Phuthu, Nshima and Sadza: same product, different countries

In our province in South Africa, maize porridge is known as “phuthu”. Recently we travelled to Zambia and Zimbabwe, where we were privileged to share meals with communities in both countries. Maize porridge is called “nshima” in Zambia and “sadza” in Zimbabwe, even though it is made from the same product. In the same way, we found that teachers are teachers and children are children, whether they are called South African, Zambian or Zimbabwean, and when sharing our ideas on how to teach children through play using materials made from recycling, we received the same enthusiasm and excitement in these other African countries as we do in South Africa. Thanks to the incredible sponsorship from the Emirates Airline Foundation and collaboration with a number of NGO’s, we were able to teach 169 parents, educators, health workers and community workers how to provide a fun-filled learning environment for the 6 026 children from 65 schools that they interact with daily! It was a very busy trip with 7 workshops in 5 towns in 2 countries in 8 days, but the incredible commitment and dedication of the people that we had the honour of teaching was worth the taxing schedule.

Ndola training
We started on Monday in Ndola, Zambia, in the far North of the country, in the region known as the Copper Belt. Here a charity organisation called “Beyond Ourselves” hosted the training, and Dan had invited representatives from 14 different schools. Subsequent to our return, each of these representatives have run this training in each of their own schools with the teachers who did not attend, so the reach of this workshop has already spread beyond just the delegates we taught. Zambia last had rain in May, and they only expect the rains to come in early December, so the hot, dry wind caused a bit of havoc with the delegates “toys”, especially when they were cutting up plastic bags to make skipping ropes! It was sitting around the lunch table over a hearty lunch of nshima (maize porridge) and wors, while learning the art of rolling the nshima into balls with our hand before dipping it into the sauce, that we got to interact with some of the delegates in a more relaxed environment, and met the most amazing people with stories of triumph over hardship and dreams for a brighter future. What a privilege!

teachers zambia

A short flight back to Lusaka saw us landing at 7pm. Prince, a delightful taxi driver, fetched us and took us to our accommodation for the night. Even at that late hour, the roads were incredibly busy and we were very grateful we hadn’t gone with the option of a hired car! On Tuesday morning we were collected bright and early by Monia Richter, an ex-South African who is now living in Zambia, who had worked together with Lusaka International Community School (LICS) to coordinate the workshop. They managed to invite representatives from 18 schools to the training, so once again the impact on the communities will be far greater than just the participants. LICS have a very strong outreach mentorship programme with a number of surrounding schools, and have even been invited to other countries to share their model. We also had an Occupational Therapist and her assistant join us from The Zambia Project NGO in Mongu, Western Zambia. They had travelled for 7 hours on a bus to be at the training – what amazing commitment! – and they will now take this knowledge back into the very rural community in which they work. One of the activities we used to show “bilateral coordination” at work can be seen in the photo. The delegates had to rub their tummy and pat their head at the same time. This requires both sides of the brain to send messages to both sides of the body at the same time. Lots of hilarity ensued as they watched each other try to get this right. And even more when I told them to change hands!

bilateral coordination zambia
After lunch we ran another 3 hour training workshop, this time in in N’gombe Compound in Lusaka, where we worked with teachers who are part of a teacher mentorship programme run by the charity called Impact One. By now it was close to 40 degrees Celsius and the teachers had already spent a very busy morning teaching, but despite this, they participated fully in the workshop. As we had worked with most of these delegates on our previous trip to Lusaka, this workshop introduced them to how to use recycling to teach Maths. Cardboard cereal boxes, egg trays and plastic cold drink bottle lids became tools with which children could understand concepts like one-to-one correspondence, classification, matching, counting and patterning. Once again, we were humbled by the dedication and commitment shown by some of these amazing people, who are giving everything to make a difference to the children they teach.

ngombe zambia   teachers zambia
On Wednesday morning, we flew to Livingstone and were collected from the airport by a representative from Sanctuary Retreats, a tourism company that had coordinated the workshop, and driven to Nakatindi Primary School, where our next training was held. There were a number of teachers at the training, as well as a group of Health Workers who do home visits to families in the community and are involved with young children in this capacity. These health workers were amazed at the importance of play in a young child’s development and learning, and were thoroughly engaged in the process of learning, making toys and testing them out.

threading zambia   skipping rope zambia

The first activity that we did with the delegates at each of the training workshops was to get them to make a “rocket ball” out of plastic bags (a ball with a plastic tail still attached). They then had to try to throw their rocket ball over the “line” demarcated by the skipping rope. It was such fun to watch the competitive streak come out in some of the teachers! Back in the training room we discussed how much fun the activity was. They were then asked what skills they had used in the activity. Blank faces were followed by light starting to dawn when they realised that such a fun activity was developing the muscles strength in their arms and shoulders ready for writing, it was improving their eye-hand coordination, also a pre-writing requirement, and it involved estimation, directionality and motor planning!

rocket ball

The next three workshops were hosted and coordinated by the outreach team of Wilderness Safaris, known as Children in the Wilderness (CITW). Their aim is to support the communities around their camps and to inspire the children to care for their natural heritage, so that they can become custodians of these areas in the future. The re-use of household packaging fits so well into their value of protecting the environment, and as most of the teachers come from schools with extremely limited resources, the fact that educational materials could be made from things that are normally thrown away, was very appealing. We ran workshops in Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and a tiny village outside Hwange National Park called Ziga (Zimbabwe), and trained 54 teachers from 21 schools, who are responsible for educating 1 889 pupils. James Mwanza heads up this programme in Zambia and Zimbabwe for CITW and we were very grateful to him for transporting us from venue to venue, as we had to cross the border twice and navigate a number of Police road blocks in both countries. The rules are very strictly enforced by the Police, especially on the Zimbabwean side, with fines quickly imposed if you are in transgression of any of the rules. This is great for most things, but we did feel that the need to carry a licence for the car radio (like a tv licence) may be a little over the top!

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One of the important messages that we needed to get across to all the teachers is the importance of “construction play” for the children in order to develop geometry foundations, problem solving skills, creativity and language. Most teachers think that this kind of play requires them to have wooden blocks or lego. While these are lovely toys, they are not essential, and to demonstrate this at each workshop we broke the delegates into groups and gave them each a different “building” material. One group had egg trays, another had toilet roll inners, another had plastic lids, and they were given 5 minutes to “build something” using only the materials they were provided with. It was fascinating to see the different ideas that each group came up with! These photos show one of the groups in Livingstone, who used plastic lids to build, and one of the groups in Hwange, who used egg trays. Both of these pictures demonstrate a really important message that we gave at each workshop, which was to say to the child, “Tell me about what you have built” as opposed to guessing what the construction is. This gives the child the opportunity to describe what he has built (language development) and it prevents the teacher from incorrectly labelling what the child has made. The construction made out of lids is a flower and a house and the construction made out of egg trays is a termite mound – something which is very common in this area. If I had guessed what these were, I would have thought the flower was a tree or a man without arms, and the termite mound, a rondavel house. If I had said this, it would have made the “builders” feel like they had done a really useless job and the same goes for the children!

lids construction  img_3648-lr

As always, feedback from the delegates is so valuable, and we were delighted to receive the following comments:
“Very eye opening! There is more room for creativity from the skills that we have learnt and I am definitely going to implement them in my classroom” – Nyasha Ndhlovu, Grade 2 teacher, Victoria Falls Primary School
“A very productive learning and mind opening programme. I am so delighted to be part of this especially because waste goes to good use!!!” – Chipo Muzenda, ECD A teacher, Jacaranda Montessori.
“The workshop was very beneficial as it involved constructing media out of ‘litter’ I commend the lady presenters for a job well done. I think children especially at ECD level will be stars of tomorrow and would recommend the team also visits other remote areas {to share} the information so everyone can benefit” – Alphar Munsaka, Grade 1 teacher, Chinotimba Primary School.

flick soccer zimbabwe

Everywhere we went, the people were so friendly and welcoming, and very eager to learn. All our workshops were run in English, as it is one of the official languages in both countries, and everyone understood me, despite my “strange” accent! No matter where we were, we were treated like royalty. We were honoured to be invited to meet the Headman of Ziga Village, who welcomed us into his kitchen hut and shared stories about his community and their traditions. We were privileged to share the meal of sadza (mealie meal porridge) and beans with that the children are given by the school feeding scheme. And then there were the hundreds of photos that were taken of each delegate with us, as if we were celebrities. They didn’t understand that THEY were the most important people at the workshops, not us!

phuthu nshima sadza  teachers zimbabwe
It really was such a privilege to be able to run our training for these amazing people, and once again, our grateful thanks goes to the Emirates Airline Foundation for making it possible. We have already been invited back by all of the organisations we worked with, so hopefully we will be able to share even more knowledge in these communities in the future.