Thursday 6 August 2009
I have heard a great deal about St Mark’s, Lozane, but never seen it or been there. In 2003 we sent over by container a load of desks and benches to re-equip the primary school there and during a visit in 2007 a couple of our group stayed out there. But, this morning we set out on the rocky road to Lozane – about 80km from Gweru.
The road was tarmaced for about 15km and then reduced to a ragged single-track road before turning into a dirt-track for the last 20km. We passed hundreds of children by the sides of the road, mostly on their way to or from school. Unremarkable? Maybe. But less than a year ago this would have been a rare sight as teachers could not be paid and schools closed all over the country.
It is hard to explain the situation at St Mark’s. The church is cracked, decrepit and falling down. The school buildings are in a similar state and some cannot be used. The priest’s house (which he shares with his wife and four children) is decrepit and small with cracks down walls throughout. In England no one would be allowed anywhere near these buildings – especially not children – because of serious health and safety concerns. Yet this primary school has 302 children from a very poor rural area.
A number of years ago this school (and many others) were taken away from the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe – which had built and run them for decades – by the Government. A year or two ago the Government decided to hide its failure and give the schools back to the Church. However, before doing so, they got rid of all the school furniture, fittings, books and other goods. How’s that for investing in your country’s future? Despite the destruction, the Church took them back and has begun to start again with very few resources at a time of national disaster economically.
What is most remarkable is the commitment of the priest and the new head teacher – a young Roman Catholic. The priest, Robson, came here six years ago, has no means of transport, yet walks long distances every week (up to 15km) to attend to his parishioners. He has few resources and raises chickens and grows crops to feed his family. The head teacher described him as an ‘excellent evangelist’, so I asked what he meant by that. He said that he is there for his people, always keeps his word and his appointments, provides leadership and draws people to the church by his (very costly) faithfulness. Equally, the head teacher opted to lead this school after years of no one being willing to do it. He is an enthusiast, is practically-minded and visionary in building for the future.
The project at Lozane is to grow crops to feed the children properly at the school. They have already sunk a bore hole and now have access to clean water. Yet, as a visitor, I could not but help look at the buildings and see the urgent need for those to be demolished and rebuilt properly. I have no idea how these people stick at such unglamorous work in such difficult circumstances and at such cost to themselves and their families. Their faith in God is not fantasy, nor is it some emotional crutch to get them through life (as some atheist cynics would have it); rather, it is precisely what motivates them to give their lives in order that the lives of others might be improved both now and for the future.
It is deeply impressive and both challenging and humbling.