By Elita Chikwati
It is a hot early morning at Mariga Village, Kanyemba in Mbire District, Mashonaland Central Province.
A male teacher, Brighton Kafanja, is busy rehearsing songs with his Early Childhood Development (ECD) class whose composition looks abnormal for a first time visitor.
In the ECD class, the only class at a makeshift school, are students aged between three and 18 years.
As they rehearse, he reminds the learners of the visit by the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa. He tells them not to run away when the helicopter she is travelling in approaches as this will be an opportunity for them to see it closer.
“Children, children, children,” Kafanja shouts. His students respond “Teacher, teacher, teacher.”
This is just one of the daily routines at the school but today an important announcement is being made and the students are all eager to hear.
“Our visitors are flying on a helicopter that makes a loud noise. Do not panic when you see it approach,” he tells the students who nod to show they have understood every word he has said.
The students immediately move to a safe distance waiting for their visitor’s arrival.
While other employees are striking to get pay increase, for Kafanja, a volunteer teacher at the makeshift school, going to work is a passion; it has nothing to do with a salary as his main concern is enlightening the Doma community.
Kafanja is popularly known as “the teacher” since he is the only teacher in the area.
He teaches an ECD class of 235 students whose ages range between three and 18 years.
The students are learning for free.
He has managed to win the hearts of the Doma people who despite their reserved culture and traditions have now started sending their children to school.
Kafanja says he started voluntary work on May 9 last year after realising that lack of education was a barrier to development in his area.
A dedicated volunteer
Today they can confidently write their names and also read, something that was not possible before they took his classes.
“I started voluntary teaching last year. I realised that no people from our area were getting employed even at the local safari companies either as guides or general workers because they were uneducated.
“We used to live in the forest and have our own ways of survival, different from other people. Most of the people are not educated, they cannot read or write and therefore it is difficult for them to get employment.
“Our area does not offer any other economic activities. The nearest school, Chapoto School, is 10 kilometres away and most parents are not willing to send their children that far,” he said.
Living in an area infested by wild animals has only made the situation worse for this remote community on the north eastern corner of Zimbabwe.
“Our area has wildlife and parents do not want to expose their children to lions and elephants. It is not safe to let children travel such a long distance to school,” he explained.
Kafanja said another reason why the area was lagging behind in education was that the Doma people were generally shy and lacked confidence.
“The people are not confident when they meet strangers. Some have disfigured toes and they are afraid of mixing with other people. People tend to stare at their feet and they are uncomfortable in a crowd,” he revealed.
Mariga Village does not have a school because the one that was constructed three years ago was condemned by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for poor ventilation.
The school had 11 classrooms with four blocks reserved for teachers’ houses. The structures were constructed using metal and had metal desks and chairs which were uncomfortable for the children to use.
Kafanja said after the school was condemned, the affected children were forced to stay at home waiting for the construction of new facilities.
“I started inviting the children to play soccer so that they get used to me before teaching them academically. I also looked for toys to attract their attention and this worked.
“As the pupils got used to me, more and more came to play. I started teaching them basics like vowels and numbers. Now I have 235 students,” he explained.
Kafanja said his wife Mavis Adarewa assisted him at the “school”.
“My wife is now assisting me as the work is overwhelming. She dropped out of school at Form Three due to lack of resources,” he said.
He added: “Education enlightens people. That is the reason why we want to educate the Doma children so they can learn to provide for themselves than rely on donors. No one can be employed without education.”
With no standard syllabus, he says, the performance of the students has been impressive.
“I also raise awareness on child abuse through songs. A new school is under construction and we hope the children from the Doma community will have access to standard education and also become better people in life.
“Currently we are grading the students so others can start Grade One when the school opens — hopefully next year,” he said.
First Lady’s visit life changing
He said he was hopeful the fortunes of the Mariga people would change after the visit by the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa last week.
“The visit by the First Lady means a lot to us the Doma people. We are the forgotten people. Amai has seen for herself how we live and heard of our challenges. We will not remain the same,” he said.
Mariga villager, Mr Casper Antonio, said he was glad that the teacher had come to the rescue of the Doma children.
“We could not send our children to school because there is a river they have to cross using canoes. There is a school in Chapoto but most parents cannot afford to pay the school fees because they are unemployed.
“Many are mere subsistence farmers. Instead of sending children to school we send them to the gardens,” he said.
Mr Antonio said Mr Kafanja had brought light to the community.
“Our children can now read and write. The children are very intelligent. It is because the women here breastfeed extensively — for nearly three years.
He added the children were forced to remain in ECD for long because the next levels — Grade One to Seven classes have no teachers.
Mindset change important
Another parent, Mr Mukombwe Nyamuparadza said a new school could be opened but there was need to change the mindset of the people in the area.
“The problem is that parents are not educated and do not see any benefits in education. This is the reason why they are marrying off their under-age daughters,” he revealed.
Mbire Member of Parliament, Cde Douglas Karoro thanked Kafanja for working hard despite not getting any money.
“We hope the new school will be completed soon. Kafanja has volunteered to assist as the new school is being constructed and he is doing a sterling job,” he said.
Kafanja a local hero
Mashonaland Central Minister of State for provincial Affairs Martin Dinha said Kafanja was a hero who had taken it upon himself to educate others.
“The teacher has done well in enlightening the community. I hope when the new school opens he will be incorporated,” he said.
The First Lady, who was visiting the area last week, expressed her gratitude to Kafanja for being selfless and hard-working in assisting other people.
She said Kafanja was doing a great job. The First Lady also rewarded him through her Angel of Hope Foundation. The foundation promised to ensure the welfare of the teacher.
She donated stationery that included books and boards.
“The school that was condemned should not be destroyed. Responsible authorities should work on ensuring there is ventilation and provide wooden benches and desks so that more children can have access to quality education,” she suggested.
The First Lady encouraged the community to engage in income generating projects such as rearing goats, indigenous poultry and gardening. The villagers said they were willing to start the projects.