Years after African countries gained independence, education is still a privilege in some of them, particularly for people living in rural areas where development is slow or limited.
Children walking or running kilometres to and from school is an all too familiar story.
Long distances to school while hungry
For one Zimbabwean, Cecil Sibanda who is based in the US, memories of walking three hours to school on an empty stomach were enough for him to lead an initiative to build a school for his community.
I have personally experienced what it’s like to walk long distances to school while hungry. I walked for four years going to and coming from school.Cecil Sibanda
Born and raised in the Umzingwane District, Matabeleland, which is the most undeveloped province in the country, Sibanda remembered “freezing temperatures, hot summers, and crossing the mighty Nsezi River were all part of that journey”.
He said: “I do not want others to go through what I went through.”
Sibanda attended Mzinyathini Secondary School. The school had limited facilities and when he wanted to pursue an advanced level of education, the stage which qualifies one to study at university, his only option was to move to the city.
Since he had no family in Bulawayo, he had to rent a room and make do with what was available for two years.
Building the school
Sibanda’s formative years inspired him to start building a school in 2014 to better the lives of children who are experiencing the same thing he went through.
“After university, I went to live and work in the United States. I wanted to do something for my community. The main idea I had was to build a school,” he said.
The school idea was bought into by Good Samaritans and it took off despite bureaucratic hurdles at first.
I’m not rich. I am average, but I built the school. Through determination, the project took off after the government allocated 24 hectares to our community.
He said the aim of the school was “the provision of high-quality, practically useful and reasonably accessible education which must never be withheld based on geography, gender, economy, income, social class or any other uncontrollable circumstance of a child’s birth.”
The village is overjoyed
The private school, which opened its doors this year, is called Mlomotsha School of Excellency.
Abson Sibanda, the village head of Tshalimbe where the school is located, said he was happy to be alive to see such an amazing initiative come true.
“I praise God for keeping me alive until today. Seeing such work done by the young brings joy,” he added.
This year, the school enrolled Form 1 pupils, and Cecil Sibanda said more classes would be added next year.
“In the short term, we have Form 1 classes but the bigger picture is to have up to Form 6. Next year, if all plans go well, we will have a boarding school enrolment. We will have low-cost boarding and ordinary boarding facilities.
“This is because while we have come up with the school to ease the distance and access for many, there are others who are still walking long distances to get here,” he added.
A-Levels and boarding facilities
At its inception, the school had 40 pupils, 12 of them girls, and four teachers.
By next year, the school will have science and technology laboratory to help the pupils get access to an education similar to their peers in urban areas.
Sibanda said the school would not only specialise in academics, but also on agriculture and other technical skills.
“We are going to engage in intensive farming projects. We have water in the area, and villagers have access to this water too for home use,” he added.
The school is Sibanda’s way of improving Zimbabwe through development.