25 August, 2009

Initiation Schools

Initiation schools are still part of life here in Lesotho. Apparently, in the highlands, boys and girls attend, although around the more populated areas in the “lowlands” it only seems to be boys who go. The school lasts for six months. A group of boys leave the village and live up in the hills nearby, sleeping in caves. What happens is extremely secret and no-one is allowed near. It seems they learn skills such as cattle herding, they sing songs a lot and learn about traditional Basotho culture. But it is a very macho experience and they develop a poor attitude to women (domestic violence is common).

The churches disapprove of these schools, partly as they learn about witchcraft, which is still practised a great deal. A couple of months ago two people were burnt to death by villagers not far from here after being accused of witchcraft. Educated people tend not to send their sons as they are more interested in their schooling (six months is a long time to be away).

A school has just started in our area. One of our Form B students went with them. When he told his friends the day before, they thought he was joking. I was quite distressed that he had gone, as he was a conscientious student and I was worried it may unsettle the other boys. My concerns were unfounded – a week later he had returned and come back to school; he decided it wasn’t for him – he was already fed up with gathering wood for the fire!

Another problem can be caused by the final circumcision ceremony. A friend of mine who is a nurse at the local hospital nursed four boys to their death a few weeks ago. They died from infection (and also the inadequate hospital facilities here).

School Assemblies

It was my turn to take school assemblies last week and I chose the theme “Parables of Jesus”. As Fusi is a church school, assemblies are firmly Christian and are taken outdoors. We start with a hymn, usually in Sesotho, although I have taught them a few jolly English ones. They love singing, always unaccompanied and the boys seem to naturally find the harmonies. The hymn is followed by a Bible reading which is where my parables theme came in. It occurred to me as we were listening to The Lost Sheep, The Fig Tree and The Sower that these stories are still directly relevant to my students who live such a rural life. The Lord’s Parayer or another prayer follow the reading, then we stand to attention for the National Anthem (yes, every day).

23 August, 2009

DVD of The Big Day

A copy of the DVD of the opening of Fusi Secondary School is now in England.  It runs for 22 minutes.  If you would like a copy – particularly if you want to use it in support of fundraising, please e-mail us at ContactUs@TheDunfords.org.

This is what you will see:

Back in January, the Bishop suggested that the school should be blessed
and we arranged a date in August when Andrew Uglow, who has been the
prime mover in raising funds for the school, would be over from England
with a group of sixth-formers from his school.  It was only a week or so
before the blessing, that we were informed that the Ministry of
Education had agreed to register the school and so the event was
expanded to include an official opening.

The video starts with the traditional escort of the principal visitors –
Andrew Uglow and the Bishop – by villagers on horseback to the school. 
This had the added drama of the local herdboys driving their cattle
ahead of the horsemen: quite spectacular and, we are told, not very
often seen.  The visitors were then greeted by the students singing a
song of welcome.

The Bishop led a service of Holy Communion, into which was incorporated
the blessing of the buildings – the classrooms and the staffroom – and
the cutting of the ribbons to officially open the buildings.  Students
read the bible readings and also prayers which they had written themselves.

No event in Lesotho is complete without speeches and they are all there
(although heavily trimmed) so you can count them for yourself.  The rule
of thumb is that the more important you are, the later your speech and
the longer you talk.  Fortunately, we managed to intersperse the
speeches with some entertainment.  There were visitors – the
sixth-formers from England, an unexpected group of lady dancers who
turned up in a police van,and a choir – and the students performed two
traditional dances.  The boys hammed it up a bit, which I think is part
of the modern tradition, much to the amusement of the audience.

We had catered a hot meal for at least 250 people and that was just
right.  The ladies of the village slept in a classroom overnight so that
they could make an early start on the cooking.  During the speeches, in
the background, you will see one of the ladies in her apron coming in
and out of the classroom during the cooking.

15 August, 2009

School parents

Now that the school is registered, the first important job is to elect the School Management Board (the school governors).  There is a very democratic standard structure of the board – eight people comprising the chairman (from the church), the village chief, another church representative, three parents, the school principal and a teacher.

The church is progressing well with its choices (I targeted a churchwarden who works for the Foreign Office and is retiring soon – quite a big cheese, very capable and very supportive) and yesterday we held a parents meeting.  It is quite strange to me that parents meetings are called for parents to be informed about the running of the school, but individual students’ progress is virtually never discussed;  the only communication is a very brief report at the end of each term.

While we waited for people to arrive I showed the video of the celebration day.  They enjoyed watching it as much as the students had, as you can see:

parents-video.jpg

The meeting had a very positive feel about it.  Although most of it was spoken in Sesotho, I felt that there was a feeling of ownership developing amongst the community – there were even some villagers there who do not have children at the school.  There were five nominations (a good sign) and the three reps were elected with a good majority.  I was happy with the result – two of them have already helped out with the celebrations – one organised the cooks and another came and taught the girls how to perform the traditional dances.  Here they are with the village chief.

reps-chief.jpg

The chief has also started to show more interest in the school and has already promised us some more land.

The first main job of the board will be to appoint a new principal.  We need to have a Mosotho (native of Lesotho) and then we can start to finalise the teaching staff for next year.

14 August, 2009

TV star

It’s been a busy week…
You may remember the container arriving from Durham with all sorts of goodies including computers.  Anyone who has worked with computers knows that they never work first time and despite having technicians on the job, Durham Link soon got David in to help sort things out.  As well as computers, there were 20 interactive whiteboards which really were a mystery to the locals.  Elizabeth believes she may be the only person in Lesotho who has actually taught using one, so she was also coerced into helping out.  Once she had taught David how to use it he was able to get one set up and working.  A press conference was called and his demonstration to the principals of the lucky schools was broadcast on the Lesotho television news that evening.

Fusi school was given five computers, and also several boxes of books (Science, English and library) – all as a result of Elizabeth continuing to shake her begging bowl.  We managed to borrow a pickup to take the gifts back to school – a good haul as you can see.

pickup.jpg

1 August, 2009

What now?

The party’s over, the holiday’s over.

Yes, we managed to steal a few days away after all the excitement and visitors.  We travelled to Clarens, a small village a few hours away in South Africa.  It is a pretty place dedicated to tourists with many restaurants and art galleries.  We missed out the galleries, but sampled several restaurants and spent most of our time reading and unwinding.  It did the trick and we returned to Lesotho feeling quite refreshed.

Now that Fusi Secondary School is officially registered, it is time to embark on the real work of getting it established in the community.  We have to apply to the government for grants to pay staff.  We have been promised a grant for the principal but any others will have to be fought for.  We are unlikely to get more than one next year as it partly depends on student numbers and we are still building those up.
The first main task is to establish a Board of Management (similar to governors), so representatives have to be found in the church and from the parents.  It is vital that we get people with vision so that they appoint a good principal and support efforts to improve the school’s facilities.
It is urgent that we build a new toilet block before the new year in January as the two little shacks we have at the moment will be totally inadequate for the hoped-for intake of about 60 students in Form A.
I am already knocking on doors of NGOs and local businesses to try and get some financial support.  Those of you at home reading this will I hope continue your support too.  I have so many ideas and plans including computers (good chance of a few very soon but need a generator and to improve security), library (applying to an American scheme for books – just have to find somewhere to put them) Science lab (both building and equipment).  It’s all very exciting and since the big party there seems to be more support in the village.  However, the people are poor and many of the students are orphans.

The new term starts this week – it’s a great feeling that we are now a “legal” school recognised by the government.