Under the Acacia Trees

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

The Acacia trees provided shade for the kids as they studied.

Submitted: June 21, 2018

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Submitted: June 21, 2018



When he was asked to visit the church at Valeska, Henry didn’t even know where to find it and Loti wasn’t too sure either. The pastor had asked them to go there to advise his parishioners about the environment and the tree planting method that would afford the best chance of tree survival. After some rudimentary directions, they made their way there but unfortunately, a funeral in the village, curtailed their plans at the church, so Henry suggested they visit the local primary school.

They hadn’t realised, but they had passed the school on the way through the village, it had looked to them like a vacant, barren and dusty part of the village. There was a one roomed, clay brick building of which about a quarter of the bricks had collapsed inwards. They thought it to be vacant too, but when they stopped, a man who turned out to be the head teacher, came out, curious about who was in the vehicle. The fallen down building was the teachers’ office, inside was his table and a couple of chairs. Henry sat on some of the fallen bricks, not feeling altogether safe inside as he gazed at some loose-looking bricks on top of the wall beside him.

The head teacher led a very good bunch of teachers, Henry had seen many and he liked what he saw in the head teacher! There were two large, wide Acacia trees, which served as classrooms, each ‘housed’ two classes and there were two concrete block classrooms that had been built several years previously. Henry was told the two classrooms were built on the site where the new school was proposed to be built and during their walk around, the head teacher threw out hint after hint about the new school to be completed and the need for money. He kept looking directly at Henry for a reaction. Henry remained poker-faced and replied that they were there to plant trees and encourage students and village folk to care for their environment.

The head teacher and his environmental teacher were enthusiastic about planting trees around the school grounds, which resulted in pleasing outcomes. This was the reason Henry took up on the head teacher’s hint. A school isn’t just a school, it’s an integral part of any community, so he advised the head teacher that he would meet the village government, together with the school committee to discuss what was needed for the school. He knew, that they knew, he had helped other schools, so the villagers were bound to have some expectations. He made them no promises but told them building the school would be a village project, so if they worked out exactly what they wanted, and estimate the costs, he would apply for the funds on their behalf and manage the project for them. He wasn’t fazed at the prospect of building projects, he had already done other building projects, including his own house back home. He gave them a maximum ballpark figure he thought he would be able to successfully apply for.

A month later he was given a plan of the work they wanted to do. There was a gap between the two existing classrooms where they wanted to build a teachers’ office and a storeroom, as laid down in their long-term plan. Henry took the plans and the budget home to peruse, and by the look of it he was pretty sure it was all the work of the head teacher, who had written it all out in English. The community were prepared to make the bricks onsite, which was a massive saving and he was pleased to find that the budget was accurate to the point he couldn’t fault it. There was a local builder who would be paid and he would be in charge of the workers conscripted from within the village. They would build a temporary water tank-cum-reservoir that the school kids would keep filled from an irrigation ditch some three hundred metres away.

Henry wrote up the funding application, and it wasn’t long until they were able to start the project. But he was annoyed, more than annoyed! The head teacher had been demoted by the mratibu, the district education coordinator! A shifty-eyed outsider had taken over the head teacher’s role and trust was going to take some time to cement. Happily the old head teacher seemed unaffected by the change, and Henry gradually warmed to the new bloke, though not totally. He was able to transport all the materials using his project Toyota, which reduced the budgeted transport cost to almost zero, and he was able to make further savings through negotiations with suppliers he had already worked with, thereby making considerable savings. 

Henry hadn’t told anyone about the buildup of savings until the official opening of the new work. During the chairman’s speech, and he did go on, he told the audience that many organisations had arrived at the village and while there had been many promises made, this was the first time anything had actually eventuated. In his reply, Henry gave them the news that the project had been completed under budget and he had a proposal for them. There was enough money to supply cement for two additional classrooms. The government were now supplying, free of charge, new roofing iron to schools as long as the classrooms were built up to the window lintel. There were enough funds for timber for the roof trusses and purlins plus the nails. There weren’t enough funds for the builder, but there was now enough experience in the village to do the job. The proposal was accepted, and the builder, a local man, continued to work from time to time anyway.

Once those two classrooms were up and running, and because the government was still supplying free roofing iron, the community rallied, fundraised and carried out more work. Soon the two final classrooms were built, making the school complete! Through what was left of the assistance to the primary schools assistance project, Henry was able to source two hundred desks, not quite enough but a good start. The success of the project was a credit to community spirit and a demoted head teacher.

So Valeska holds its own little space in Henry’s heart. As far as he was concerned, the really special thing is that unless you drive up to the school, you wouldn’t know it was there. The school is invisible because of the trees planted around it! The kids and their teachers have done an excellent job! And for Henry, there was a special little bonus.

Within the village, as the regularly passed by, they had noticed an especially neat, compound. One day towards the end of his time there, they saw three trees seedlings planted with small, elaborate shelters and irrigation set up using empty cooking oil containers, the method Henry had taught at the school. They knew an elderly couple lived there so they called in to visit them, curious to know how they knew about the planting method.  Their granddaughter had given them the trees. Trees that Henry had supplied to the school for senior kids to take and plant at home. Their granddaughter had two siblings who were also allocated trees, so the brilliant kid gave her trees and demonstrated to the elderly couple  how to plant and care for them! A cool thing that, a granddaughter teaching her grandparents! That will be a lasting memory.


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