby dam, where farm animals routinely bathe.

There’s no electricity in the dormitory, and the boys fill irons with coals from a fire to press their trousers and button-down white shirts. Looking smart is important.

Although the boys endure crowded quarters now, a second boys’ dorm is being repaired with MCC funding. That building had so many holes in the roof that when it rained, all the boys took shelter in one corner of the building to stay dry, says Headmaster Themba Nyoni. Everything else got wet.

When Marcellin Danhoundo, of Benin, Africa, who serves as an MCC Zimbabwe representative with his wife, Esther Tchando, first visited the school in 2008, he was shocked by the condition of the dormitories — broken floors and students sleeping on the wire of old bed frames.

Nyoni, who had recently been appointed headmaster, was eager to link arms with MCC, as he advocated for his students and his teachers. Danhoundo made sure that mattresses soon arrived at the school.

The BIC Church began operating the school in 1993, after community leaders asked it to take over the public school that they said was no longer providing good education.

“We took that as a challenge,” says the Rev. Danisa Ndlovu, bishop of the BIC Church in Zimbabwe and president of Mennonite World Conference. However, the economic crisis over the years left the church with few resources to lift the school’s physical infrastructure and educational performance to the high standards of its other three secondary, boarding schools, he says.

On campus, Milton passes goats, chickens and a few donkeys that have wandered in from neighboring farms. Soon parents will install MCC-purchased fencing on the perimeter of the school grounds, preventing the cows from eating uniforms off the line and pigs from rooting through the garbage.

For breakfast, the cooks serve shiny, white mealie-meal, a refined maize cereal cooked over an open fire. There is no enclosed kitchen, no dining room and no chairs. Milton stands outside with his friends at 7 a.m., eating the porridge from colorful plates. If it’s raining, students eat quickly or run into nearby teachers’ quarters for shelter — until the teachers chase them out.

At 7:15 a.m., Milton and the boarders report for morning devotions, joining about 200 day students — if they have arrived. Day fees are cheaper per term, so some children walk two hours in the morning and two in the evening to be able to attend school.

The problem with that, says Bible and math teacher Silibele Mpofu, is that students don’t study in the evenings because they are tired from walking and then must do chores. The Global Family students are fortunate because they are allowed to board, Mpofu says.

“Our best four students were from MCC,” says computer teacher Eneshias Hamadziripi, “because they managed to have enough time to attend to all the lessons.”

Textbooks and teacher training were among the resources MCC provided to Khumbula teachers last year. MCC placed windows in all the teachers’ housing, classrooms and all other buildings on campus. New pit toilets are being dug.

Financial support from MCC is critical. Last year, the school was only able to collect 17 percent of the fees that should be used to strengthen the school’s infrastructure and educational system. In many other poor, rural areas, parents contribute to teachers’ salaries. At Khumbula, however, the parents do not. “We understand the situation for the teachers, but because we are also suffering we cannot do that,” says Robias Mpofu, father of two girls at Khumbula.

The poorest of the 12 Global Family schools in Zimbabwe, Khumbula will continue to be a priority, Danhoundo says.

In classrooms for grades eight through 11, students sit silently and attentively on chairs, some without seats to cover the metal frame. If students can afford notebooks and pens, they copy information from the chalkboards, most of which are worn almost to the point of being unreadable.

The computer classroom has one computer for the teacher and six students. Nine more computers are in boxes, but the electricity on campus is supplied by solar panels that don’t produce enough energy to support the lights and two computers.

Most students graduate after grade 11 or ordinary secondary school.

Milton is among the five students in advanced (A-level) classes, essentially grade 12 and grade 13 classes for university-bound pupils. They attend class in small storage areas adjoining the classrooms used for lower grades and sometimes share a single teacher’s textbook.

Milton spends the first two hours of one sunny morning taking notes from a business text. A quiet student, with a shy smile, he is comfortable with books and says he never gets tired of studying or learning.

In economics class, he and other students are quizzed on the advantages and disadvantages of free-market economies, centrally planned economies and mixed economies. The instructor pushes them to explain the answers they read from their notes.

Classes end around 3:30, and some students begin a long walk home. Others such as Milton relax before eating dinner and often head back to the classrooms, the only places that have light in the evenings.

Despite the challenges at Khumbula, A-level graduates will have job opportunities far beyond the fields that their parents are tending.

MCC representative Danhoundo noted that Zimbabwe, once prosperous, was known throughout Africa for its high quality of education. For now, he said, the quality of teaching nationwide remains high, even though facilities are becoming worn and supplies are lacking.

But the effects of years of economic turmoil show in everything from school buildings to a decline in the number of students being educated nationwide in the last two years. Educator Robert Sibanda, a private school administrator in Bulawayo and secretary to MCC Zimbabwe’s advisory committee, is concerned that fewer students are enrolled and fewer students are taking the exams to pass onto the next level.

Some students can’t afford to pay the exam fees, Sibanda said, and others aren’t taking them because their education was interrupted by the economic crisis. They don’t feel confident they will pass.

The struggling economy makes Global Family sponsorships and MCC support all the more valuable to educators, communities and students such as Milton Moyo.

“If it hadn’t been for MCC, he would have been like me, with no parents, no education, no anything,” his aunt Karina Moyo says. “May you always extend your hand to him so maybe he can go places and be able to sustain himself.”

Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC. Silas Crews is MCC’s photographer and multimedia producer.


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