A Very Special Teacher by Jo-anne Pritchard

Edwin Msipa was still at school when he visited Porta Farm Squatters Camp near Harare in 1994.  His heart was touched by the poor people, and especially the children who lived there.  He realised there was a desperate need for the underprivileged children to be given an education.  Despite his tender years, he immediately initiated the first school in the camp and taught the children to the best of his ability.

In 2000 he started his teacher training course at Nyadire College, qualifying in 2003.  He started teaching at a government school in Mtorashanga, 130km from Harare but his thoughts kept returning to the poor “squatter” children at Porta Farm.

In the winter of 2005 Porta Farm Squatters Camp was demolished by the government and the people were moved to Hopley Farm which is 10km from Harare. Edwin visited the people at their new squatters’ camp in 2006. He discovered that no education was being provided for the children in the camp.  There was a school some distance away which some of the children attended but there were many problems associated with this arrangement.

The children had to cross a busy road to get to the school and there were several accidents.  Some children were killed and others maimed.  Parents didn’t want the same fate for their own children, so kept them at home. Many could not afford the school fees as their parents were unemployed.  More affluent pupils at the school discriminated against the Hopley Farm children, ostracising them and making their lives unbearable.  With a result, the remaining children dropped out one by one.

Edwin had to complete his contract at the government school in Mtorashanga but a plan was forming in his mind and he saved as much as he could of his salary during those last few years. It wasn’t much, but he was determined to put everything he had into a school at Hopley Farm Squatters Camp.

He was able to leave Mtorashanga at the beginning of June 2010 and immediately took his small savings and fulfilled his dream.  The school at Hopley Farm Camp was established with two teachers and six children.  Today there are twenty-four teachers and 1050 pupils!  These pupils range in age from three years to nineteen years old:  Nursery school to ‘O’ levels!

However, there is a huge problem.  There are no classrooms.  The children are taught in the open air under trees!  It is winter in Zimbabwe at the moment so very cold.  Summer brings the rains so is equally uncomfortable.  They have no desks and a serious shortage of writing materials and text books.  They have to rely on donations of every kind, but not much is forthcoming.

Most families at Hopley Farm Camp are unemployed and the children come to school hungry.  There are no packed lunches or school meals for these poor children.  Some have been known to faint from hunger.  The families rely on fish from nearby Lake Chivero to survive. Most children have no shoes or warm clothes.  This is poverty at its worst.

Edwin Msipa is driven to help these children because he feels education will open doors to a better future for them and their families.  He makes many personal sacrifices to continue his work with these children.  How much easier life would be if he had the very basic necessities to assist him in his work.

I’ve decided to write about Edwin today, because I hope someone, somewhere will be able to come up with a solution.  If anyone deserves help, this amazing man does!

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