The VSO has been used to fight global poverty by sharing skills and experience from the people of the UK with people in developing countries. This was at the time when relations between Harare and London were still mutual. The VSO UK has not send any volunteers since the year 2000 that was at the height of the government’s land reform programme.
A young Tim Cole used to walk for more than 15 kilometres to get his mail from relatives and friends at the Nkayi Post Office before making the same journey on foot back to his work station. He remembers that one of the students in his Form four English class was 23 years old, just a year younger than him. This he says was because most of the boys in the area had failed to attend school because of the Gukurahundi that took place in the area just after independence in 1980 to the end of 1987.
Eighteen years later Tim Cole returns to Zimbabwe now as powerful British diplomat, the deputy British Ambassador to Zimbabwe and he has a passion to help his former home, Mpumelelo High school.
"It feels great to be back after so many years," said Cole as he moves around a small room which used to be his bedroom eighteen years ago. "They were relatively new classroom blocks then", he said, "but now they are beginning to disintegrate". "Most of the classrooms now don’t have doors and windows. One of the classroom blocks, is now home to goats and donkeys from the nearby village."
Cole remembers vividly one horrific incident that occurred at the school in 1991 where four trained teachers were shot dead only because they could not speak Ndebele. They were from Mashonaland.
"During my first year here there was only one qualified teacher and that I was the school’s deputy headmaster. The following year there were five trained teachers who came but there was one problem they could not speak Ndebele," said Cole trying to recall what transpired then.
"In order to fit into the community, one of the teachers used to buy a lot of beer at the bottle store for the locals and he didn’t have any problems, they regarded him as part of them. The others who were not socialising were shot dead by a group of youngsters. It was a horrific incident," he said as he moved around the school premises with this Radio VOP reporter.
Now the Deputy British Ambassador to Zimbabwe is set out to improve the situation at Mpumelelo High School.
Cole said when he arrived in 1990, the school had no library and managed to set one up from scratch. "There has not been much improvement in the library in terms of the literature that I left here. I have contacted my friends in the UK and they are willing to support this school. With the support of my friends we have set up a charity to support the school which I still believe I have strong attachments to," said Cole.
He has since opened a Facebook profile for Mpumelelo High School where he posts pictures of the school and the areas that need to be improved.
The deputy headmaster of Mpumelelo Gideon Mlambo said virtually everything at the school had stopped functioning as a result of the economic meltdown that was experienced in the country over the past 10 years. “The electric pump for our water has broken down and we cannot access clean water for the borehole. Most of our classrooms need a face lift as you can see…The teachers, more than half of them, want to be transferred from this school because of the poor working conditions,” said Mlambo.
From Mpumelelo school, Ambassador Cole, went on to commission a borehole at Nkayi Rural General Hospital.
Cole said this year alone the UK has donated US$100 million to improve food security and to provide much-needed textbooks and educational materials to Zimbabwean children in the country’s newly-reopened schools.
“A lot of this money is brought through NGOs. We have provided some funding to UNICEF to provide text books to 5 000 primary schools."
Over 30 000 families have benefited from funding given to World Vision for the provision of farming inputs which include seeds and fertilisers.
"The UK is an active and very supporting partner in pursuant for a prosperous Zimbabwe,” said Cole.