February 2023

Bubbles Balloons and Bananas

Written by: 
Gerrit Pap


From 6am onwards, as folks emerged from their bedrooms, the mood was cheerier than usual. Turns out this was due to the fact that the power was on all night, so fans kept running, resulting in some good sleep! Breakfast was served a bit late, so it was already 7:25 when we left for the center. Driving through the lush green countryside, it is hard to imagine that these are still the hunger months. Passing through a village where large bags of maize flour are being handed out by the government serves as a stark reminder of that fact. The growing season has only just started and the first harvest is still 60 to 90 days away. And only too soon temperatures will start rising up to 50 degrees Celsius turning these green surroundings back into desert-like conditions. This also reminds us why we have come, as we hope that with the irrigation system in place they will be able to grow food year round.
When we arrived just after 8am, school was already in session, and you could hear different classes loudly repeating after their teacher! This was going to be the last day at Chigukumire center, and we still had a lot of work to do. Part of our team still had to do sponsorship updates for 3 classes; and class sizes here are anywhere from 25 to over 60 children!
As far as the irrigation project was concerned, only the section for growing vegetables had been completed This left a test section of banana trees to be irrigated, broken watering points to be repaired with supplies that Gerrit Oomen would bring in later in the morning, and some broken taps to be replaced by the rest of the team. 
Within an hour most of the team was sweating profusely and covered in dirt. Challenges, as not having the right tools, got solved ingeniously: truly African style! The local men in charge of the garden already started to plant seeds in the completed beds for vegetables.
By 11am both the sponsorship updates and the irrigation install were completed! This left the rest of the morning for instructing the local staff how to run the system and trying to find some of the children that were absent to also get their updates completed. This all was wrapped up by lunch time. We were served the same food once again, but when someone mentioned that they would really like a cup of coffee, Gerrit quipped nonchalantly: ‘O yes, I have some’. Gretchen had given a thermos of coffee along, and along with that with a ‘speculaas’-cake! Boy, were we surprised!
I had joined the table where the orphans were eating their lunch. There were 15 of them, aged between 4 and 11, who are being cared for by the dorm mother. There is a wide hallway where 2 tables are set up for eating and homework. The bedrooms, off the hallway, each have 2 bunk beds in them. They go to school 5 days a week and Saturdays are spent washing clothes, doing chores, and playing soccer and games.
When I stepped outside I saw Breanna and Steven singing nursery rhymes with actions, and even when the children don’t understand it, they happily imitate everything you do.
After the school staff thanked us for the soccer balls we had brought, we still headed for the soccer field. There we first gave all the children bubbles, and then we played a short game of soccer: the older school boys against team Canada, strengthened by some of the teachers. It was a narrow win for Canada, but had the match not been called off after 15 minutes the score would have been something like 10-1 for the school boys since we were dehydrated and spent!
We had one more precious moment, when all the children had surrounded some of us and Steven, shouting out ‘Bambo, bambo’ once again, and pressing him to tell a story. He masterfully told the story of the three little pigs and the bad wolf, to a captivated audience. This I followed up with the story of ‘Big Bambo and the Little Mosquito’, which made the children laugh. If you are not familiar with that story, you’ll have to contact Steven for more information. After this we said goodbye and left with mixed feelings of joy and sadness.
On the way back to the guesthouse we still stopped in at the nearby US sponsored Timotheos project, to survey the possibility setting up gardens with watering points there, sometime in the future. We didn’t stay long because some of our team were really experiencing the effect of the heat. We arrived back more tired than the days before, but with the job completed.
As I finish this updates I hear giggles and screams of elation because it has started raining once again, giving another opportunity for outdoor showers to cool us down. This was yet another day that we will definitely remember for a while, and hopefully our efforts will benefit the school and community for much longer!

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