February 2013 Fidelis Mherembi talks about his vision of Music For All Zimbabwe
February 2013 A Visit to Sabi School
January 2013 Matirige Marimbas 2 – the first Music For All Zimbabwe School
January 2013 Matirige Marimbas – the first Music For All Zimbabwe School
Gifts from England – June Burrough’s second visit January 2013
Matirige school play Mbiras
Matirige school play Marimbas after only 4 weeks of lessons
Matirige school play Marimbas after only 4 weeks of lessons
Music for All Zimbabwe was the vision and inspiration of Fidelis Mherembi, a talented musician and instrument maker from Zimbabwe.
June Burrough first met Fidelis when he was studying in the UK in 2005, at the Pierian Centre in Bristol. Their friendship grew and, from deep mutual respect, a working relationship developed which resulted in Music For All Zimbabwe. In 2018 the project closed because it was no longer tenable, both financially and in terms of the lack of support needed to keep it going, and it is sad to see unrealised potential after such optimistic hopes. However, it has left its mark on many children, adults and musicians, not only in Zimbabwe but also in the UK. Teacher exchanges were a huge success in both countries, and the future of many of us been enhanced by being part of the experience which Music For All Zimbabwe offered and its lasting impact.
MUSIC IS IMPROVING CHILDREN’S EDUCATION!
We have just received the sad news that Trymore died today (29 December 2014) and thought you would all want to know. It is terribly sad for someone of such a gift to die so young. And for those of us who met him he was inspiring in his talent, and it is a tragic loss to the Music for All Zimbabwe project.
That said, his Mbiras set the project going with Fidelis, and he has left an amazing legacy in so many young lives both in Zim and the UK that will live on for a very long time. For that we are eternally grateful to him. For those of you who want to be reminded of his talent the documentary film from 2012 above starts with our visit to him.
With love June and Fidelis x
When we were a community Interest Company, we defined a community and purpose which remain true to this day.
Children and communities in schools and rural areas, primarily in Zimbabwe, and in future years in other countries, where the introduction of indigenous music will enhance the children’s education and help to build a stronger local community. Also through giving business to local musical instrument makers, Music For All Zimbabwe will contribute to the local music industry community, building strong links to promote traditional music
Our social purpose
To carry on activities which benefit the community through the following objectives:
- Build better education through music
- Give access to traditional music instruments for every child in Zimbabwe, and expand that into other countries in the future.
- Help children attain higher grades and improve their chances of further education.
- Help parents’ involvement in children doing homework.
- Give a focus to the community to come to events at the school.
- Grow communities around the schools and their commitment to maintaining high education standards for their children through music as a common activity in which everyone can join.
- Give work to local people in making instruments and teaching and thus contributing to local economies.
With this social purpose in mind we have already supported two schools in Zimbabwe in the rural district of Chivhu. Starting in 2010, both schools now have sets of Mbiras (40 in Matirige and 30 in Sabi) and Matirige has a set of Marimba too. Matirige and Sabi schools then connected through the British Council funded programme Connecting Classrooms and teacher exchanges from Ashley Down Primary school in Bristol and East Harptree school in Mendip took place in the first half of 2014. We hope to be helping improve school buildings and classroom resources – books, materials, festivals, teacher’s houses and sponsor children at risk of missing out on school because their parents cannot afford fees, or who are particularly talented.
June Burrough visited Zimbabwe in July 2012 and January 2013 and the schools drew up 10 year plans of how they wanted to see their schools develop. This includes the renovation of buildings and getting electricity and reliable clean water supplies for both schools. In addition Sabi is in dire need of a footbridge to allow access across the river in the rainy season when flooding prohibits the children getting to school. The number of weeks of school missed every year is negatively affecting those children’s achievements. So whilst this is a project centred on music, the holistic approach to the needs of the schools to provide good education for their children is a huge part of the project. A year later teacher exchanges to Zimbabwe were made from two English primary schools, East Harptree and Ashley Down, followed by teacher exchanges to the UK from Sabi and Matirige schools, sponsored by the British Council.
Marimba 6 piece
Extended 6 piece marimba
Music For All Zimbabwe supports musicians and instrument makers in Zimbabwe.
This trip has been very different from the last one, with much more laying of foundation stones and meeting people who need to give us their blessings in order for us to really support the Music For All Zimbabwe Schools. And both schools have now got ten year plans in place which is brilliant!
So, after arriving and taking the weekend to settle in, the first meeting was on Monday January 21st 2013 with the Minister for Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Coltart, who squeezed in 15 minutes with us at the end of the day of the state funeral of the Vice President. David was positive about the project and led us through the process we needed to do applying for permission from the Permanent Secretary. This includes everything from shipping educational materials over here to sponsoring children and helping raise funds for infrastructural repairs and boreholes. We have written the letter which David is forwarding to the Permanent Secretary before leaving on Tuesday 12th Feburary.
We spent time with the British Council discussing possible links and arts projects with them and arranging further meetings for our last week in Harare. The British Council have lots of schemes and it is a question of which of them will work for the schools both in the UK and in Zimbabwe. We visited the Mbira Centre run by the inspirational Albert, and he took lots of time to show us round and talk about the work and ambitions they have there, which are very much in the same arena as Fidelis’s philosophy for Music For All.
Then on Monday 28th January we set off to the schools to make 10 year plans in both schools, to give Sabi 15 more Mbira and present the packages of books from East Harptree School to both Matirige and Sabi. We were given such a warm welcome in both schools, and there was a fantastic show from them both, and we showed them the film of my last visit on a TV. Matirige now have a set of Marimba sponsored by the Solon Foundation, which after four weeks of learning they played as though they had done it for their whole lives!! There is a film clip of that to watch, and some photos of our trip….. Sabi roads were flooded so the pupils came to greet us and helped carry all the 15 Mbira, the TV and the books and presents across the river.. a sight to behold as we all paddled over to the other side and abandoned the car for the day! Jesse captured some great footage at the schools over these days with them, recording the events and the meetings and doing some interviews.
On Friday 1st February Fidelis and myself visited the District Education Office and the District Administrator in Chivhu to inform them about what the Music For All project was doing in Matirige and Sabi and to make sure that we were working with the correct people and getting their support. We had good meetings and positive responses all round, and both Augustin Mukorombindo (Head Teacher Matirige) and Godfrey Mugwendere (Acting Head Teacher for Sabi) came with us, so that was really good. We arrived back late in the evening to Cold Comfort and Fidelis’s family, very tired but really happy.
Then after a quick weekend doing some washing and catching up on emails in the internet cafe in Cork Road, we set off at 5am on Monday 4th February to visit Nyanga. The purpose of this was to see some of the schools there which the Solon Foundation have supported in many ways including installing sets of Marimbas which have been made by Fidelis. The schools here are in much better condition, have clean water and also far higher numbers of enrolment, from 450 up to 1000 which means that the support from parents is inevitably greater. Nyanga is also much more highly populated and they have electricity in many places and very good roads. But Augustin came with us on the trip to thank Willie (Solon Foundation’s wonderful key person there) and was inspired both by the schools, and, as were all of us, by the magnificent scenery and landscape.. unlike anything I have ever seen before.
Back in Harare by Wednesday 6th February there were more meetings with Elvis from the British Council who has been amazing at introducing us to lots of other people with contacts and ideas about how we might work with the Music For All Zimbabwe schools, and also planning for what happens next and how to get the first priorities in place. A music teacher is essential, especially as there is a plan to put Matirige into the Marimba Festival competition at Nyanga in November 2013. And in the long term it is vital that the teachers at both schools have learned how to teach music too. Then there are boreholes. And we have just heard that the river at Sabi is flooded again, and this means children missing another week of school.. so bridges are essential for them. Some of these things are going to be done in country but there is masses we can do from the UK to move things along with the communities – who are now very much leading the plans.
The ten year plans from both schools and the list of potential projects to fund are listed in separate documents. Sponsoring children is hugely important as there are still some who are not making it to school at all. More funding for taking a marimba band to the Nyanga Marimba Festival in November is needed, and there are small things which we can do fairly quickly. But some of the bigger projects of rebuilding and sanitation will require working with bigger organisations and NGO’s who have the expertise needed and the kind of money that does the job properly for long term sustainability. The vision which Fidelis holds is for all children to have access to music as part of their education in schools which would otherwise not afford them. Music gives a central focus that supports the commitment of the community to help restore the fabric of their schools so that the educational standards of their children are of the highest potential. It is the glue that is holding the communities together and helping them work towards really having ownership of their schools’ progress – at the same time encouraging them to see the future more optimistically.
It is a real privilege and honour to be allowed to work alongside them and see their development and enthusiasm showing results and producing fruits for, I hope, many years to come. It has been a lot of hard work from us all but hugely fulfilling to watch people take charge of things and rebuild not only their schools but their communities and their children’s futures.
With deep thanks to everyone who has supported Music For All Zimbabwe,
Zimbabwe thoughts and a big Thank You to everyone who contributed to the collection which made this amazing and heart-warming trip possible!
This trip to visit The Music For All Project in Zimbabwe was my very last “PIERIAN” thing, and what a huge pleasure it was to discharge such a duty as my final activity! The Music For All Project is the vision of Fidelis Mherembi, a wonderful musician who plays Mbira and Marimba as well as running his business, making Marimba sets. It was his inspiring playing while he was in Bristol that caught my attention many years ago, followed by conversations about his vision that every child in Zimbabwe should have access to a traditional musical instrument, that first fired me up!
I write this sitting in Harare airport with about an hour to go before catching the first leg back to Dubai. The shops in Duty Free are so limited compared to any other airport shops. And I am drinking a pretty grim cup of coffee!! Zimbabwe is after all a country rebuilding its economy after a devastating few years where the Zim dollar dropped its value daily and finally became altogether worthless in a matter of hours. And Zimbabwe is still dragging itself out of the damaging effects of that economic downturn where people from every walk of life went days without food of any description. One woman I talked to remembered not being able to afford even one egg and she was working and earning a salary. Other signs are that the roads are still in poor, if not terrible, condition, power cuts occur 2 or 3 times daily, the water goes off at some point almost every day, piles of rubbish decorate the roadsides – and this is in Harare, the capital city. Significant for me was the amount of stuff being used and worn that we would throw away as beyond use in our wealthier society.
So what was the trip all about? Well, it was about Mbiras and the power of music to change lives. I have memories of a country recovering slowly from despairing times. But I also have memories of children performing to a crowd of students, teachers and parents with a confidence they did not previously have. And memories of teachers saying how much more the children were enjoying school generally and engaging with other subjects much better as a result of the music. They now go home and ask for things for school from their parents or guardians where they were too shy to ask before. Now in Zimbabwe, while things are still really tough, there is a sense of hope and some optimism for anyone who has a bit of initiative and is prepared to work really hard and watch every penny, so things that we would throw out as useless are saved and used over and over. And the continuous washing and ironing (when there is electricity and water to actually do it!) mean that there is a real cleanliness and floors are swept and washed daily or twice a day. And generators and wells and wood fires in the yard mean there is always an alternative, as Senseni noted when I was half way through the hand washing and the water went off!!
So on December 6th 2011 we raised about £1500 to pay for my trip over here. The fares cost about £775 in all, and I kept £225 for travel expenses and fuel to travel to the schools and for collecting me from the airport, food, contributions to the household electric bills etc. The remaining £500 bought 15 beautiful new Mbiras for Sabi school, which were made by Trymore. Trymore and his business have huge parallels to Fidelis’s business in that they are both family enterprises run from home and involving other family members. Trymore has no workshop and simply works under a tree in the yard – but in the rainy season that limits him hugely. Fidelis has an outbuilding but still uses rooms in the house to store parts of the Marimbas he makes – as we did on the last day when I was helping to varnish all the keys for a rush order!! In both families the wives are crucial to the running of the business, helping in the making, the delivery, the marketing and still doing a full time job looking after the children, washing and cleaning and often looking after extended family who have been orphaned.
The optimism lies in people like Fidelis, Trymore and the music teacher Prince making their way through hard work and initiating things in small ways to scrape a living together. No doubt the currency changing to US Dollars has made a huge difference for everyone here. And the great thing is that those 15 Mbiras have provided work for Trymore, teaching for Prince and a growing reputation for Fidelis. However neither Prince nor Fidelis were paid anything other than slight expenses for their work on Music For All. But the new coalition government has decided that music is important for the cultural heritage of Zimbabwe, and is encouraging sets of Marimbas and Mbiras in every school. So the Music For All project is now in a totally different environment from three years ago when Fidelis first spoke to me about it. It is evidence that when someone follows their passion then they set up an energy that can open doors and change conditions on the ground.
My feeling is that the time for Music For All is coming. The Solon project in East Zimbabwe has now got Marimbas in many schools – I think Fidelis said about 20 – and these rural schools are the ones which will need real support as they are so low on funds. That children are turned away from school for want of the required $10 a term is an indication of the distance still to be travelled for these schools to be seen as successful. And talking of distances travelled, it is sobering to realise how many children have more than an hour’s walk to school and that the teachers live at the schools all week and then have hours of travel to get home to their families for the weekends. Super Mackenzie rides a bike for the first 2.5 hours and then catches a bus for the next 2.5 hours on a Friday and back again on a Sunday. Their dedication is immense and the classroom conditions in which they work atrocious. The water is not good, there is no electricity, so no computer classes, and the resources are limited. Volunteer teachers from the community are dedicated but not always capable, and often do not stay for long because they are not paid which equates to not feeling valued. Teachers are only paid about $250 US a month which equates to about £185. One Mbira cost about £35 and that was a reduced rate for the bulk purchase of 15 which puts these salaries in context.
On arriving at Matirige school, we were greeted by the whole school singing and then had a three hour show of speeches, poetry, music, singing and dancing, with teachers playing Mbiras which they learned to play alongside the children. A fantastic lunch was prepared by the parents and we spoke to many people through the morning. The next day at Sabi we were given a similar treat, and here the playing was simpler, but it gave us a sense of how much can be learned in a year and with good teaching. I was given a tour of both schools and met the school development committee members and mother support groups as well as students and teachers. I was inspired and very moved by the gratitude and the generosity, and the way that when they get some money they do what they can – build new toilet blocks or new water pumps for example. Even on the day we were there a collection was made for anyone who could afford to contribute. But it remains true also that equipment like desks and chairs, pens, paper and paints are in very short supply, and playing fields are limited – and for a country so committed to football this is concerning! But physical development is as important as any other aspect of a child’s development and is sadly limited despite doing their best under the circumstances.
Mherembi farm is where I stayed, and belongs to Fidelis and his family. They would like to develop it for several uses. Marimba-making courses, a Retreat, and a place to teach teachers the Mbira and Marimba so they can teach it really well. Fidelis would also like a workshop where he can make sets of Marimbas full time, and have apprentices who learn the skills with him and Tadfadzwa. In addition it is a working farm, and Fidelis and his brother Ernest, who is also a teacher, are thinking about how they could staff it without doing all the labour themselves! So they need to build another grass roofed hut for accommodation and add to the facilities there. This would add hugely to the economy of the area and introduce traditional Zimbabwean music as a central feature in the district. It would also mean that Fidelis was local and available for festivals and such like.
The schools clearly need to create a sustainable structure so they are not constantly reliant on outside funding. As standards improve more local people will send their children to school – and the Music For All project is demonstrably showing an engagement from children who previously lacked interest in academic subjects.
Sponsoring a child got disadvantaged children into school who would otherwise be turned away because many are orphans being looked after by grandparents who cannot grow enough food let alone afford school fees. But the other positive knock on effect is that increasing the number of pupils means the school can apply for more teachers. This means that different year groups can be taught in separate classes, obviously good for higher standards. In addition it would create funds for repairs and the other things outlined below, and allow for maintenance budgets too.
Early years facilities in both schools are virtually non-existent. Toys are desperately needed and a special classroom to give these children a solid foundation….. show me the child of five and I will give you the adult! To convert one building at Matirige would cost about £500.
Both schools need English novels and books for their libraries as English is at present the official language for Zimbabwe.
The water at both schools is suspect. No-one knows why the bore pump is producing water with black bits in it at Sabi, but clean and plentiful water is essential for the health of the children. Engineering expertise from an organisation like RedR is needed. Additional irrigation would mean the schools could grow more vegetables, improving the health of the children and of the teachers who live there all week.
Solar panels would be a simple way to provide electricity all year round. Sun is in plentiful supply, but equipping the schools with batteries and wiring needs money. Continue to provide musical instruments – not just Mbiras, but the more sophisticated Marimbas too. And to have a music classroom with other instruments like keyboards, trumpets, wind and strings etc.
Repairs to the classrooms, and the teachers’ living accomodations, which have cracks and holes everywhere are essential. The teachers’ living accommodation is shocking. They have broken panes of glass and limited kitchen facilities.
A four wheel drive truck would help both schools as they could share it for the use of teachers and those children who have long distances to walk – and indeed for getting about generally.
Payment for volunteer teachers and the part time teaching done by Prince and Fidelis needed to be found. The final suggestion, was some kind of cultural exchange, both within Zimbabwe itself but also with the UK.
My strong sense is that we need to keep focus on just the two schools of Matirige and Sabi for the time being. They are in the most rural and disadvantaged area and need so much. While Solon is funding other schools in the Eastern province, these are the only two which are truly instigating the Music For All project, with its philosophy in good shape and fully understood. And if we can help both schools, create work for Prince, Trymore and Fidelis, and in a few years’ time demonstrate the power of music to improve school performance, then we will have done more than I could ever have dreamed when I first became involved in this amazing and inspiring project.
Thank you again for a trip of a lifetime. It comes close to my time with the Aboriginal community in Australia who adopted me in 1992, and it feels like a real top-up 20 years on to remind myself of a whole other life and way of being. It has inspired me to go back next year hopefully with more to offer and a greater understanding of the community and its needs and the context within which these schools are trying to improve. It was a joy and a privilege to join them for two days and live on the farm for three days, a place of such beauty and with a starlit sky at night that was awesomely beautiful. I have left a little part of my heart behind, but I have come back with a heart fully replenished with the love and warmth that I received everywhere I travelled!
The Pierian Centre
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