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Bikes, Books, and Fish: Benzi Primary School’s Strides in Rural Education

MASVINGO — Under the shade of a towering tree, students at Benzi Primary School in rural Zimbabwe, express their appreciation: ‘Thank you, father, lead us home. Amen’ – a special prayer they practise at the end of each day.

They quench their thirst and fill their bottles with water, provided through the Schools Improvement Grant before riding home, some riding far as 10 kilometres away, in their bicycles donated by World Bicycle Relief.

The Education Development Fund (EDF), supported by the UK and German governments, has facilitated improvements in water supply, infrastructure, and educational resources.

The EDF enables donors to jointly support the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in its activities, with UNICEF managing the funds and providing technical support.

Headmaster Makasi Chimwayi said the grant, known as SIG Wash, has helped the school start a fish pond and install solar-powered systems, making it a hub of holistic education and sustainable development.

The Schools Improvement Grant (SIG) Wash grant, which focuses on water, sanitation, and hygiene, has helped the school to set up a fish pond for a fishery project, from which the school has harvested about 60 kg of tilapia fish since last year.

“We created this fish pond from the provision of the solar-powered water that we had,” said Chimwayi.

The school also has two hectares with sorghum, which they sell to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and use the income to supplement the needs of the school. The school has also benefited from the SIG Regular grant, which has provided books, furniture, and catch-up material for the students who missed school during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We received furniture through SIG. Before we received this furniture, our students were sitting on the floors and this meant they couldn’t write properly. Now we have benches and furniture and it’s better. We still have a problem with furniture for ECD (Early Childhood Development). And when it rains, we don’t have room,” said Chimwayi.

The headmaster also said that the SIG Wash grant has enabled the school to implement an orchard and a garden project, which they intend to use for the feeding scheme. “Through the provision of SIG Wash, we are now moving to drip irrigation. We have beans and maize and we are now targeting drip irrigation for our garden. That will allow our feeding program to flourish,” he said.

The school has also received support from Malilangwe, a conservation trust, which has helped them to install a new water system with a 60-metre borehole, a 60-horsepower pump, and six water points.

“We had a borehole which always broke down, but this fund helped us. We had 3,000 from the grant, and with 1,700 we bought new parts for our borehole. We were left with 1,300 and with this amount we went to Malilangwe, who we sought their help for piping and further water assistance. They received us well and pledged to help us with a new water system,” said Chimwayi.

The headmaster also attributed the improvement in the school’s pass rate to the resources provided by the grant. “In 2021, our pass rate was 39.9%, but in 2022 our pass rate improved to 60%, and last year it went up to 76.32%. I attribute this improvement to being equipped with books, electricity, and motivated teachers who bring these students to a high standard. All these combined increased our pass rate,” he emphasised.

Echoing the sentiment of progress, Taungana Ndoro, Director of Communications and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, emphasized the government’s commitment to replicating Benzi Primary School’s success across rural Zimbabwe.

Highlighting aspirations for universal access to quality education, Ndoro underscored the importance of equipping schools with essential amenities to foster a conducive learning environment.

“We aspire for all rural schools to emulate the success of Benzi Primary School,” Ndoro stated. “Efforts are underway to address challenges like solarization to ensure consistent power supply for digital platforms and internet connectivity. Our goal is to eradicate the educational divide between urban and rural areas through our ‘Dream School’ campaign.”

Acknowledging concerns about teacher retention, Ndoro pointed out, “While issues of remuneration persist, the provision of amenities like water and connectivity enhances the overall appeal of rural schools in line with the Second Republic’s mantra of leaving no-one and no-place behind. Our ongoing initiatives mark just the beginning of a broader rollout aimed at establishing model rural schools akin to Benzi.”

Despite these strides, challenges persist, notably the absence of nearby secondary schools and inadequate infrastructure.

The nearest secondary school is situated 19kilometres away says Benzi Primary School headmaster, Chimwayi.

Students still endure long journeys to access secondary education, while some still learn under makeshift shelters due to insufficient classroom facilities.

Despite these hardships, the students have big dreams. Students who spoke to ZimMorningPost off camera say they want a school with excellent teachers, books and meals, reflecting their unwavering commitment to learning and growth.

And as the sun sets on Benzi Primary School, the students ride home, hydrated and hopeful. They aspire for better education, more support, and community development.