My name is Sophie McCoy, I’m a qualified maths teacher in the UK and I have known Mark and Laura Albertyn for a few years. This year is my third visit to Harare, Zimbabwe to get involved in the incredible project that is Makomborero.

I first visited in 2011 when the project was in its early stages: there were 15 students that were being taught primarily by Mark in unoccupied classrooms at one of the local private schools. I spent 6 weeks here, getting to know the students and helping with pastoral aspects, as well as assisting with some of the academic side – tutoring students, marking work etc. In 2013 I returned to find a much more stable project up and running: 16 students across two years who all had scholarships to the local private schools in Harare. On that occasion, I volunteered at a local government school teaching maths as well as meeting the new intake of Makomborero students and spending time at the boarding house – reorganising the library and putting up posters in the study.

I have returned this year to find Makomborero thriving: the first intake of students are returning home for the holidays from both local and international universities where they have achieved full scholarships; applications are being written and sent off for scholarships by both current and former students; and the current intake is working hard towards their A-levels.

When I first arrived, Mark was away in America promoting Makomborero to universities there to encourage more scholarships to be awarded to their students. As well as co-founding Makomborero, Mark works at one of the schools that offer scholarships to the Makomborero students, so while he was away I stepped in and taught some of his classes. In the afternoons, I have been volunteering at another educational project – CrossOver. It was founded by Deb Norton and aims to provide extremely deprived children with an education. The teaching is done by a group of adult “mentors” who are working towards a teaching qualification. While I was there I ran two teaching workshops for the mentors, as well as helping them prepare for their ZimSec O-level maths exams which they are due to sit next year.

I have also spent several evenings at the Makomborero boarding house, getting to know the current group of students. To break the ice we played the game Heads Up – a cross between articulate and charades. This was great fun and really brought out their personalities, though the level of competitiveness was a little more than I expected! After some initial shyness – on both mine and their parts – it has been a privilege to spend time with such inspirational young people. On the penultimate evening of this term they all wrote thank you letters to the people that sponsor them. I find it difficult to convey the feeling of awe I felt when I read their letters. They have all had a challenging upbringing in one way or another, and yet the accolades and achievements they related to their sponsors were evidence of their drive and determination to overcome these hurdles. Yet in relating these achievements, they displayed no arrogance: one boy classed his mock exam results as “mediocre”, though by anyone else’s standards they were extremely good. All of them expressed enormous gratitude to the people that have made their education possible – none of them take their current situation for granted. I was particularly touched by this section in one student’s letter to his sponsor:

“Every day in class I feel challenged because I have been given the task to fly the Makomborero flag high and be an ambassador for future generations. Every test that I write, I write with the intention of making other disadvantaged people like me noticeable. Given the chance to share the story of Makomborero with other pupils at school I feel very honoured… Being a Makomborero student has not only changed my life and my future but has made me realise that I can do something in my life to change the world. Every bit of positive things I help with in the society will help put a smile on someone else’s face.”

As a teacher in an academy in the UK, the contrast to students I teach there is astounding. The majority of students I teach vary from feeling fairly indifferent to school to actively resenting the fact that they have to attend school – though of course there are some exceptions. For the Makomborero students it is painfully obvious to them and to anyone who speaks to them just how important their education is.

This gratitude for the opportunities Makomborero provides doesn’t end when they leave school either. On my first day in Harare I attended a fund-raising concert, organised entirely by one of the pioneer students – Tinashe Rwodzi, with all money raised going towards Makomborero. Several other former Makomborero students also took part or attended to show their support. Another pioneer student, Brian Muneri, did a talk for the current students on studying actuarial science while I was there too. I saw more evidence of this desire to give back from some applications by former students who are in the process of applying for Akwanya scholarships. All of them spoke of how they want to help the communities they have come from and give other young people the same opportunities Makomborero has given them.

Unfortunately I have only been able to spend 3 weeks here this year, and am very sad to leave before I can help with the revision schools. However, I know this won’t be my last trip and no doubt the next time I return Makomborero will have even more achievements to add to this list.

Written by: Sophie McCoy

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