Zimbabwe, the “land of plenty” had something about it which had made me yearn to go there for seven years! Finally, my dream was able to come about through Mark and his wife Laura. Mark taught me A-level maths and inspired all of his students to work hard – he invested time and energy into helping each of us to achieve our top potential. Through babysitting for his two children, Matthew and Zoe, I began to know his wife Laura and to learn more about the beautiful country they had come from and Mark’s vision to set up an A-level scholarship programme for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As I began my gap year, a new adventure began for the Albertyns as they returned home to Zimbabwe to set up and establish this vision. A few months later and they were down to finalising the last few places using maths tests and trying to get to know these students even better. I was privileged enough to be able to help with this process – in fact, I visited one of the schools as soon as Mark and Matthew had picked me up from the airport!

Thus began two weeks of falling in love with arguably the most beautiful country on the planet. I think I’d always had a naïve view that living in Africa would be beautiful, and that, of course life was difficult at times, but it would be ok. Yet I wasn’t prepared for tears being shed at the stories some of these young people shared about their lives, and the utter helplessness and despair that threatened to engulf and destroy Mark’s vision before it had even begun, as finding sponsorship for the students seemed increasingly hopeless. Then there were the 80% of unemployed people who were trying to scrape a living making and selling whatever they could – wire cars decorated with coke cans, mending the (many) potholes in the road and asking for money…the man with malaria – begging to get enough money for treatment…

Painting Blackboards
Painting blackboards in rural schools

No, life in Africa is not easy. But that’s what makes Mark and Laura’s success so inspiring, and so amazing. They stood by their vision, even when they weren’t sure if they would have enough funds to sponsor the first year of kids for six months. 15 students were chosen, a boarding house kitted out and uniforms bought. A year later and eight more students were chosen and somehow Makomborero had enough money. Soon other companies like Deloitte were adding their names to the list of sponsors, and fundraisers in the UK added more money…

Soon Mark and Laura will be searching for the next group of students, and helping the first 15 to find places at universities. It’s been a hard few years for them, especially with the latest arrival of Ella, their youngest daughter, but they have kept on persevering – and quite literally changed the lives of these students.

So what’s my role in all this? I love Zimbabwe – the country, the people and the culture. I’m passionate about the work Mark and Laura do, and I hope by writing articles for this blog this summer as I prepare to visit them again in September, that I’ll be able to make you just as passionate, and perhaps provide you with food for thought as you reflect on your own life, and how comparatively fortunate you are.

Written by: Grace Baucher

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