On September 2nd, BCP’s technical team from the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project went to Chilimba Community School to assist with repairs and maintenance. In conjunction with school staff and some community members, they repaired 17 school desks and fixed two classroom doors. A new door was hung on one of the classrooms and the headmaster took the opportunity to clean out his storeroom and get his office in order for the start of the new school year.
Chilimba is a community zone adjacent to Rufunsa Conservancy, the project area for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project. Chilimba Community School is one of two community schools located within the project zone, adjacent to Rufunsa Conservancy—both of these schools receive on-going assistance through the BCP Trust School Support Program, which is designed to improve access to higher quality education and to promote awareness about environmental issues among youths living within the project zone for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.
In contrast to “government” schools, “community” schools, such as the Chilimba School, receive very limited government support, and the school continues to exist and run through irregular, and often limited, contributions from local community members. As a result, teacher salaries are often low, and erratic. This has an effect on teacher performance, school care and ‘ownership’, and these problems consequentially negatively affect student attendance rates. Additionally, although the school structure itself was constructed as a “donation” from a mining company that was formerly active within the area, in the years since the classrooms were constructed, the buildings have become damaged due to lack of care and maintenance, and vandalism. School equipment, such as desks, windows, doors and blackboards, have been vandalized, as the school has increasingly been used as a local beer hall. Unfortunately, not even the local Headmaster and teacher have been able to protect the school, as they were formerly rumoured to be part of the local drinking community that would use the classrooms at night.
As part of its community engagement strategy, BCP Trust is now co-funding teacher salaries, with the aim of encouraging community investment in schools, raising teaching standards and improving teacher morale, and thereby addressing problems of irregular attendance and poor motivation. BCP Trust Teacher Salary Support payments are conditional on performance and co-funding from local communities; BCP Trust support includes explicit requirements that teachers regularly teach classes during school days, and specify that funding will be withheld in the event that any teachers are found or reported to skipping classes or drinking during school hours (which is an unfortunately common problem we have encountered). Institutionally, through the School Support Program, BCP Trust is engaging more regularly and more meaningfully with the members of the local Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), with the intention of promoting self-help and organization. It is our aim to work closely with the PTA to ensure that the School Support Program continues to run effectively and in the best interests of local students.
As such, the infrastructure investments and improvements that were undertaken by members of BCP’s technical team earlier this month were designed to demonstrate BCP’s seriousness in supporting and improving local schools, to promote PTA awareness and engagement in the School Support Program, and to protect students’ access to quality educational facilities. In particular, by providing improved locks to classroom doors, BCP hopes to reduce future acts of vandalism, and to ensure that investments such as repaired desks are maintained to the benefit of local students.
Since the inception of the Teacher Salary Support Program in May 2013, BCP staff members have already remarked notable differences in teacher support and behaviour during the school day: although it was formerly a common occurrence to encounter school staff drunk (or absent) during school days, recent visits and reports have shown drastic improvements in teacher morale and behaviour. In Chilimba, two additional teachers have been hired—and paid for—by the local community, to support the two very overworked teachers who used to run the school. BCP has received no further reports of drunkenness during school hours, and we have not witnessed such behaviour during our (sometimes unannounced) site-visits. The local Headmaster dedicated himself to revamping and caring for the School Fruit Orchard, which was planted in February 2013, through a partnership between the local Forestry Department Officer, the local community of Chilimba, and BCP Trust. BCP is now looking forward to launching an improved environmental education program in both community schools, beginning January 2014, and to supporting local football teams as a way of linking environmental education outreach to popular sporting events.
BCP Trust’s School Support Program is connected to BCP’s overall community sensitization efforts, which are designed to link community “improvement” projects such as these to local cooperation in forest protection, reducing poaching and avoiding encroachment of the REDD+ project area, Rufunsa Conservancy.
Next Steps: Chilimba School needs further assistance with repairing a broken borehole pump, replacing two classroom doors, and repairing an additional 20 desks. Please contact BCP Trust if you are interested in supporting the Chilimba Community School as part of the Trust’s School Support Program.