When you have acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
you're hooked on Africa for life
And you will not be right again
Until you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know they are around you,
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the elephants,
Or to hear the coucal's song
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire
You have been away too long.
It's time to cut the traces loose
And let your heart go free
Beyond that far horizon
Where your spirit yearns to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Schools Out for Summer

children on a crab collecting mission

We popped in to see the school while we were in Mozambique a week or so ago.  Although it was already school holidays and the children were at home or visiting relatives, we did manage to speak to the Head Teacher Senor Machal, whose village adjoins the school property.

Lucas (left) and Snr Machal, Head Teacher

I must say without the vibrant energy of the children, the acre of sand looked pretty dejected.  'Our' school room looked great but the others seemed to be in various states of disrepair. One classroom had a roof, but the palm leaf walls had fallen away - probably in a storm; another room had caniso walls like ours, but the roof was gone.  I expect all will be put together again for the new year once the rainy season is over. The summer rains bring wind storms that can be very destructive.

Lucas assures me he still intends to finish the concrete floor on 'our' schoolroom and the remaining roof sheets, but he has to wait for his annual leave.  The materials meanwhile are stored at his house. It is not safe to leave them in the deserted school yard.

Senor Machal at the grass hut where the school benches are stored for the holiday season
his wife chose not to be photographed

Senor Machal has taken the very smart benches we had made, and is storing them in a separate grass hut in his village.  We were taken there and shown that they were safely stored in a dry place.  This time I was able to give Lucas enough cash to make some more benches, with generous donations from Geli  and Kelly and Bill Smith from Hampshire, UK who were with us on the trip.

future scholars at Matsopane

Sadly some vandals had come in and destroyed one of the blackboards.  When the school has so little, it is incredible to think someone from the same village would do such a thing, but I suppose it only takes one person.  Hence the need to securely store the benches and books.

village women harvesting the coastal floodplains

Huge thanks to the efforts of Geli ,  Janet , and Amanda we have a growing nest egg of funds collected during the festive season, which will go towards having desks made. Please visit Amanda's blog to see her Christmas post about the school.  It really is wonderful to know that in these difficult economic times, and during the frenetic christmas season, there are people who can extend the spirit of giving to include this little school at the end of a long sandy track.  I know it makes a huge difference to the children and teachers, to know that there are people out there that think of them.

dhow fishermen bringing home the catch

Some people have asked if the children know about Christmas. Well certainly, there are various mission churches in the area, and I know Lucas' family go to the Catholic Church - but I very much doubt they know anything about Christmas lights, Santa, decorated trees, turkey feasts and the complaints of excess that follow a day of surfeit on the consumer side.

Heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Matsopane school to all who have supported them thus far and Merry Christmas wishes to one and all.

dhow fishing and tourism is a major source of income for the men of the village

Sunday, June 26, 2011

letters to and from

Sergio, his Car, and his Chicken
drawn by Orlando Jordao, Matsopane School

Head Teacher, Senor Machal receives the sheaf of letters and photos from Amanda 
Lucas (left) acts as interpreter for me
We are back from a quick run to Mozambique.  This time, I had two rather special packages to deliver to Matsopane School.  The first was an envelope containing a sheaf of letters written to the children of Matsopane school by a group of primary school children in Missouri, USA.  Inspired, motivated and collected by the lovely Amanda  you can read more about the school project she put together here .

the American letters; photo cribbed from Amanda's blog post
(hope thats ok Amanda??)

Included with the letters were some postcards of her hometown, maps of USA and the World to put the distance in context; pictures of Amanda, and her friends who assisted with translating the children's questions into Portuguese. Altogether a wonderful, magical, long arm of friendship reaching out across the miles.

handing out pencils and gifts from Geli 

The second package, was a pile of stationary from Geli including  paper, exercise books, pencils, pens, crayons, sharpeners, erasers, more pencils and more crayons - oh and i added in some balloons, and a packet of magic wands. Everything required for sending replies to the letters.

inside the schoolroom built by bloggers

On my previous visit, we had handed over funds to make benches for the new schoolroom. Here they are being put to full use.  The cement floor has yet to be thrown, and Lucas decided to build out of local materials rather than bricks and mortar as it is much cooler and more suitable to the tropical climate.  It is the smartest schoolroom on the acre of sand and thats for sure!  

the very smart and sturdy benches funded by us all
made out of teak wood which should last forever
The cement floor is still in the pipeline apparently.

All the children crowded around us as we handed over the letters and stationary packages.  Some played a game of grandmothers footsteps behind my back, running and giggling whenever I turned round. It was hard not to play but to stay focussed on the conversation with their Head Teacher.

Senor Machal  was very happy with the letters and stationary package 

children receiving pencils and stationary from dear Geli 
with which to draw the Letters of Reply

I think the writing is done by the teachers, thus the children seem to have answered the questions with pictures rather than words - but every picture tells a story! You can clearly see the tin roofs, and the reed walls which are the most usual, and practical, form of building for this environment - even if they dont last forever.

fish by Fabio Vilanculos

Monday, March 21, 2011

we did it!

new schoolroom - class in progress

We did it! here are the pictures of the new school room at Matsopane, built by Lucas and his team. A few zinc sheets remain to finish off the roof, and the concrete floor has yet to be laid, but the school now has at least one decent sized, weatherproof, rainproof, cool shady school room - thanks to all your efforts!  Some village politics - which I have written to you separately about, slowed down the process admittedly. But Lucas has all the materials to finish as soon as he gets the official go ahead.  In the meantime, we have given him funding to have 20 wooden benches built so that the children will no longer need to sit on the sand - or concrete when the floor is finished.

Lucas at the new schoolroom

We popped in to see the school room, and to drop off another box from Gorgeous Geli, full of footballs, books and various learning aids.  We also left them a big selection of acrylic paints, brushes, paper and magazines - together with sample pictures of paintings - including some by our dear Tessa -with which to inspire their creative imaginations.  There was also a collection of postcards sent in by some of you giving snippets of views of the world out there.  Everyone loves these postcards, and can pour over the images for ages discussing every detail.

Lucas, Head Teacher and another Teacher receiving the gifts of books, paints and FOOTBALLS

The children were in class.  Some came running out when we drove in, but were quickly called back in by the teachers and the little school in an acre of sand, was the picture of studious concentration - a far cry from the usual jubilant and energetic children that usually greet our arrival.  But this is what we want, and we saw no reason to disrupt the lessons this time.  All of our funding has gone into the building process lately so there were not enough books and pens for a handout ceremony this time anyhow.

We shook hands with the Head Teacher, and another Teacher who was not in class at that time.  I took a few sureptitious photos of Lucas standing by the new building. Here and there bright brown eyes peeped round corners at us, some smiling shyly - others watching, waiting for us to greet them and call them out into the bright sun.

We had battled to find the turn off to the school this time. The summer greenery had grown over the double sand track, making it look more like a footpath. "No-one has been here - you are the only ones" explained Lucas.  It is a year since we were last there. In the interim the only visitors to the school have arrived on foot.  The children follow their own paths through the villages and beside the cassava fields.

In the school yard, the new building stands out big and strong, next to the other ramshackle rooms.  It is made out of canisa - bundles of reeds bound together to form the walls.  This creates shade and protection whilst also allowing the air to circulate, keeping the interior cool and shady.  The tin roof covers the interior but will, in the fullness of time, extend by a couple of sheets on either side. It is shiny and new, bouncing the suns bright rays back into the sky.

Big congratulations to all who helped make this possible. Against all odds of distance and time, logistics and accessibility, and poor comms,  we have made a new schoolroom to replace the one destroyed by the cyclone in 2007. I think thats something to be proud of, and I am proud to know you all.  The real thanks are relayed on behalf of the children who now know that someone out there thinks of them and can make wishes come true.  There may still be frustrations but we have already made a huge difference to the learning opportunities of the children of Matsopane village. Thank you!

ps I just had a text message from Lucas that his friend will start making the benches next week.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

happy new year

This year has hit the ground running already with some wonderful positive input from our 'group of friends' on ways to help the school.  Having successfully rebuilt the school room last year (out of bricks and mortar with a tin roof which is hopefully cyclone proof this time)  we are now trying to save enough cash to make some wooden benches and desks.  The new school room has a cement floor, and while the children used to sit in the sand, they cannot sit on the cement for long periods - so benches are needed asap.

With some input already received from dear Geli and her friend in Germany, which I will match, we are already well on the way to wood for benches.

As soon as I can get up there, I will be able to post new pictures of the building and the school.  At the moment it is rainy season, so we will probably wait a bit but I am anxious to get there - its been too long!

In the meantime here are some more pictures from mozambique - sights seen along the  main coastal road to San Sabastiao.

rain soaked streets and a fast food joint

buying piri-piri from a roadside vendor

yellow mtel (cellphone) colours appearing everywhere
cellphones are huge in mozambique and have made such a difference for rural dwellers

one stop shop 
more roadside vendors

a truck full of bags of charcoal heading for markets in town
charcoal production is a village industry that consumes acres of indigenous forest

rainfall turns roadworks on the main coastal highway
into slippery mush

first view of the sea

we drove in rain for two days. the sunny skies of aqua blue made famous by Bob Dylan greeted us at the end of our journey

until next time then

ciao ciao