Planner’s Log Book:  The Benga School Project – New Beginnings

Jovita Stander

Here we are in Benga, on a site with temperatures as high as 52 degrees and with Baobab trees looking down on us.  These old Baobabs have stood motionless for centuries, watching time go by and partaking in the joys and sorrows of the people around them, and they know the meaning of the circle of life, the seasons that come and go; the end of things; and of new beginnings.

On the road between camp and site, little dirt paths veering off the main road give away the existence of communities tucked away in the bush.  One such community is the Benga Village, and the turn-off is marked by an imposing Baobab.  I always marvel at the friendliness of young and old, the spontaneous and abundant smiles, and the little hands always keen to wave you by.  Herds of Nguni cattle and goats go on their way, undisturbed by our presence and secure under the watchful eye of the young shepherds boys.

Almost in the middle of the Village is a primary school consisting of 2 dilapidated buildings and another 2 newer ones – the school has approximately 710 pupils – the morning shift caters for 450 pupils within 9 classrooms and if my maths still serves me right, about 50 pupils per classroom.

The little ones are housed in the 2 dilapidated buildings and their desks are the cement floor of the classroom.  They sit crossed-leg with a piece of paper learning the ABC.  There is no electricity, no running water and the village’s most prized possessions – the goats, and the pigs, and the cattle – roam the school grounds freely.  Some of the animals seek shelter form the blistering heat inside the classrooms – the doors do not lock, the windows are but openings in the wall, the black boards are almost white and one can hardly read the message it tries to bring.

Equipe de Restauração

There are no desks for the teachers, no facilities.  The soccer field is an uneven playing field with rocks and depressions, even the odd plant here and there…

And I wonder… what if? What if we could do something? Doubt sits on my shoulder – there is so much that needs to be done – will we ever be able to make a difference?

My rescue comes from the directive and challenge issued at a Sedgman function – a community project that is sustainable and that will make an impact on the lives of the local people.  And a dream starts…

‘All systems go’ when we get confirmation that Sedgman has pledge a sum for this project and my hopes take wings.  Group 5 matches the pledge.  The need is big, the list is endless, the funding not enough…

On the school premises there is a little building standing alone to one side – it needs a lot of work – it has big windows holes, lots of natural light – I see a library springing out of it …

Word is send to other contractors.  I am awe struck by the generosity of companies and individuals – as the pledges come in, I do ‘Victory Dances’ and cannot stop smiling.  The ideas swirl in my mind and the possibilities are endless – what if we can get electricity and water? A media centre with computers?  Fencing off the school premises?  Floods lights?  School supplies for the 130 orphan children that attend the school?  What if?

Can we pull it all off? Yes we can!  Together with Group 5, Rand Sand Blasting, Bhubesi, RoyMec, B&W, DAP, ISS and others still to come….

I think of the Baobab tree by the turn-off to the Village and I wonder:  Is she smiling too?


Jovita Stander

Tete, October 2011


Planner’s Log Book:  The Benga School Project – The Works

 And so it began…

I am in a state of amazement as to how this project turned out and in ways that I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams.

So many things happened is such a short time!  All the companies we contacted, with the exception of a few, jumped on board and contributed in one way or another.  Individuals made financial contributions as well as material donations.  We were able to rise over R120.000, over and above services pledged by companies.

I must admit that there were times when a sign with the phrase ‘Ye of Little Faith’ could have been hung around my neck.  One such occasion was about the fencing – after measuring the school premises we were just short of 1.000 meters.  A quick calculation told me immediately that we did not have enough funding for it, and I parked the matter at the back of my brain.  In a casual conversation at the camp bar, one evening a couple of days after the premises had been measured, one company pledge to sponsor the entire fencing without even having a quote!  I still confirmed that it was about one thousand meters of fencing; the response I got?  ‘It is done!’  And I did my ‘Victory Dance’ there and then.

But the biggest of all ‘Ye of Little Faith’ signs around my neck came with the school desks.  The initial plan was to buy the wood and fabricate on site but as with all good plans there is always an unforeseen glitch… as the site is closing mid December due to the festive season and the fact that we need to get the other project – that is, the Benga Coal Handling and Processing Plant Project – finished, we do not have the man power nor time to fabricate the desks – never mind the price of the wood that would have decimated what was left of the funding.  These school desks gave me sleepless nights as I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.  I also believe I drove the Lord nuts with my prayers around this matter.  Then I remembered the desks in my University classroom…  Quotes were obtained from Maputo and sent to a company that had shown interest in the project but had not yet made a definitive pledge.  In fear of asking too much, I asked for the bare minimum quantity of desks – 110 (so that each child could sit at a desk) – or what ever quantity they would be prepared to sponsor.  When the response came back, I was too afraid to open the email, just to find that, not only would they sponsor the desks, but also asking what else was required!  I could only bow my head in gratitude and smile at the Lord’s sense of humour.  ‘Ask, and you shall receive’… and a tear rolled down my cheek.

The work is underway – the trusses of one of the dilapidated buildings have been replaced and masonry work is being done.  Windows, doors and other items have been purchased and are being installed.  The soccer field has been graded.

Through this project we were able to provide work for 4 unemployed men, although just for a short while.  Two of these men have reduced their ‘day rate’ when they heard the work was for a Community Project!

Who could have thought that a village so small, of but 2.000 people, is known across the Oceans?  In Australia, where a church is praying for this project; and fund raising activities are taking place; in Brazil, where a businessman and philanthropist is making this community know to the Portuguese speaking world through a magazine; in the United Kingdom, where people whom we never met, came to hear of the project and offered their assistance; in various parts of South Africa, not only do people carry this project up in prayers and make contributions in their own unique way; but it has inspired people as far as Cape Town to make a difference in the communities where they live.

One will never be able to measure or understand the ripple effect of one small action – from where this project started, how it has grown and the positive impact it has on all that are involved in it, and also on those who come to hear of it.

A Portuguese author by the name of António Gedeão in his poem ‘Between the hands of a child’ says (and this is my loose translation):  ‘(…) The dream commands our lives.  (…) Always when a man dreams, the world jumps and goes forward like a colourful ball in the hands of a child.’  This project gave us all an opportunity to bring a piece of love and humanity into this world.

And I no longer wonder if the Baobab at the turn-off to the Benga Village is smiling – she showed her joy to the world and blessed our days by waking up in a blossom of white flowers!


Solo Deo Gloria!

 Jovita Stander

Tete, November 2011

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