A significant part of ALERT’s work involves improving the livelihoods of local communities through a range of social development programs. One of the ways we do this on an daily basis is by providing manpower to assist in local schools, orphanages and healthcare facilities in the form of volunteers who visit the projects to help ease the pressure on over-stretched staff members. Wherever our volunteers spend time, they benefit from the experience as much as the people they are working with, and often these visits are the most memorable part of their time in Africa.
At Mkoba 4 Primary School in Gweru, Antelope Park community volunteers help in the Special Needs class and with the Kindergarten children. With over 2,000 pupils, this assistance is invaluable; allowing the children individual attention that the teaching staff simply don’t have the time for.
Ratidzai Mutagadira, a Community Projects Kids and Teaching Coordinator, accompanies volunteers to the school. This is what she had to say about a recent visit: ‘At Mkoba 4 Primary, we specialise in the Special Needs class. The kids there are a bit slow, but we were able to do a lot of mathematics, especially the eight times tables and also flash cards. Most of the students were able to get their answers correct with the assistance of the volunteers who were with us. However most pupils found it hard when it was time to study English. Hard as it was at first, using their books, it became much easier and also some could make a direct translation of Shona to English thereby trying to converse with the others.’
Ashley Ward, a volunteer from the US, found her school visit a worthwhile experience: ‘The Mkoba 4 Primary School was such a humbling and rewarding experience. Each time we entered the classroom, the students would greet us by standing up to say good morning and ask how we were. It always gave me goose bumps, especially to see the smiles on their faces. Being a teacher back at home, it was interesting to see how the classroom was run and how the instruction of lessons were given. I got the opportunity to share a song that I use in my own classroom with them. They absolutely loved it! It was one of those moments that I will remember and cherish forever!’
At Mudavanhu School for the Disabled, the children are taught life skills, as well as basic literacy and mathematics. Volunteer interaction within this school is important, as it allows the children the opportunity to learn how to interact with different people and adds variety to their daily routine. Here is what Martha from Norway had to say about her experience with the children: ‘This was the project that gave me the biggest culture shock. It was hard to see that they had close to zero necessary resources. The day started with a tour, before we were to visit a classroom. During the break, we gave the children some balls to play with and their faces lit up, which was wonderful to see.
Ruth Armstrong, from the UK, is currently working as a Researcher at the ALERT Education Centre (AEC). On Saturdays, she accompanies Antelope Park volunteers to the Midlands Children’s Hope Centre (MCHC): ‘Saturdays for the community volunteers and interns is definitely a day to look forward to because in the morning we visit the boy’s orphanage. When we arrive at the orphanage we are always made so welcome by the boys and are greeted with friendly smiles and ‘high fives’. Most Saturdays consist of spending time with the boys, helping them with their homework and watching them dance to the latest local tunes, which is the most amazing experience. The latest dance trend is “clacks” which the boys make look fantastically simple but is not at all when you actually try it! However, this Saturday we planned to do two additional things - laundry and a clothes drop. The boys wash their own clothes, but their bedding was in need of washing, so I suggested we take along some donated washing powder and spend an extra hour at the orphanage this week to help the boys wash their sheets and blankets. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the orphanage there was no water, which has delayed the laundry for another week. We had a particularly cold weekend in Gweru though, so I don’t think anyone minded so much! The second thing we did was a clothes drop which is where we give donated clothes and shoes to the boys. After the clothes had been sorted out into sizes, we distributed them to the boys who were all so happy and were trying them on as we were there. It was a very rewarding and humbling experience seeing how happy and grateful all of the boys were for these few items’.
UK volunteer, Issy Strafford, is also a visitor to the MCHC: ‘I visited the boy’s orphanage to help with homework after school. I helped with the maths homework. The boy I helped was really good at factorising but it was great to teach him tricks that I knew to help make equations easier. After he finished, we talked about his favourite subjects.’
Along with schools and orphanages, the assistance of volunteers at local healthcare centres is very much appreciated. Facilities are under-staffed and poorly resourced, so practical help with many of the routine tasks is important to enable qualified clinic staff to concentrate on frontline healthcare.
Memory Chaibva, a Medical Community Project Coordinator, accompanies volunteers to the clinics: ‘On Monday we went to Mkoba Polyclinic with two vols and it was a booking day for the pregnant mothers. We observed the nurses with the blood pressures, helped with measuring heights, taking weights and observation of delivery. There was a mother who was in labour and she could not manage to push the baby, so they transferred her to General Hospital in Gweru. The mother, she was so much in pain that I could not hold my tears, but I thank God that we had one delivery that same day, I call it a day!’
Nikki Thomas, a volunteer from the UK, had the opportunity to visit new mothers in their own homes: ‘Today we went on home visits from the Mkoba 4 Polyclinic. This was in order to go and check on some of the new mothers in the area and give them some baby clothes. It was really good to get out into the community and be able to really help. Also it was awesome to get to see the babies and be able to hold them! We got to visit about five mothers and their babies before returning to the clinic.’
You can help support ALERT’s work in the community by sponsoring a school, orphanage, or healthcare facility. You can find out more details here. Or you may wish to join us in Africa as an intern, or as part of our community volunteer program.