Looking out from my seat into the African bush I can see Buffalo, Zebra and too many Impala to count. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all day; the breathtaking experience earlier of viewing Victoria Falls for the first time drained all the energy out of me not to mention the six-kilometre walk in 40°C heat.
Now leaning back into my chair at the Stanley and Livingston hotel, rubbing my sunburn and watching African wildlife with my mosquito repellant and a bottle of local lager, I look back over my Zimbabwean experience with a smile.
One of the main reasons for me visiting Zimbabwe was to observe the charity work that has gone on in Chidobe primary school which was founded eleven years ago, after the sad and sudden death of Alex Ruffell, by his mother Sue Ford and step father Graham Ford. Alex died in 1998 at the age of 16 and was 2 years older than me at Friends School Saffron Walden, although I didn’t know him well at school, I know he was much loved by his friends and family, and the amazing results of this charity keeps Alex’s name alive for ever and helps hundreds of the Chidobe people. Everyone in this rural community will speak of Alex almost everyday, as there is a classroom built in his memory as well as the outdoor sports centre. The charity has provided drinking water, toilets, school uniforms, books and electricity which is not only used by the school but the rest of the community, this is to name but a few as the list seems to go on and on.
At Alex’s funeral, £5,000 of donations was kindly given to Sue and Graham; this was used to build the classroom in his memory. Since then more people have donated to the Alex Ruffell memorial fund, many of which from the Saffron Walden area, these generous people are kept informed of any development at the school.
Alfred Mpofu, the village head was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago and certainly would have died if the charity didn’t supply the drugs he needed. Rural communities in Africa have very complicated politics, and rely on influential figures such as Alfred.
Graham and Sue Ford organize the charity back in the UK, which involves the time consuming role of collecting all the generously donated money, clothes, shoes and other items back to their family home. Once everything has been collected their container makes the long sea voyage to Durban in South Africa, and then the slow journey by rail to the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, then on to Victoria Falls, before being loaded onto a truck and then delivered to the school. This can sometimes take months as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) can be very difficult, everything in the shipment has to be proven that it has come from a donated charity or duty has to be paid on every item. Graham and Sue visit the country twice a year making sure that the shipment has reached its final destination and distributed correctly.
When I visited the school I witnessed the shipment being delivered, and was amazed at the number of people who turned up, 500 in total, 350 of which were school children and the rest were teachers, village heads, friends and family. It was a huge party with lots of singing and dancing, the charity supplied food and drink for every person.
After everyone had eaten and the entertainment finished, a game of football started on the school pitch. Brand new kit and boots were supplied to Ford United the local Chidobe football team, (this is another reminder of the respect Sue and Graham receive here). Previously I’d mentioned that I’d played football for my school team at Friends and was immediately placed at left midfield, I think more out of politeness me being a visitor than my ability to play. The whistle blew after the longest 90 minutes I’d ever experienced; it was time for the clothes to be distributed to the village. As I limped over to the queue of people I noticed young children wearing a very familiar school blazer with huge smiles on their faces, I couldn’t help but put one on and have my photo taken with them. The whole day was a complete success and everyone seemed very happy.
The people of Chidobe have really shown me this amazing will to survive, as every day can be a struggle, especially over the last four years. It didn’t take long for me to be accepted into the community, and they were keen to show me their way of life, smiling faces are everywhere you look. This African hospitality is evident all over the country.
I want to thank the people of Chidobe village who I’ll remember forever.
Image courtesy of William Addison-Atkinson
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