Taking a life, giving on Valentine's Day

HARARE - I have never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day because I believe that a present is best appreciated when it’s a surprise to the receiver.

The fact that the day has been so commercialised and has become an opportunity for businesspeople to milk the public does not help matters.

But then I am not trying to impose my cynicism on anyone; each to their own!

So February 14, 2013 was just another day for me but it ended up being anything but.

I was busy on my computer listening to the radio online when news came through that Oscar Pistorius the double amputee dubbed “the fastest man on no legs” had shot his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, dead.

Initial reports said Pistorius’ 0300am (facts keep changing in this case, first it was 0400am then the girlfriend’s age was given as 30, now she just got younger and was 29!) shooting of Steenkamp was the result of a Valentine’s Day surprise gone wrong and the athlete thought she was an intruder.  

Pistorius is now up for murder and it’s up to the courts to decide his fate.

Whether death was the accident Pistorius says it was or murder, only he knows.

What is beyond question is that the day will remain etched in the collective psyche of those who viewed Pistorius as the epitome of a human being who refused to be beaten down by his disability.

The man was born without fibulae and had a double amputation below the knees when he was 11eleven months old but just being able to walk or run was not enough for Pistorius; he defied the odds by challenging the assertion he had  an “unfair advantage” over able-bodied athletes in court and won.

His dream came true when, as a member of the South African team, he ran at the 2012 London Olympics.  

I am sure his performances as the first “disabled” person to participate in the able-bodied Olympics will forever be one of the highlights of those Games.

Now the man who had the world at his feet is free on bail and a very dark cloud hangs over that bright future that was once guaranteed for him.

I mean, even if he is not found guilty he will have to live with the knowledge that accident or not, he killed his girlfriend. That must surely be a heavy cross to bear.

But my Valentine’s Day ended on a more positive and uplifting note.

A week or so before the day for lovers I received an e-invitation to celebrate International Book Giving Day 2013 and the official launch of a programme to mobilise support for the Rural Schools Library Trust at the Book Café. I had never heard of the day or the Trust but being the bibliophile I am, I needed little persuasion to attend the function.

I am glad I went along as I found out that there are some among us who are not sitting around and waiting for others to make things happen to improve the lives of their compatriots.

The Rural Schools Library Trust is the brainchild of former journalist-turned business-consultant Matthew Chandaengerwa and librarian Dryden Kunaka who now lives in New Zealand.

They share a passion for books, reading and education and they agreed not enough is being done to promote a reading culture especially in the rural areas. “A reading culture would promote the quality of education,” says Chandaengerwa.

He added that only 7 percent of the more than 8 000 schools in the country have a library but this lack of books is more acute in rural areas hence the decision to set up the Trust which would focus on rural schools.

After brainstorming the two set up the Trust in 2012 and involved people within the country and those in the diaspora.

The idea was to collect money and set up libraries across the country but with time this has proved a bit difficult so, while cash donations are still welcome, the Trust now also challenges those in the community that have done well for themselves and communities to at least lay the building blocks of libraries in their community.

Chandaengerwa gave the example of a community in Honde Valley where the alumni of a school have decided to provide money to start a library and the community has offered to mould bricks for it. The Trust will provide the books.

The Trust has established its first library at Matenda Secondary School in Zvishavane and hopes to have two libraries in each of the country’s eight provinces in five years time.

The Trust’s idea is to have the libraries as resource centres or community libraries not only for school children but for older members of the communities as well.  

Chandaengerwa looks at a situation where libraries will stock books on topics such as bee keeping and mushroom growing thus empowering the communities economically.

It is also hoped that the libraries will be what Chandaengerwa calls digital centres where members of the community can have access to computers.

The evening at the Book Café which was attended by Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda, the Trust’s patron, eye surgeon Dr Solomon Guramatunhu, Namibian Ambassador Panduleni-Kaino Shingenge and ministry of Education, Sports and Culture permanent secretary Constance Chigwamba who stood in for Minister David Coltart ended with a top drawer fund-raising performance by the inimitable Leonard Zhakata who is a goodwill ambassador for Trust.

On their e-invite, the Trust asked for donations in cash and books.

Chandaengerwa also urges the corporate sector to get involved by collecting books and magazines from their employees for donation to the Trust.

The efforts of The Rural School Library Trust should be lauded.

But for the dream of Kunaka and Chandaengerwa and others to become a reality, the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust deserves maximum support from all of us. - ish Mafundikwa

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