The establishment of School Libraries in rural areas in most African developing countries is still not of high priority, and professionals in the library field are not keen to take a leading role. The lack of incentives and benefits are contributory factors that make professionals reluctant to take the initiative and venture into the remote rural areas. However advocating for the establishment of School Libraries in rural areas is professionally rewarding as one will be able to discover the true needs of the deprived rural folks, as well as the children and their information needs so as to provide effective library and information services. With the coming of the new political dispensation in Zimbabwe, that is the inclusive government School Libraries are now very essential in rural areas, as they help to narrow the information gap that had almost widened to greater proportions in the past ten years.
The idea to have a School Library at Matenda School in rural Zvishavane was conceived as far back as far back as May 2007. Mr Bernard Magaisa, a product of this School, now a lending specialist in New Zealand, had sought to help the School to improve extra-curricula activities, by providing soccer balls, netballs, hockey, volleyball and basketball equipment, but after consulting Mr Driden Kunaka, a Librarian, and former National Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Library Association from 1995 to,1998, the later advised Mr Magaisa to engage me to go to Matenda School to inform the Matenda School Administration about the need to have a Library at the School. I set on my journey and arrived at Matenda School on 6 July 2007, and late towards the evening I immediately convened a meeting. This was a time when political campaigns were underway in rural areas of Zimbabwe. My presence was as I later learned viewed with so much suspicion, when one teacher boldly confessed, that he had thought I had come disguised as an opposition political agent, who would live them in great trouble. The news I brought them was so much convincing and I was rewarded by being invited to be Guest of Honour at their 31 July 2007, Prize Giving Day. From that day, I started to advocate for the provision of books at this School. One of my long time friends whose friend David Brine of Africa Book Centre I worked for at his stand during the 2001 Zimbabwe International Book Fair, Margaret Ling was among the first to offer me a credit line to purchase books for the School from Weaver Press, a Zimbabwean Book Publisher. On 23 November 2007, I purchased 50 books for the School and these were presented to the School on 24 January 2008. Whilst the culture of reading has died in most Schools, I was so amazed when one Grade 3 pupil volunteered to read a text “The Tale of Tamari” written by Shimmer Chinodya one of Zimbabwe’s prominent writers. The day was made more exciting by the presence of the Chief and his ginda (bodyguard). Apart from these books other books for the School were sourced from Darien Book Aid Plan. I established the Library in April 2008, this was a month after the arrival of 18 boxes of books from New Zealand sourced by Mr Driden Kunaka and Mr Bernard Magaisa from local schools in New Zealand. During that time the country was experiencing one of the harshest economic hardships in living memory, with soaring inflation that stalled the development of any activity in schools, a worst of all there was political tension, as the nation waited in bated breath for the results of March 2008 harmonized elections. I remember Mr Magaizs’s cousin Wilson Chengeta advising to postpone the journey saying through an e-mail “It has been reported that some political activists have been abducted in Harare so lets wait for things to stabilize.” A week later Wilson Chengeta drove all the way from Harare, picked me up in Gweru, and together we drove to Matenda School on a hot Saturday afternoon. The arrival of these books was a great welcome relief to the School. The School Administration engaged a carpenter and some bookshelves were hastily constructed in order to accommodate these new books.
It would be hard to imagine how a Library could be established against all the odds in such an environment. As I was to discover later on my sojourn up and down, to and from Matenda, all it takes is selfless dedication and unwavering determination. In order to arrive at Matenda School, one travels through Shurugwi (formerly Selukwe, home town to the late former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Douglas Smith). What is most intriguing and fearsome is passing through Boterekwa (a steep road that passes through a very high mountain, with blind caves where countless accidents had been experienced). Matenda School is deep in Zvishavane rural, 80 kilometers from Gweru, it was built in 1927. Once sited at Danger near Chionekano range of mountains through which Lundi River passes, the school was under Methodist Church in Zimbabwe like other schools in Zvishavane North, but has since been taken over by government through local government (Runde Rural District Council). Matenda Primary School is a cluster resource center where six schools meet to discuss academic and sporting issues. It is also a ward center where community leadership including traditional ones meets to discuss community problems and developmental strategies. Old though, the School has produced a number of notable personalities, one of whom is now a local member of parliament. Close to 500 pupils, aged between seven and thirteen years, who are all daytime pupils are enrolled at this School. The School caters for grades one up to grade seven, and the children are taught subjects such as Mathematics, English, Shona, Environmental Studies, Religious Studies, History, Home Economics and Crafts for the boys, as well as Nature Studies. A staff compliment of close to 15 teachers is involved in delivering knowledge to these poor rural pupils.
In keeping with the need to fulfill the information needs of Matenda School, for books to be available, requests for book donations is a top priority. The School wants books that are relevant to the pupils’ educational needs and those of other cultures so that they have a wider perspective of the world around them. So I had continued to put my effort and see to it that the School gets books that would be relevant to needs of the School curriculum, also that the teachers would continue to get a constant supply of Books. As someone interested in library advocacy, I had been fortunate to receive books from Darien Book Aid Plan and Irene Staunton of Weaver Press, had come in handy allocating me very useful and relevant children’s books. The present Library is in Room 14, a former classroom, converted into a Library. Internally the Library needs to be painted, and the floors also need attention. Though the door has adequate security as it is locked, there is need for a screen door. Apart from the door, the windows need to be burglar barred. Renovations on the roof are not yet up to standard, despite the Library surviving the last rainy season. The Library’s room is not that spacious, which can make it difficult to add more tables and chairs. The books though are well arranged and categorized, with a textbook section, fiction section, AIDS/HIV section and adult readers section. There are a few posters in the Library to make the internal outlook welcoming, the School was privileged to have received posters from a School Librarian based in the UK. There are though other promotional and informative posters that were donated by local book publishers and other non-governmental organizations like SAfAIDS. The School Librarian Mrs Makonese is responsible for the upkeep of the library books. Teachers borrow books for pupils and go with them to the classes, since they are knowledgeable about the reading levels of their pupils. At present the children are not allowed entry into the library since they will not be able to identify the books on their own. The teachers are heavy users of the Library and they have exhausted reading books sourced from Weaver Press, written by Shimmer Chinodya, Chenjerai Hove and Yvonne Vera, just to mention a few Zimbabwean authors. Most of the books in the Library are book donations. As stated earlier the Library has received book donations from Margaret Ling, Irene Staunton of Weaver Press, Darien Book Aid Plan (sourced), SAfAIDS, a local non-governmental organization that deals with provision of HIV/AIDS promotional material and advocacy. Of late the Library has also received a few primary textbooks from UNESCO and the EU. The Library has still a long way to go in terms of primary textbooks that will readily address the educational needs of the pupils. About three quarters of the books found in the library are mostly fiction novels, readers and rhymes that are for leisure reading. These materials have however heightened the desire to develop a reading habit among the pupils, they help develop fluent reading. There are still so many challenges though that needs to be addressed at this School. Ensuring that we have an ideal School Library with adequate resources for the children is one big challenge. The Matenda School Library Project has been largely voluntary venture on my part to assist this poor rural school so that the pupils will have access to books. Having facilitated the establishment and development of the Library, purely on a voluntary basis, traveling to and from the School, and at one time having to walk a distance of 25km to reach the school, and risking my life in the dark night, I now realize the my efforts had not been in vain However, the great challenge for the Matenda School Library Project is funding, in order to equip the library with the appropriate furniture, stationery and computer technology and other material resources. Now the School intends to launch the School Library Project. It is heartening that it is only on these occasions that those who have the financial resources play their part by helping the poor rural children, the orphans, to have pen, book, pencil tools that can assist these poor souls to learn the art of writing, thereby overcome illiteracy. There are other challenges; like need for a bore-hole and additional furniture for the classes, but this is best resolved by the Head and his Administration at this School.
For the future it is envisaged that a well-stocked School Library will be put in place to support the teaching and learning process at the School, and develop a strong resource center to benefit the Matenda Community, with the ultimate objectives to have an effective School Library, mobilize for provision of books through the sourcing of book donations, provide reading material relevant to the local needs, acquire material to address the needs of the local community and encourage a culture of reading among pupils and teachers to help nurture reading skills.