A little while ago we receive a lovely email from someone who had attended our Makomborero testing process:

“I wrote this email to thank you for the chance you gave me to participate in the scholarship program in 2013. What I learnt during the 5 day period at Hellenic taking the exams is more than enough for me to say thank you. The program motivated me to work hard at school and even teamwork, the interview with Mr Albertyn was not easy but it boosted my confidence which has helped me in all the interviews I have been to after the Makomborero interview. It was a life time experience that I will always carry along with me. I can’t really write down all the things I have learnt from Makomborero but they have really helped me to improve and grow. I pray that God will give you more strength and wisdom to continue with your program.”

So I asked Laura to explain how the Makomborero student selection process works. Here is what she had to say:

We are often asked about the testing process and how do we decide on the final students. Well here is a summary of it!

We visit 70 poor government schools in the surrounding townships of Harare and distribute application forms in September. We then collect all the forms in October and generally receive between 400 and 500 forms. We then set aside a whole Saturday with a team of people to read through every application form and make the initial cut down to about 100 to 140. We look at all their supporting documentation, their application form, their stories etc. This day feels incredibly long and can feel so emotionally draining. So many tragic stories and people who so deserve a chance but we are limited by how many places we can offer.

Testing Round 1

Once we have our 100 odd we then invite them for the 1st round of testing. This round of testing is psychometric based testing and Maths. We also try to organise a motivational speaker to come and speak to these students – it is our way of offering at least something to these students who are all so worthy and also all have incredibly heart breaking stories. We also try to make the whole process enjoyable with nice food, friendly interactions with our current students, etc.

We select around 40 students to take through to the second round of testing. This is where it becomes incredibly difficult! During this week with us they will work with subject specific teachers in the subjects they want to do for A-level, do fun lessons, group work etc. This gives the teachers an insight into each of them. Mark and I then personally interview all of them finding out more about their families, schooling etc. I struggled this year and shed many tears when no one was looking. Heart breaking stories of families sacrificing everything to educate their children, students who have missed so much school due to non-payment of fees, etc. I think it is often hard for people from a 1st world country to really imagine what poverty is like – there is always a back up plan in the 1st world – whether it is unemployment benefit, a credit card, free schooling, free health care – all those things don’t exist for 90% of Zimbabweans and with unemployment in the late 90% too, survival is hard. Many of these families have one meal every day or every second day. Not one cooked meal – one meal period! No snacks etc. Zimbabwe over the last year has become harder and harder to live in for the majority – a daily struggle for survival.

After a few days of processing data, talking about backgrounds, etc we make our final decision on about 10 students. We then arrange to meet with each of their families in their homes. Getting to this point is hard and we spend many hours thrashing out results, stories, etc to get to hopefully the right conclusion. This year we (Joan, Denise, Mark and I) visited 12 families. What an honour and a privilege it is to visit these homes and step into these students’ lives for a moment. We are always so grateful for the openness and hospitality these families show us. They are all so inspirational, and we head home each night after these visits feeling incredibly blessed by the lives we have – not taking for granted all that we have. It feels quite decadent. It feels so weird often to live in a city with such extremes. Our middle class life seems so free and easy. These visits really do cement our decisions – we get a good understanding of the circumstances, living conditions, etc and can then make our final cut! So much is considered when making this final cut – how well will the student cope with integrating into a private school, their ability, their need, etc.

The joy of making those phone calls to say they have a scholarship is wonderful, and making the phone calls to say they haven’t made it has often left us in tears. Your heart feels like it could burst with joy and sadness. The wonderful thing is also to be able to offer a further 16 places to external students for whom we pay their school fees to the schools they are at. What has also filled our hearts with joy is having feedback from students who have attended the testing process some just stage 1 and some right through to the end – these students say how this process changes their lives forever – they meet teachers who have a passion for them, they feel valued, they say they learn so much through the process and they say it gives them hope that they are worth something and to keep fighting. This is humbling!

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