My family and I visit Zimbabwe often. Four years ago, in a personal quest in search of the Lemba, an African community with Jewish roots, we visited the Lemba village of Mapakomhere. It was for me a transformative experience. Not only did we find a wonderful welcoming group of people, but we found a community struggling to educate its youth and in desperate need of books. For me, it was an “aha” moment of “I can do this.” The education of the children of Mapakomhere became my mission and the beginning of an incredible journey.
On returning home, I sent a couple of boxes of books to the village and Books-for-Zim was born. Four years and thousands of books later, I can report that we have expanded and improved the quality of education for the children and youth of Mapakomhere. In the process, I have discovered an extended family.
On our first visit, we found schools with a paucity of educational materials, no library, and a secondary school, which ended in grade 10. Without the upper grades, village children were unable to sit for A level exams—a prerequisite for university admission. Books were old, scarce and often obsolete. We initially focused on sending books to the secondary school, but it became apparent early on that the elementary school needed help as well. It made sense to support both schools and thus encompass the complete education system of the village.
What a joy it is to see the changes in the village. In March of this year, we returned for our third visit to Mapakomhere. Our arrival was greeted with great joy and friendship. The villagers put on a day long welcome with all the students, teachers, elders and parents in attendance. The community slaughtered a goat and two chickens for the celebration, which they served with pumpkin and sadza (a local staple made of cornmeal). There was singing, dancing, drumming and a six-part skit by the students of the elementary and secondary schools as well as speeches by the headmasters, elders and other tribal dignitaries. A public request was made to the headman (village chief), who agreed to allocate land for a community library (the next project).
We all felt pride when the graduating class was introduced to the assembly, as these were the first students to complete the first “6th form” (12th grade). It had been the vision of the headmaster and Lemba leaders to expand the school to the 12th grade. With the help of our books they have done so. This year for the first time students from the village will be taking A level exams which will qualify them to apply for the university, a remarkable achievement in and of itself.
Common questions to me are: Where do your books come from and what kinds of books do you send to Zimbabwe? Our books come from many sources. They are gifts from local schools, which have upgraded their own textbooks; interested publishers, authors, library sales and private donations. We have been sending text books for all grade levels in the sciences, mathematics, English, and world history; reference books for all levels; an Encyclopedia Britannica; a World Book encyclopedia; educational board games; school supplies, novels and reading materials for all grade levels from pre-school to adult. When we can, we include teacher guides and other teaching resources, lesson plans, tests, etc. As you can imagine, everything is very much appreciated.
During the last four years, many thousands of books have been sent to the village changing the future for its children and creating incredible excitement in the region. Our efforts have been recognized by other villages in the country, Lemba and non-Lemba, and requests have been coming from village elders to assist their children. In response, we sent books and materials to schools throughout Zimbabwe. The most serious problem we face at present is the rise in shipping costs. Favorable book rates of the past have been suspended and the cost of shipping has gone way up. Kulanu contributed to postal expenses in 2006 and 2007, which was a wonderful help. Needless to say we welcome donations. If you are interested in this project, my contact information is: aidwithbooks @ hotmail.com