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Visiting Benson Siyawareva's school and community project, Zimbabwe


Game Warden
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On the final day of my visit to Zimbabwe, I met with Benson, (whose Safaritalk interviews you can read here and in Issue 2 of the Magazine here) who was taking me to the pre school and community project which he has built on his his own in a village close to Victoria Falls. Situated halfway between the town and the airport, the small community is in an arid area in which there is little water and children walk with their parents up to 8km there and back every day so they can attend school.

 

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All the materials used for the construction of the school building were locally sourced by Benson, using scrap and discarded materials - in his own time and on his own initiative he then built the classrooms, the shop, the toilets, the slides, swings and even bought an old VW Beetle in which the children pretend to drive round Zimbabwe.

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One of the students was keen to model the pith helmet.

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I was introduced to the class, everyone knows Benson, and there is obviously much love and respect for everything he has done. The children sang a number of songs which I joined in, (and don't mind admitting brought a tear to my eyes), recited the alphabet and numbers 1-10 and we had a question and answer session where I asked the children their names, some tried on the pith helmet - I was immediately called Mr Mdevu, (Mr Beard), which made everyone laugh. Some of the children are HIV positive and are growing up in extremely tough conditions, but here at school, with their red and blue uniforms, Benson is providing them with a chance. Some of you will remember the Happy Readers initiative: Benson has been provided with a series of books, (thanks to a donation from a US client), for the children through the organisation - and it was through us here at ST that Ngoko learned of the initiative.. At present the school is for children of pre school ages, but it is Benson's hope to upgrade so year one can be taught. If not, some of these children will never go to a proper school. However the beaurocracy in trying to establish a first grade school may be insurmountable...

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The hard working and enthusiastic teacher.

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Not only is the classroom built from recycled materials, so are the slides and swings - everything has been salvaged by Benson, put on his truck and brought to the site. The kids love it...

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People think Benson is crazy when he takes old car tyres from the side of the road. "Where are you taking that rubbish?" they ask him. Well, they are to be made into swings. Benson still has some more frames to weld up: he saw that the children were climbing the trees, swinging on the branches and breaking them down, so the "new" swings provide much more fun and also save the trees from being damaged. His plan is to put many more activities up for the children to play on and in, and recently bought this old VW Beetle in which they pretend to drive round in. It's all about stimulating their imagination - later that day when Benson dropped me at the airport we met with the airport manager to arrange a day trip for them so they could see the aeroplanes close up, taking off and landing.

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Some of the mums take turns to cook lunch everyday: for some of the children it's their only proper meal. The school charges 8 US$ per month per child, which is spent on ingredients and to help pay the teacher's wage. Even that is sometimes hard to find for some families.

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Alongside the school Benson built a small shop which sells basic supplies, otherwise it's maybe a 10 km walk into town. Again, using salvaged materials and some old concrete sleepers which he bought from the railway company. Alongside, a toilet block with urinal and toilet, hand basin: Benson highlighted the importance of hygeine and handwashing for the children.

 

The school is giving these children a chance. Benson is giving them a chance. But it's not just the school. He is setting up areas for chickens, a small pig farm, employing young local people to look after them, as the soil is unproductive for crops. The jobs provide the young people with an income, and Benson pays for some of them to get their driving licenses.

 

To be honest, I don't know how he does it. Away often guiding safaris, then back briefly with his wife, then helping out at the school and the village. Then, helping young student guides with their studies, taking them out on birdwatching trips, advising them, encouraging them, all without pay in his spare time. Everyone you met knew Benson: it wasn't as this great safari guide, but it was as someone who is an inspiration, someone who puts back into the community, works hard to empower people and make their lives better. Sure, he is a well respected guide, as some recent "Top Guides lists" acknowledge, but off duty, at home, he doesn't relax, he walks round in shorts, tee and flip flops trying to make people's lives better. Selflessly - he doesn't seek reward or accolades - most people don't know what he does for a living, they think he's just some crazy guy, but, he's just some crazy guy making more of a difference than I ever can, and they love him for it.

 

I left Benson at the airport giving him 100 US$ to buy whatever he thinks is essential for the school and I know that he will choose wisely. My last view of him was whilst he was in conversation with the airport manager and I knew his school children would have an exciting day out watching the aeroplanes very soon.

 

Matt.

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Very humbling to read this. Thank you.

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I thought I admired Benson before this; but now I know he is one exceptional person not only with his guiding but with his heart and soul.

 

Thanks for sharing this with us Matt; I feel so much for these kids. All of us love Africa for its' wildlife, but the people are just as endearing- and when you see how so many live, it is indeed humbling as Twaffle says.

 

Perhaps one will grow up as inspired by their Mr. Benson and we will hear tales of guiding and teaching and giving from one of his student in years to come..

 

Where would one make a donation?

 

I also have a VW I could donate! Lemon. But he'd make lemonade out of it!

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this is a very inspirational man. very humbling indeed.

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I'm not emotional man,nonetheless, I was moved by the text and photos. Benson is a wonderful man who is making a difference. I only wish that I could somehow do the same here in Nairobi.

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reports like this really bring us back to what is important in life. thanks!

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A couple of members have mentioned helping the school. However, there is no org or NGO tied to in with it, just Benson on his own - so I've emailed Fiona, his partner in Ngoko, @@ngoko to make a plan and see if we can come up with a way to help support the school. I know that personally I want to do more every few months so stay tuned for updates and thanks for all the feedback and thoughts.

 

Matt

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Wonderful to read Matt's report and your comments. As many of you know I am Benson's business partner and we jointly own and run Ngoko Safaris. I have known Benson since 2001 and worked with him since 2004 and even now I am constantly humbled by his approach to life. I am sure he won't mind me saying that life has not been an easy journey for Benson so far and yet he still recognizes how fortunate he is compared with many others in Zimbabwe. His passion has always been to provide opportunities for the next generation. The pre-school project has been inspirational but I know it won't stop there. Benson has a long-term commitment to this community and I know dreams of establishing an orphanage at some stage.

 

Matt has contacted me about possibly providing some financial assistance in future which we very much appreciate. I will chat with him directly about the best way of approaching this. I have found the generosity of our guests totally inspiring with many volunteering to bring out school materials or toys for the kids, a very generous recent donation is allowing Benson to connect the pre-school with water (which will involve digging a 3km trench for the pipe) and another guest kindly funded the initial purchase of Happy Reader books. We feel very fortunate to have such a supportive "Ngoko family". Clearly the more funding we receive the more Benson will be able to achieve and I will chat to him about his next goals.

 

In addition to being an amazing safari guide, Benson is making a difference to so many lives and for me it is a privilege to be a part of this.

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Really inspiring. I'll be following this thread so I don't miss the chance to contribute.

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  • 2 months later...

Benson has just sent me a note to say that the school now has running water installed and that my small contribution helped to achieve this. What a nice feeling that I've helped in some way. I've asked for photos and an update.

 

@@ngoko Fiona, hope to hear more from you soon about the projects which Benson is running in Zim.

 

Matt.

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Wow!

 

Benson for president!

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Game Warden,

 

I just realized that I met Benson in 2004 at Savuti in Botswana! Saw your photo of him; read your 2009 interview...it must be him! Wife Noreen? The woodpile at Savuti...of course, remember that. He was managing the camp; there were only 5 of us guests. One British chap was celebrating his birthday; the staff presented him with a beautiful book about wild dogs (which we spent time with that day), a bottle of Champagne (shared by all) and a very special birthday cake. As it came to the table (dimly lit by oil lamps), it looked like a nice chocolate "cake roll," complete with candles. I noticed the serrated knife presented to the birthday man...a bit odd, I thought...then he started to SAW into the cake, and everyone had a tremendous laugh to realize it was a dried elephant dung roll nicely iced with chocolate!

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  • 1 month later...

I was just reading this thread, and also happened to be looking at the Ngoko Safaris website, and noticed there is new information about how one can contribute to Benson's efforts in building up his community.

 

This is copied directly from the Ngoko Safaris website:

http://www.ngoko.com/travel-tips/meeting-the-community/

 

How you can help

Since starting this project we have been humbled by the generosity and support of our guests. We have ambitions for our pre-school to be formally adopted into the government education system, in order to offer a full education to the kids. We are also keen to build a clinic in the village. We cannot achieve this alone.

You can help by visiting the community/school as part of your stay in Victoria Falls – or mention it to friends or family who may be in the area. If you have any spare space in your bag then consider bringing out some useful supplies.

We are proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travelers like you to make a lasting impact in the community at your travel destination. If you save just a few kilos of space in your suitcase and bring supplies for area schools or medical clinics in need, you’ll make a priceless impact in the lives of our local children and families. Please click here to see what supplies are needed for our project.

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Should you wish to make a monetary donation we pledge that 100% will be spent on the project – there are no deductions for administration or overhead costs.

Online donations can be made in the US through Generosity in Action, and are fully tax deductable. Generosity in Action is a designated fund at Philanthropic Ventures Foundation -a qualified US 501©(3) public Charity. Learn more about Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.

Click here to make an online donation.

Once at Generosity in Action Donate page click on the Ngoko Village Project button. Note: there is a 3% transaction fee to cover credit card fees, bank fees, and other processing costs.

A check can be made out to “Philanthropic Ventures Foundation” and note on the “memo” line on the check – “Ngoko Village”. Checks should be sent to Generosity in Action c/o Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, 1222 Preservation Park Way, Oakland, CA 94612-1201.

Thank you for your support!

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  • 2 months later...

Apologies for the absence of information on the school project so far this year. Benson has been extremely busy on safaris and we have only just managed to catch up when I visited the project before attending the tourism Indaba in Durban.

 

The project continues to make excellent progress and for those interested in learning more we have now updated our website pages at http://www.ngoko.com/community-projects/. We have also started a dedicated Facebook page which will receive regular updates going forward https://www.facebook.com/ngokoproject. The Facebook page includes photos from my recent visit.

 

We are now teaching Grade 1 to the village kids, in addition to pre-school, and are aiming to add a new grade each year if possible so that the first intake can stay with us throughout their primary school years. Benson is about to begin construction of a new "standard" school building, which is required by the Ministry of Education in order to get official approval for the school.

 

In addition to funding the construction of the new building, we also need to kit it out and supply sufficient text books. At this stage we urgently require another 9 sets of Happy Reader books for the Grade 1 kids (one set of books per two children), and books covering the other subjects on the curriculum.

 

Having last visited the school in November last year I was amazed by the progress of the children. Not only has their English progressed extremely well but they are all vastly more confident. Most touching however is the continued transformation of the ladies on the school committee. They have started adult literacy classes themselves and are such staunch supporters of the school. It can be difficult to get the community to believe that the school is a permanent feature and not another scheme that will be "here today, gone tomorrow", but for these ladies I can visibly see hope returning to their eyes.

 

As an aside, we were delighted to bump into Matt at Indaba (sadly without the pith helmet...but still sporting an excellent beard :)).

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Thanks for this @@ngoko and the Facebook links. Good to hear you met up with the main man. I think 'The Pith' may be getting too old to travel but the beard is still going strong.

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The only thing I will add to this thread is that I am privileged to know Benson.

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  • 4 months later...

@packforapurpose can you update this topic about how you became partnered with the project?

 

Thanks, Matt.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tyres for swings. Great idea.

 

What an inspirational project and an inspirational man Benson is.

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