Turning Mirrors into Windows … a Preschool opens on the Farm

Witnessing the shy but eager children waiting to be handed their tiny chairs to carry on their heads to the farm’s schoolhouse a five-minute walkaway is an affecting reminder of how fortunate I’ve been in my life. One assumes in a working democracy that it is an inalienable right to be educated, but here in this impoverished land, where economic activity lags — where girls of 14 are shocked out of puberty into motherhood — any sort of education has always been a privilege.

And it’s a special privilege for girls, which is why I decided, in celebration of International Women’s Day, to post a blog about the farm’s new preschool.

The little pupils carry their chairs to the schoolroom in the farm village.
The little pupils carry their chairs to the schoolroom in the farm village.

Three hard-working, dynamic sisters, all of whom are single mothers with preschoolers, took the initiative. The eldest of the three, Angelina Banda, who has worked as Chris’s personal assistant for years, headed up the project, while her youngest sister, Jenny Banda, agreed to fill the position of teacher at the new school once it was built. The third sister is my assistant chef and house manager, Adelina Banda. All of them are in their twenties; between them they have four young children.

Teacher, Jenny Banda, with her baby Rebecca.
Teacher Jenny with her baby Rebecca.
Angelina Banda, Chris P.A., was instrumental in helping the farm pre-school become a reality.
Angelina Banda has been instrumental in ensuring the farm preschool became a reality.
Never one to miss out, Bibi waits with the children to go to school.
Never one to miss out, Bibi waits with the children to go to school.
Friday Kangumu, Chris's head tractor driver, with his children, Eliza and Friday Jnr.
Friday Kangumu, head tractor driver, with his children, Eliza and Friday Jnr.

At the moment the mud-walled schoolroom doubles as a church on Sunday, and was built and paid for by the farm workers themselves. In the days ahead, however, the farm will be creating a secure permanent structure to replace it.

The children, it seems, don’t mind where they learn. They can’t wait to attend class, be it inside or outside under the trees. And they are learning fast. When I first visited the school a few weeks ago, not one of the children would speak to me. They were nervous and unsure of themselves for they had not seen many white women before. When I went back last week to witness the handover of a generous donation of books and toys from a neighboring safari lodge, children ran up and hugged me, some chatted away in English, others teased me and frolicked around. With the help of Teacher Jenny, they joined together in song to express their gratitude, later turning to their natural-born rhythm, evident in so many happy children, to stomp and clap in perfect time.

Settling into class.
Settling into class.
Jenny Banda, the preschool's teacher, is Angelina and Adelina Banda's sister.
Jenny Banda multitasks as a teacher, carer, nanny, mother, and aunt.
Kids up to age of 6 are allowed to attend the preschool.
Kids up to the age of six are allowed to attend the preschool.
Books and cuddly toys were kindly donated to the farm preschool earlier this month by Waterberry Zambezi Lodge, which assists other community schools along the river.
Books and cuddly toys were kindly donated to the school earlier this month by Waterberry Zambezi Lodge, which actively assists other community schools along the Zambezi River.
Class is conducted outdoors when the weather allows.
The delighted children with all their new toys. Class is conducted outdoors when the weather allows.
My assistant Adelina Banda's daughter, Techla, one of the 22 founding students.
Adelina Banda’s youngest daughter, Techla, one of the 22 founding students.
The farm's half-finished schoolroom.
The farm’s makeshift schoolroom, soon to be rebuilt as a permanent structure.
Angelina Banda's son, Lazlas, took a shine to all the furry animals. He was unsure which one to choose!
Angelina Banda’s son, Lazlas, took a shine to all the donated furry animals. He was unsure which one to choose!

Chris’s beginnings in Zambia were far from easy. In 2002 he’d lost his farm in the political turmoil of Zimbabwe, forcing him to leave the country in which he was born to  start over from scratch, with nothing but a few household belongings. During the immense struggle of trying to turn around a new farm that had lain fallow for years, he also lost his beloved partner Jenny to ALS, or motor neurone disease, in 2009.

With fortitude and integrity, Chris and his management team have transformed the farm into a thriving operation. The opening of this preschool, therefore, is regarded by everyone as another positive milestone in the farm’s development. It is something Chris has hoped to do for years, and he’s committed to help it grow into an establishment of which the resident families can be proud.

On my part, I feel a deep commitment to helping the women in Zambia, particularly here on the farm. By assisting where we are able, Chris and I can give back to a country that not only took us in during difficult times in our lives, but gave both of us a second chance. For that we are forever grateful.

Annabel Hughes is an award-winning chef and blogger, and the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.

29 Comments

  • Great article. Love the community effort – bravo!

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    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, Phee. It’s a happy project, to be sure!

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  • Great to read your lovely story, enjoy your colourful pictures and share your “living in the moment” experiences. Thanks dear Annabel xx

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    • Thank you, Hellie, for yet another lovely comment. I feel such gratitude for your support and interest. xo

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  • Great post, great start, lovely photos. All feels very familiar 🙂

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    • Thank you, Georgie … you’re going to have to come and visit soon. Warn Charlie! xo

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  • Annabel, I do so enjoy your photographs, recipes and writing (in whichever order you wish)! Keep it up PLEASE Tish

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    • Ah, Tish … how LOVELY to hear from you. Thank you for your sweet comment. I love doing what I do, so unless something untoward occurs, I plan to keep posting! Lots of love to you and Phil all the way over in Corfu … xo

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  • This is so lovely, Annabel. Your good heart shines through. Thank you for sharing. Xo

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    • What a lovely comment, Jen, thank you. It’s a project dear to both of our hearts, therefore it’s also a joyful one. I hope it’s warming up in those beautiful Blue Ridge mountains! Lots of love to you … xo

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  • So exciting for the kids, wish I had been there to see the first day!

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    • GREAT to hear from you, Louise, and we wish you had been there for the first day, too! Hopefully it won’t be long before we see you and your lovely family. Lots of love from us all … xo

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  • I am so excited that this is happening on your farm. I am sure the children will need supplies–paper, pencils, etc. If you know of a way that we could donate to the preschool, please let me know!

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    • Dearest Cynthia … thank you! We are humbled by your offer, and I’ll definitely be in touch. Fundraising and donations are going to play a large part in ensuring this little school grows legs! I will let you know as soon as we have a facility in place. Until then, this comes with much love and gratitude from us all … xo

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  • Love those photos of happy children and beautiful colours of Africa! Well done all of you. xx

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    • Thank you, my dear friend. It is such a great team effort, and will continue to be. Please stay safe in Cyclone Pam! Lots of love from all of us over here in Livingstone … xo

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  • Oh, you make me smile. (Yes, and mad, also, that things are as they’ve been. But I’m happy for the smile.)

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    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Michelle. The bittersweetness of life … it’s how it is.

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  • Your story is reminiscent of all those farms that used to thrive south of the Zambezi – you cannot keep a good Zimbabwean down! You have breathed life into a part of Africa that has been waiting for you and Chris to come along and do just that. Well done to both of you.

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    • Well, you have just made my day. Thank you for your thoughtful, kind comment, Colin. How lucky we are to be here … and to be given such a wonderful second chance.

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  • This is very cool the colors and kids faces are such reward

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    • Thank you, Mike! We can’t wait to show it all to you when you’re next in Livingstone (that’s a hint). 🙂

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  • Fantastic, Annabel, to be extending the education all along our bit of the countryside, how brilliant. Great photos too. I just picked this up when Lynette shared it. Looking forward to the next story. Best wishes, Tessa.

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    • Thank you for stopping by my blog, Tessa … and thank you to Waterberry and Lynette for generously donating to the preschool. The kids were delighted. All the best to you, Annabel

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  • Annabel , Chris this is so great ! Congratulation for your achievement ! This must be so rewarding to see those kids so happy to learn !
    Great work !

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    • Thank you, Calie … yes, it is deeply rewarding to interact with all the children as they start their education.

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  • Annabel, I loved seeing this story. All children deserve an education to enrich their lives. The kids in Australia take education for granted. I love the happy photos of your little bunch that can now be called pupils. How grown up.

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    • Thank you very much for your kind comment, Kathy. As always, it’s so good to hear from you. Building is about to begin on the new schoolhouse, a project Chris and I are really looking forward to completing. I’ll keep you posted!

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  • […] our farm’s new preschool and day care center. Such a lot has happened since writing my first school post back in March. It’s been named Taonga Day Care — taonga meaning “we are […]

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