It has been a long while since this blog has been attended to and in great part, this is due to the fact that we have been so busy on the ground that we have rather lost sight of the outside world! However, we have not lost sight of the incredible provision and love and encouragement we have had from all of our loyal friends and supporters all over the world over the last year.
It is so wonderful to look back on where we have come from to where we are today. We started off with a piece of land that was overgrown and untended and we now have a buzzing little centre that is filled with smiling happy faces every day. We welcome 83 children a day into our classrooms and another 120 children into the centre each day to provide them with a meal and a place to play and be loved.
This year has seen the biggest changes at the Caledonia Rose Preschool. With the support of Amanzi Restaurant and their ‘Dollar-a-Dinner’ fund (http://www.amanzi.co.zw/social_responsibility.php), last year we were able to erect a fence around our centre that allows our children and all others who come to the centre to feel safe. It gives the community a space where they can come and play, talk, work and eat with the knowledge that they are cared for and loved in this space.
Thanks to generous donations from Anthony Haggie and Elvis and Marta Gonzalez, we have erected 3 more classrooms, increasing our student body from the 27 we had at the end of last year to the 83 children we accommodate at present. We have been donated wonderful play equipment that the children use to the point that it has to be repaired every 3 months! Last year, we constructed 6 blair toilets but due to the very high water table in Caledonia, we have had to construct a proper ablution block with soak away system and flushing loos. Thanks to Alistair Geddes and Impact International as well as the Hand in Hand Foundation Worldwide, we now have 6 flushing loos for the children, 3 for girls and 3 for boys, and one for the teachers.
We have transferred our feeding programme container from the bottom of the site to an area just inside the entrance and have renovated it and painted it bright red. We have constructed a verandah with concrete chairs and tables and the children come in well-behaved, happy little groups to receive their meal. Thanks to Nicholas Simpson and Elvis and Marta Gonzalez we have been able to carry out these renovations and will be able to feed the children until August next year without worrying about where we will find their next meal.
Thanks to the Beit Trust, we are currently erecting a skills development centre which will become a space for counseling and training, in partnership with the Child Resource Institute of Zimbabwe (CRIZ) and their Support for Young Women and Girls (SWAG) programme. This centre will open in January 2016 with reading and project resources to be used to educate the girls and to train them so that they can start projects of their own.
Our plans for 2016 include the construction of a sports area where the children can be taught ball skills and carry out other such activities in a covered, appropriate space. Alongside this, we aim to run the nutrition garden where each class will have their own allocated garden and where they will learn to grow vegetables and have the opportunity to eat their own products and to give them away to those less fortunate than themselves. We also aim to improve our water source, digging a deeper well and providing clean water to the children at the school and those on the feeding programme. With donations from David Ryan, Juila and Andrew Mama, The Hand in Hand Foundation Worldwide and Elvis and Marta Gonzalez, we will be able to carry out these projects as well as cover some of the ongoing costs of the centre in the early months of next year!
As well as the many physical changes we have seen taking place on our site this year, we have seen the most wonderful change in the children thanks to the remarkable people with whom we work. The teachers themselves, unqualified and paid very little, are the most fantastic group of dedicated, hardworking women. They truly love the children and are always on call to help out where needed. They have been hugely encouraged by the formidable group of volunteers we have had join us this year. Jo Craig, Freya Ritchie and Sarah Blythewood have uninhibitedly given of their time and effort to train the teachers, spend time with the children and be a hugely significant part of our little school. They have added so much joy and light to the project and it is clear to see that their presence is hugely appreciated. The other day, I was about 500m out of the school gates, around the corner from the school and a whole lot of little children ran up to my car shouting ‘Auntie Jo, Auntie Jo!!!’ They were hugely disappointed to see that it was only me!
Martha has, as per usual, been the rock of the project. She was very ill at the beginning of the year but has come back stronger and more determined than ever before. She is my heroine and truly teaches me so much about humility, love, fortitude and faith. I have so much gratitude and respect for her and will never be able to thank her enough for all she has done to make this all happen. She has been hugely assisted this year by Tammy Dykes, the director of CRIZ, whose unwavering determination and drive has seen much change happen in TFP and at the Caledonia Rose Preschool.
Our UK trustees, Charles Wentzel and Bryony Dobson, have seen the registration of The Foundations Project (UK) carried out and have both been out to visit us in Zimbabwe. They are both on hand with advice and assistance and have been solid advisors when I have wavered every now and again.
And so, we end our year with 40 children graduating and going on to Grade 1 at various schools in the area. This will allow us to register another 40 children next year to join us in our classrooms and my hope is that we have provided those who are leaving with the hope for a better future, a future filled with confidence, joy, physical and emotional strength but most of all with the gift of education that they can take with them into the world and hopefully one day give on to others.