Nelson Mandela summed up education in one hard-hitting sentence as being “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Denied to slaves for that very reason, literacy is key to the value of a man’s life. As controversial as religion or politics, education is the cornerstone of every society. A fearless few with the luxury to choose break their designated mould of learning and forge new paths of teaching for their kin.
Blindly following what tradition had paved before us my schooling career was nothing short of the best of British albeit on African soil! All girls boarding schools still thrive in the country of my birth. My daughter has been delivered the same blow of fate having just started high school at a similar institution to the one I had known. The reason – distance. Our family’s choice of abode in a remote location has cast my children back into the same shape, restricted and at the mercy of the powers that be. How is it that after years of vowing never to follow in the same footsteps as our parents most of us inevitably do?
As a journalism student in Edinburgh I discovered an exceptional writer whose concepts of education have stayed with me to this day. In fact remind me of what I should’ve, would’ve and hopefully could still do. Krishnamurti‘s “Beginnings of Learning” is an education in itself. A book that proves schools can be three dimensional. Re-learning our concept of schooling. A creative and nurturing environment where one is allowed to become the individual we are destined to be. Without fear of discrimination. Love being the heart of all learning. Unlocking the threshold of the mind.
Wounded by the fact that history does in fact repeat itself, a stronger woman drove me out the boarding school gates as I licked my wounds all the way to the Eastern Highlands. There to take her daughter to what is best described as the opposite of any formal education Zimbabwe has to offer. Montessori in its approach, based on Christian principles whilst embracing an unapologetically egalitarian attitude Nyanga’s Troutbeck School is a breath of fresh mountain air. Having been Buddhist most of my adult life I often feel like Mick Jagger’s “Joy”: ‘searching for the Buddha I saw Jesus Christ’. Sceptical to say the least that Zimbabwe could pull off a new system of expanding a child’s mind what struck me most of all were the school founders. Both doctors of their fields this pioneering duo have something most of us have either lost en-route or have forgotten was strapped to the corners of our souls. Vision. “Where there is no vision the people perish” The Bible.
Set on 130 acres of pristine mountain land there is room to grow. With their sights set on 150 children across the board from all walks of life Edwin and Grace are fulfilling their shared dream of creating an alternate education for their own two children and any others that wish to join them on that adventure. Quizzing them on some of the core structures it soon became clear that everything had been carefully thought over and only included if it ticked all the boxes. Grace, a former resident of the area, has done what few do and brought her Cambridge PhD and expertise back to the community from whence she came. Determined to make a difference in Manicaland, the Zimbabwean province with the highest percentage of illiteracy.
On our walk around the property the sheep followed, as familiar to the scholars as the dogs. Friendly and curious they were eager to join us in the dormitory peering through the door. It dawned on me then that much like the reputation of these ruminant mammals, the majority of us follow education like a flock rather than heading off alone into unknown territory. How will we know if it’s the right choice for each child? We learn. Every day. And step by step we improve on what there is through awareness and sensitivity. To deny this is to deny growth. “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” Who can argue with Sir Winston Churchill?
Photo by Sandi