Bill Dukes's Bio
I had the opportunity to visit Zimbabwe for 6 months (in 2 separate 3 month spells), although I had been involved in fundraising for a number of good causes over the years this was the first hands – on experience abroad.
Initially I was invited to go over and “see what we could do” and I remember the despair that struck me when I got to Zimbabwe. A country ravaged by civil war and economic collapse was what greeted me – there seemed to be little left other than the shells of the school buildings where I was staying and even then things got worse. Violent thunderstorms destroyed a classroom block and took the rooves off others in the days either side of my arrival. It was humbling to see the resilience and willingness of students, staff, families and the community as they tried to carry on as normal. In spite of the situation the classrooms were packed with students, many of whom had walked an hour or more through the bush with little or no food, eager and willing to learn in the hope that education may help them to make life better for themselves, their families and their community.
Where to start was the problem…
I met with the students, staff and others and slowly a list of priorities formed. In the first three months we restored one of the classroom blocks and repaired the furniture. We also provided a small truck for the use of the school to transport supplies for rebuilding the damaged classrooms and as a minibus to take pupils to attend sports matches and other cultural exchanges with other schools in the surrounding areas – something which had not been possible until this point. We also identified a number of orphan children and were able to set up some sponsorship with UK benefactors which enabled their school fees to be paid – which meant the school had a little more money for books and essential repairs.
During my second period at the school we rebuilt the school hall – little more than a shell of a building with no windows or doors which meant that the students sat their GCSEs and A levels with the possibilities of stormy weather and the odd cattle wandering in amongst them! The idea was to embrace the two hands philosophy of helping others to help themselves and then help others as their lives improved. Not only would the project provide a better environment for the students during exam time but also a meeting place that could be used by the community and rented out for weddings and other social occasions providing a further source of income for the school to use on much needed equipment and improvements. With our little truck it was much easier to get the necessary equipment to site and the flat bed provided a perfect scaffold platform for repairs! We worked together. Student came and learned to render walls, glaze windows, repair roofs, mix concrete and paint walls, doors and window frames. We completed the task with a little money to spare which meant we were able to renovate the second primary classroom block and also provide building materials for the rebuilding of the classroom block demolished in the storms shortly before I arrived the first time. As we worked and things changed many members of the community came and spoke to me.
Sometimes it was just to say hello, or to ask if they could have one of the empty paint cans to use as a water container, but many often came to say thank you for what we were doing – I left with the words of one such visitor ringing in my ears – he simply said “We want to make things better for our families and children and we can do it – we just need a little help”