Teacher takes lessons to squatter camp

Source: Teacher takes lessons to squatter camp | Sunday News (Opinion)

Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
IMPARTING knowledge to a child that has never seen the inside of a classroom or dust from a chalk board is like water in a desert-refreshing.

The community of Killarney informal settlement in Bulawayo is home to dozens of children who attend school and those who have never been and long to be just like their peers. But for one Khumalo Primary School teacher, it is her dream to see all children have access to education.

She has dedicated her weekends to spending a few priceless hours imparting her knowledge to the children whom she says long to be in school and play with others but circumstances have seen them living in a squatter camp. Ms Sibongile Chingombe, an Early Childhood Development (ECD) teacher who resides in Killarney said she never knew that in one section of the affluent suburb was a community of homeless people including several children of school going age who were not able to attend school because of poverty.

“I discovered this settlement last term, in fact I went there with a relative who was selling chicken cuts and thought to myself, that this place is not one where you come and sell but rather come here and give to these people because of the state of this place. I am just a teacher, not rich and may not have a lot of things to give to the community but as a teacher I can at least teach them and leave a smile on their faces.

I then committed myself to going to the settlement every Saturday to teach, there are over 30 children that are there, from 18 years and below,” said Mrs Chingombe.
Some of the settlers there include child headed families, orphans and children left in the care of aged grandparents.

“It’s a sorry sight, so on the Saturdays that I go and teach them, I carry some popped corn or sweets and we sing, have fun and tell stories. This past Saturday I took with me some bond paper; I was a bit overwhelmed because I felt that God should make a difference in the lives of these children.

If you have conversations with those children, they talk of their dreams of wanting to get an education, be someone in life, so I was touched. Another little girl, said to me she knew that there was something called pizza but had never tasted it and longed to eat it,” she said.

Mrs Chingombe said when she started meeting the children, she had to first instil confidence in them, that they were a special lot that were supposed to walk tall despite their situation.

“I told them that they should desist from saying they stay at a squatter camp rather at a village of hope, which is what we now call their home. I have told them that doctors, lawyers, school heads and so on were going to come out of that village of hope. When we have such conversations, they light up and you can see the dreams and aspirations that they have.

I believe that they have a future and given the right resources and opportunities, they can fly,” she added.
Last week she said she left the “village” at about 7.30pm so as to see how their nightlife played out.

“That place is sad, there was a family that had no food for that day and there are 10 of them in the family, there was nothing at all, yet we on the outside complain and grumble but with food on out tables. There are people who are in need more than us. Even as I was teaching them, I was heavy hearted thinking if ever these children will have anything to smile about looking at their situations,” she said.

With the rains already falling, Mrs Chingombe said she was concerned about the muddy structures that the children and their guardians and parents live in saying the situation is dire and needs a remedy.

“Besides the rains, I am worried over food, a child should get proper meals every day, wear shoes, go to school, some have never been to a school before in their lives because parents cannot afford, some attended a little and had to drop out as their parents could not raise examinations fees. Those that do attend school, go to Cement Primary School and Sobukhazi High School where they also walk but if you see them you are inspired by their will,” she added.

Mrs Chingombe said she personally turns to God to help her find solutions to the children’s problems.

“As I pray for them, I also say kodwa Mlimu, okunye ngicela ungathuli for the sake of your good name,” she said.
Chief among her worries is the girl’s children plight in that community who may fall prey to omakorokoza that have also invaded the surrounding areas.

She said she feared the children, out of poverty, will be lured into early sexual debuts with the promise of food and money which will in turn see them having early unintended pregnancies and a high risk of HIV infection.

She said the boys were also vulnerable as they could be influenced into taking illicit drugs and alcohol.

Mrs Chingombe said moral fibre in that community was lost and it would take a lot to mould the children back into form.

“This place does not inspire a child much to be anything in life, they long to be illegal gold panners, the things they see every day. Their dreams seem shattered. They go to school with no food many a time because the food will not be there so at times this environment does not build a child as they see themselves as people who were born to suffer,” she said.

She said she was offering her free teaching services as she was touched by their plight of the children and wanted to build on the little hope that was left in them.

Resources have affected the teaching sessions as she occasionally brings bond paper from her home for them to write their work. The learners have also asked for text books for them to read and learn further but Mrs Chingombe cannot provide adequately for the children who are in different grades.

It is her hope that those that do not attend formal school get learning materials so that they do not lag behind while their peers forge ahead with education. She said those out of school are the most affected.

“I am planning to look for exercise books, cover them and give the students so that there is consistency in their work and they can revise, initially when I came, I just had a register for them and was giving them papers to write on, so every other time a new child would pop up and numbers kept increasing.

The village is quite a big one, so for the sake of consistency I need to have books for them. I was also touched when I saw a little boy who had a small torch on his head and was sitting outside writing his homework required for the next day at school. It was now very dark already,” she said.

Mrs Chingombe said what was also heartbreaking was the affluence of Killarney suburb and the growing community of homeless people in its vicinity.

“It just shows us the inequalities of life, I always hope that two or three people from that community turn their eyes towards this village and assist the people,” she said.

Mrs Chingombe said the children and their families need food, clothing, shelter and an education. She said it was sad that there are children today who do not even own shoes and they stay in a metropolitan province in a squatter camp.

However, Mrs Chingombe, who started staying in Killarney a few months ago, said she believes that there is hope for the children staying in the settlement. — @NyembeziMu