Cross Over Education Programme, Zimbabwe
The huge economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s had a devastating effect on the schools, with a drop in academic ability year on year among the children attending, and with families increasingly unable to educate their children. Dropping out of school for many children, and especially for girls, marks the end of any further opportunity to develop themselves.
Cross Over aims to help vulnerable children in Zimbabwe who have missed out on education to live and work towards a hopeful future. These are children who are so disadvantaged that they would be considered ‘special needs’ in the UK.
Cross Over study groups, each led by a mentor, contain no more than 15 students. All groups follow the same learning approach, based on a curriculum specially designed for circumstances of deprivation to consistently incorporate character, thinking skills and practical skills development into every area of study – to help children to learn and work with ‘head, heart and hands’. The long-term goal is to develop the students to become reliable and productive members of their families, communities and workplaces.
In establishing Cross Over, Debbie Norton and her co-volunteers followed two early principles promoted through a proven ‘Foundations for farming’ programme in Zimbabwe:
♦ start small and do it well
♦ be faithful with the little you have
At present the school meets in old agricultural buildings and there are four classes of 12 students each. Some children live 9 or 10 miles away and have to leave home as early as 5.00 am to walk to school for 8.00 am. At the end of the day they walk home – such is their eagerness for education. They are taught basic life skills, as evidenced below:
‘I am a girl of 13 and I never went to school. Well, I went once but I didn't like it so I never went again and my aunt and uncle never made me. Now I am going to Cross Over and I am slowly learning to read and write. It was hard at first, going to school. I did not like getting up early every morning and having to wash. My mentor made me wash my clothes at school. One day she mended my torn dress so the other children wouldn't laugh at me. Another day she was so cross with me for not having washed that she sent me home. That doesn't happen any more. I now know to keep myself clean.’
Each student has responsibility for looking after their own part of the vegetable garden, with the harvest used for school meals.
Cross Over wants to double the number of students over the next few years. They also want to extend their model throughout the country, enabling other community groups such as churches to reach thousands of vulnerable children. To this end they run mentor training and they make their specially developed learning resources freely available to needy groups.
Here Debbie Norton, founder of Cross Over, demonstrates a water-saving hand-washing device.