Rotary International Theme 2002 - 2003
Late last year I received a request from Harare. Would Rotary Club of Bulawayo take over 5 cartons of school stationery from Australia. "Sure" I responded, knowing the area they were to be delivered to. "I know where Dete is, on the way to Hwange National Park", Chizhou Primary can't be far from there, we'll deliver."
Harare put me in touch with Thea Harris, an Australian lady who had come to Zimbabwe on holiday. Her hotel in Dete, had organised a tour of the area (VERY rural) which included the local primary school. Thea fell in love with the bright faced children and ached at their poverty and lack of basic school supplies, pencils, paper, crayons etc. She promised them that upon her return to Australia, she would raise funds and send the school goods.
I still remember Thea's first response to my question of 'Where is Chizhou Primary, they're not in the telephone book?' "Oh she replied, I have a postal address and they may remember me visiting around early April last year".
As it transpired, the school address was not the biggest problem, rather the releasing of the boxes from our customs without the correct documentation to effect a duty free certificate.
Each area of officialdom was certain they could accomplish the release. Zimbabwe High Commission in Canberra, Don Smith of the Australian High Commission in Harare, Rotarians of every senior position and all the while, our Rotarian Nomsa Ncube persevered along the correct channel.
In the end it was a draw between Nomsa who called to say "I've got it" and Don Smith who had drawn a deal of release to the Australian High Commission. The 5 cartons arrived in Bulawayo a few days later.
In our club, we have enormously energetic Rotarians like PP's Charles Chiponda, Eric Rensburg, and Laurie Bond, PADG Malcolm Ross, and Rtn Ally de Souza. These men are always in the fore of any distribution, books, medical equipment, Cyclone Elene disaster relief. Now it was our turn.
I spoke to our lady Rotarians, and the plan was made. Nomsa Ncube, Spiwe Matatu, Marina Johnson and myself would drive up on Sunday, first deliver another load of books (from Canada) to Marist Brothers College and then the next day endeavour to find Chizhou Primary. The journey was 300 kms from Bulawayo and we had decided to stay at Hwange National Park. We arrived safely and unpacked before driving to Marist Brother College in Dete, another 12 kms off the main road. Brother Augustus was delighted with his books and pleased with our efforts, we started back to Hwange National Park.
It was a humble home-made sign on the side of the road, that read 'Old People's Home'. Our vehicle turned into the muddy, grass flattened path leading to the home. There we met Sr. Rosa, a Spanish nun of the Catholic missionary order of The Daughters of Calvary, who had been running the home for the last 15 years.
What an amazing woman, how she could keep her charges body and soul together on apparently 'nothing' was indeed a miracle. State funding had long ceased and now her responsibility also included medical welfare as all Government clinics were totally run down and devoid of supplies. We were able to offer some medical help as Jeff Knezel's SAMP (Southern Africa Medical Project) was due to arrive shortly.
Sr. Rosa delighted in showing us a great old wood stove, and an enormous laundry machine, organised by the Stipinovitch family.
Joe Stipinovitch is our Rotarian and we felt the blessing in knowing one who had been part of this wonderful lady's committment.
Elated we returned to our accommodation, unhitched the trailor, now freed of much of its load, and set off on a game drive through the park. After all the rains the grass was really tall and we were lucky to see giraffe, zebra, impala and wildebeest. I had just said, "If we're going to exit the park by closing, we must turn back now", when a tourist vehicle passed us saying, "We've just passed lion, 2-3 kms down the road." Off we were, how could we turn back when there was lion to be sighted? Slowly edging along, conscious of how lion blended with the golden yellow of the long grass, we peered into the thick bush. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing!
And then there they were, lying in the road, posing proudly, ignoring the frantic click of our camera.
Two beautiful males. We crept slowly foward, just 10 meters away, and at 5 meters we stopped. Even with windows half way up and sitting in a closed vehicle, those beasts were able to command respect, or is it fear?
Slowly they stood up and walked towards us, then along the road past us heading back along the road we had to return on. I started the vehicle, and at that moment we all saw level with the driver's window and just 3 meters into the bush, a lion. She had been lying there all the while I leaned out of the car snapping my camera, window right down. We just had not seen her!
We turned the vehicle and drove slowly behind the trio until much later, they gave us a disdainful glance and turned up a game trail which disappeared quickly into the Mopane shrub. Marina had prepared a wonderful supper and we feasted well on food and tales of our days successes.
The few kilometers of driving to Chizous Primary School Thea had mentioned in her letter had been changed by the rising of a local river due to our heavy rains. We needed instead to work our way along rural roads, through a delightful tapestry of cultivated lands, goats and cattle being herded skillfully by bare-footed children, gullies of eroded land, and the ubiquitous thorn scrub fences.
At last, Chezhou Primary!
The arrival of a vehicle brought a flurry of faces to the classroom windows and almost immediately Mr. Sibanda, the headmaster approached. He remembered Thea well and elaborated on other assistance she had given the school.
As the precious boxes of love, effort and consideration for the less priviledged were unpacked, all lessons were forsaken as enquiring pupils poured out of the classrooms to ooh and aah at the wonderful array of school aids.
Spiwi tasked the headmaster to foward possible candidates for an Australian school bursary - Thea will also look into raising further money for another bursary.
One wonders what solace one receives in conflict when the reward of one child's smile can light the day.
One wonders when governments will acknowledge their true responsibility is to their people first.
Thank you Thea for giving us the opportunity to serve.
Rotarian Julie Bonett
Rotary Club of Bulawayo.