Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds and in theory should be a rich country, but more than a quarter of its population are undernourished.¹
It is the 2nd most unequal country in the world² (meaning it has the second biggest difference in wealth between the richest and poorest people of all the countries in the world). The country has been hit badly in recent years by the AIDS epidemic but the number of people dying from this disease is now decreasing and life expectancy has risen to 64 years.
Lerala is a large village in eastern Botswana near the Limpopo River and the border with South Africa. It is a quiet, farming village with scattered mud houses, where donkeys are more common than tractors or cars. Many of the people are semi-subsistent growing sorghum, millet and maize and keeping cattle, goats and chickens on small farms. Lerala has several churches, a clinic, some shops, three primary schools and a junior secondary school.
Lerala lies in the centre of an area in which 30% of the world’s diamonds are found and there was a diamond mine outside the village which closed in 2017. Unfortunately, sitting on more diamonds than anywhere else in the world has not noticeably helped the people of Lerala. Many live at a semi-subsistent level and, of the 6900 people living there, 2500 are officially poor.³
Only 40% of children attend secondary school in Botswana and the students of Lerala Junior Secondary School have agreed to work with us to try and increase the opportunities for children in the Lerala area to go to school and stay at school. The Lerala students have researched the main barriers to education in their area and they followed this up by researching the related issue of gender discrimination. They did so by interviewing a cross-section of people from the local community, including community leaders, parents and children. Their findings have been summarized and have been presented as PDF files and as powerpoints. These can be found at: https://j8educationalpartnerships.co.uk/research, which is password protected for educational purposes. Please get in touch and ask for the link to access these files.
Increasing Access to Education in Lerala
Having found the main barriers to education and some practical solutions, the students in Lerala and in Scotland have been able to start taking action. These are some of their actions, so far:
Raising awareness in the local community
With their teacher, they have persuaded village elders of the importance of education; in turn the chief elder has agreed for an education board to be constructed in the centre of the village in his kgotla (public meeting area) to promote and support the school, education in general and their partnerships with schools in Scotland. Two pupils were chosen as ambassadors with the role of promoting education within the Lerala community, making a film and displaying posters. They have also given talks to the whole school.
Starting a student scholarship scheme
A group of Lerala students visited three local primary schools and promoted a studentscholarship scheme. They distributed application forms and, with their teacher, drew up a short list of applicants from which our students could select. Five students were selected and the Scottish students have raised money to pay for their uniforms, stationery and development fund fees. Two more scholarship students have now been added.
Informing the authorities
Our students have written to the education authorities in Botswana to inform them of the findings and the action that both sets of students are taking. They have also passed on the findings to our Department for International Development. It is beyond the means of our students to pay for expensive solutions, so it is important for us to lobby the people who do have the money and power to make such improvements.
Setting up a social enterprise
Lerala has a small women’s co-operative making marula oil from the local marula fruit. The oil is then used to make soaps, lip balms and other products. The students have set up a social enterprise buying marula oil and marula beauty products, selling them in the UK and using the profits to improve opportunities for education in Lerala, including additional student scholarships. We now have a variety of products for sale, including body butter, oil, soap and lip balm, which we are currently sourcing from another small enterprise nearer to the capital, Gaborone. This social enterprise provides us with much needed funds but it also increases the business of this small enterprise and gives additional income to the local women in the village who collect the marula fruit and sell it to the marula factory.
Making school more relevant
Two teachers from Lerala have visited Scotland to observe teaching methods in our schools, especially how we teach mixed-ability classes and students who lack motivation. As a result, they devised a programme for use in their school to provide greater motivation to all the children. They have submitted this to the Minister of Education so that it can be taken up by schools across Botswana.
With just a handful of computers in the school usable, the teachers contacted the Turing Trust which agreed to send them 20 computers for their use. In return, Hutchesons’ Grammar School is supplying the Turing Trust with as many computers as it can.
To improve student motivation and attainment, a homework club has been set up. The Lerala teachers run the club voluntarily and a j8 group supplies the resources they need, including snacks!
Also, to reduce absenteeism and drop-out rates, the school is employing a student carer. Her job is to look after the students’ pastoral needs. The j8 group pays her wages.