Johnson experiences education in Zimbabwe

Bud Johnson spent just under two weeks traveling to and visiting Zimbabwe in Africa. He taught school children sports at a rural school, and donated clothes and toys to an orphanage. Johnson said this trip surely took him out of his comfort zone. (Photos submitted)

This photo shows what minimal amenities the rural schools in Zimbabwe have to work with. The chalkboard is adequate for lessons, with English language cards helping the students to learn English. Johnson said kids walk up to 8 miles one way just to get to school.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “I wanted to leave a goodwill feeling behind,” shared Bud Johnson of Monticello.

     You see, Johnson spent 13 days traveling and working in Zimbabwe, Africa, as part of his church’s mission trip, Aug. 31 through Sept. 12. And he very much feels as though he left behind a positive message and outlook of Americans when leaving Zimbabwe.

     Johnson and nine other parishioners from his church in Marion worked with Hippo Valley Christian Mission to provide a Bible School-type of education to the children in rural Zimbabwe. They served Pasipanyoro Christian Primary School, a K-7 school with 460 kids.

     Johnson said Zimbabwe was under the rule of a dictator for 40 years, Robert Mugabe. After he was voted out of office, the country hasn’t been able to bounce back from its poor economy.

     “It’s unfortunate,” he said.

     Johnson sat in on a first-grade class at Pasipanyoro, and witnessed a math lesson where the kids learned to count using kernels of corn.

     “The class has 71 kids and only one teacher and one helper,” he said of the class sizes.

     Johnson also brought home a seventh-grade math book that’s 25 years old in Zimbabwe to show how their math lessons compare to Monticello.

     “I’d like to see how our seventh graders do,” he said. “There are some tough questions.”

     Hippo Valley serves over 20 different schools throughout Zimbabwe, rural and urban. Johnson himself also financially sponsors 20 elementary children at these schools. As he explained it, without the financial assistance, many of these children cannot afford to attend school. Schools charge families so much per child to attend school, and the children must also wear uniforms to school.

     “School is a right here,” said Johnson. “There, it’s a privilege.”

     He said the students walk 4 to 8 miles one way just to get to school.

     And the teachers, despite working in the rural or urban schools are all paid the same no matter what.

     He said many of the kids drop out by their early teens, another reason he continues to sponsor the kids he does to make sure they complete their education.

     While at Pasipanyoro, Johnson said they spent time interacting with the children. He took on the task of teaching the children sports, particularly kick ball and wiffle ball.

     “These kids never played kick ball before,” he said. “They never ran bases before.”

     While on the trip, the group stayed in a house two hours from the school. Johnson recalled the poor condition of the roads leading to and from the school.

     “Those were some of the worst gravel roads I’ve ever seen,” he said.

     Whether at the schools or in town eating or shopping for food, Johnson said their group of 10 was the only “white” people around.

     “The kids didn’t know English,” he said. “They’ve never seen white people before.”

     While the group had someone to translate for them, they also tried to pick up bit and pieces of the local language, too.

     “It was a challenge but fun,” he said. “We take language for granted.”

     Johnson admitted he wasn’t sure how he would react to being the minority race.

     “It’s a shock from our culture,” he said. “You feel like a fish in a fish bowl with everyone looking at you. That was the hardest part.”

     However, everyone they met was quite friendly towards them.

     Something else we take for granted in the U.S. is access to water. Johnson said the school kids had to walk a half-mile to bring water from a well to school to drink or wash their hands in. So Johnson’s group always brought several bottles of water with them every day to the school.

     “The temperatures were in the low 90s with low humidity,” he said.

     Despite the heat, they always wore paints and long-sleeved shirts to keep from getting bit by mosquitos. Before leaving for Zimbabwe, Johnson also got shots for malaria, which stems from mosquitos, and took a malaria pill each day.

     For Johnson, this trip was a leap of faith as he called it.

     “It took me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “It stretched out that comfort zone.”

     Before making the decision to even go, a representative from Hippo Valley spoke at Johnson’s church. He said the group quickly dwindled after the first informational meeting. However, he stuck with his decision to go.

     The group was allowed extra suitcases on the flight, and filled many with toys and clothes for an orphanage in Zimbabwe. As they delivered the items, Johnson said the kids just climbed into their laps and hands, craving human contact.

     While in Zimbabwe, the church group had a day to themselves. They traveled to a game rescue, what Johnson termed a mini safari, to see wild African animals in their natural habitat.

     Johnson said Zimbabwe definitely is not a tourist destination. The people were friendly and down to earth, and he definitely struck up some relationships with the children he met.

     “We taught the kids how to fist-bump,” he said.

     Before leaving for Africa, Johnson shared the biographies of some of the kids he sponsors with students at Carpenter Elementary. Many of the Monticello kids wrote letters and drew pictures for the children in Zimbabwe, which Johnson personally delivered. So far, one of the kids in Zimbabwe has responded back.



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