Friday 7th May: Book handovers, pigs and Bob Mugabe

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The morning begins with a visit to the British Council, who provide valuable assistance in clearing the BAI shipments into Zimbabwe, and are happy to continue to do so. We then proceed to a book handover ceremony involving 11 high schools that receive book donations from the Harare Distribution Committee. Very smart pupils in blazers are in attendance and the occasion goes well. I am interviewed by the Herald newspaper afterwards and talk soundbites – education is the route out of poverty, books change lives!

After the ceremony we head out of Harare to a rural high school, St John’s. The school is well kept and has an impressive quality about it. It turns out that the students have built ¾ of the school buildings themselves and they are of a good quality too. The library is big but mostly full of outdated books, except for a number received recently from BAI. Most of the BAI books are kept behind the librarian’s desk for reference only. The borrowing record shows that the pupils are avid readers, and the head talks about this ‘injection and infusion of books’ which has helped pupils to ‘explore and learn new things’, including one student whohas learnt to play guitar with a BAI book.

After the library, we have a tour of the schools grounds and see pigs, rabbits and vegetable gardens which are all key ingredients to keeping the school self-sufficient. Impressively, around 500 of the 800 pupils are girls. Unfortunately, over the road at the primary school, the library has a desolate and dusty air, and BAI books are hard to find amongst the shelves which tower over one side of the room. It is clear that the library needs better care and that to make the most of what is a reasonable space will require training. On the way back, the first of four motorcyclists is a sign that big Bob Mugabe’s motorcade is about to pass, as it soon does, on his return from a state visit to Tanzania.

This brings me to the end of my visits in Harare. It seems that 2008 marked the nadir for Zimbabwe with the cholera outbreak, hyper-inflation and tensions on the street. People are beginning to cautiously look forward and things seem relatively back to normal but the future remains very uncertain, and there are worries that the peace will only last until the next election. Talking of elections, in the evening, I catch up belatedly with the UK election and am not too surprised to see that my old home town of Brighton has elected a green MP, but from here, the UK seems very distant and the politics of a hung parliament very far away.

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