31 October, 2010

Paying the Teachers…or not

Elizabeth writes:

When the school was registered last year, the understanding was that the Government would take over paying the teachers.  That way, we could keep fees to a minimum, only needing to cover basic costs of stationery, building maintenance etc.
After much negotiation, we got an agreement that the principal and one teacher would be paid from January 2010 with the promise of four more teachers being paid from April.
April came, and we were told in no uncertain terms that there was “No Money”.  So we have paid the other teachers from the funds of our charity, Rafiki Thabo, hoping that money would be forthcoming in 2011.

It is becoming clear that there really is no money in the government coffers.  The principal has not received any pay yet this year; he is not the only one in the country!  Primary schools are being told they cannot replace teachers when they leave.  I know this may all sound familiar, but it is difficult to see where future funds are going to come from.  The whole country is in desperate financial straits, with a huge reduction of revenue for various reasons.
To add to our troubles, of course, I am leaving at the end of the year.  We had made wonderful plans to replace me with a volunteer from the US Peace Corps.  Everything was agreed, right down to housing and furniture.  Recently, we were visited by a Peace Corps representative to tell us that unfortunately, they have cancelled the new intake pending a security review after the murder and attacks on volunteers in Maseru this year.
So now we also have to pay a Maths teacher.
Several people are working on our behalf to try and persuade the government to still help us so we shall see what progress they manage to make.

28 October, 2010

Electricity part 2

Elizabeth writes…

Eat your words David.
Power back on at 4pm.  Good work boys, even if they had to use our house to test the connection!


David writes:

We had invited people to eat with us yesterday evening.  When the electricity went off around 2pm and didn’t come back on until 5:30 I was glad we had bought a gas cooker.

Last night was fairly windy and we woke up to find that we had no electricity again.

But it didn’t take long to find out why.

E-mails and blogs may become infrequent once the laptop battery is dead if the repair men take a while to come.

22 October, 2010

Time for a Jab

A short while ago, it was announced that there would be a vaccination programme for all under 15 year olds to be inoculated against measles (otherwise known as meas-lez by the locals!).  This is funded by an international health programme but I’m not sure whom.  It is certainly worthwhile – one of our students was ill earlier in the year and very nearly died – she was off school for six weeks.

 Firstly, I submitted our numbers and was given a date, but got a message that day that they had run out of vaccine at the primary school (Why do we submit numbers?).  A week or so later, the 4×4 appeared unnanounced, but the principal turned them away as the Form Cs were half way through their public exam in Science and he thought the fussing and screaming would disturb them.  They were told to come back two days later which they did.  Needless to say we did not inform the students in advance.  We started rounding up the victims – there certainly was a lot of fussing and screaming and threats to run away home.  Requests to visit the toilet were vigorously denied.

They were lined up (no privacy here), swabbed and injected, then their thumbnail was marked with indelible pen – no written records were taken.  A few local mothers had turned up with their babies, so the classroom became a temporary clinic for the morning.

The comments afterwards – “That was nothing”.
Parents’ permission?  You’ve got to be kidding!

8 October, 2010

Chirpy Chickens

Elizabeth writes:

I have named my hen Parole – she is being given time for good behaviour i.e. she needs to start laying eggs.
Yesterday, another student presented me with a gift of a cock.  I have been giving extra lessons to the Form Cs this week (it is half term holiday) and there was great amusement as “Cock-a-doodle-doo” rang out from the staff room while we tried to solve equations in the classroom.  More fun carrying the bird home, and introducing him to Parole.

David has christened him “Oddjob” as he has work to do!  I have always had a yen to keep poultry so I am quite enjoying the experiment, apart from when Parole escaped this morning and had five locals chasing her round the village.  I went to top up food and water this evening, and their new found friendship seems to have produced results!

1 October, 2010

The School Trip

The idea of a school trip was first mooted at the beginning of the school year in January.  I decided to keep well away from the organisation of this event!  Various dates and destinations were discussed over the ensuing months and finally we decided to go to Katse Dam on 9th September.  Now planning ahead is not one of the Basotho strengths, so Katse had not been contacted nor had a bus been booked.  So that didn’t work out.  Eventually, Katse was abandoned and Semonkong, a remote town in the middle of the country’s mountain area was chosen, and the date put back to the last week of September, just before the mid-term break.  Now, just about every school organises its trip for that week so, with difficulty, we managed to book a bus for Tuesday.  Of course, if you get the last available bus in Lesotho, it will probably not be the best, but more of that later.

The school trip is, for the students, definitely the high spot of the year.  Parents and grandparents scratch around to pay for the children to escape the worries and difficulties of their lives (“There’s no food in the house”; “I’m HIV positive”; “My mother’s funeral is on Saturday”….).  Many of them never leave the village, and if they do it is to run errands, or visit family for a funeral.

Early Tuesday morning, the bus left the village and the kids went wild, dancing and singing the journey away.

It took us a long time to get through the capital, Maseru, and soon the driver was looking worried – we were overheating.  After topping up the water and a failed attempt at getting a substitute bus, off we went again.  Soon we were leaving the lowlands and climbing into the mountains.  Noses were glued to windows as everyone admired the view.

Up we went along a narrow, winding, steep and unsurfaced road.  After a few hours, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped dead.  The bus was going nowhere and water was pouring onto the road.  “Everybody out!”  Nobody seemed to mind – it was all part of the fun, and we started to walk up the remainder of the hill.

After a while, the crew seemed to have found more water and persuaded the bus to start again, and we journeyed on.  It is a long, long road to Semonkong and there are no signs of life for miles.  Eventually (7 hours after leaving home) we got there and drove on to see the Maletsunyane Falls, which impressed the students no end. (Those of you who follow the blog will remember that I abseiled here in December last year).

Time for lunch – ah! we seem to have left the sausages behind, and there is no water to drink here!  Never mind!  The kids never complained – they just smiled all day.

Back to Semonkong town where we managed to get some water and gave everyone a hunk of bread and a cup of juice.  That was their lunch and it was already nearly 4 o’clock.

No way will we be home before dark.  Who cares?  More excitement – we spotted a herd of wild deer – definitely a first for all of them.  That was really lucky.  As it got darker, the mountain scenery changed to a beautiful blue.

It was dark by the time we got to Maseru.  I heard a boy behind me calling to his friend – “Look! Street lights”, something he had only heard about.  That was quite a poignant moment for me.  It was pitch black when we drove down the dirt road into Ha Fusi village – the village was asleep, but not for long..  Everyone was hanging out of the bus windows screaming and hollering and the driver was leaning on the horn.  It felt as though we were a ship coming into port, which in a way I suppose we were.

What a wonderful day they had.  I put the photos onto the laptop the next day…