Dumsani Nyoni empowers school teachers and children, renewing their enthusiasm and capacity for teaching and learning. Dumsani links rural schools in Zimbabwe with schools in New York City, initiating a flow of much-needed used books and equipment to his country. Students and teachers from partnered schools correspond regularly via email and after two years, Dumsani’s strategy has dramatically raised teacher performance and morale, and initiated a cultural shift towards learning in Zimbabwe.
The New Idea
With little government funding for education, schools in Zimbabwe have long been without an available supply chain to meet their demand for books and other equipment. This has stagnated learning and led to low teacher morale and high failure rates. Through the Learning Center for Rural Development, Dumsani works to change that by directly linking rural Zimbabwean schools with schools in New York City. Currently working with thirty-five schools in New York and a corresponding thirty-five in Zimbabwe, Dumsani arranges for the U.S. schools to send library books, teaching materials, stationary, sports equipment, clothing, bicycles, shoes, and financial support to their Zimbabwean counterparts. Redistributing books and supplies that otherwise would have been thrown away at the end of each year improves both students’ enthusiasm in classes and towards school overall. With sufficient resources in hand, schools also benefit from teacher training and mentoring programs.
Zimbabwean communities are not the only ones to benefit: Through regular email exchange and ongoing relationship-building, youth and educators in New York City gain an unparalleled understanding of life for their peers outside of the U.S. Far from a simple charity donation, Dumsani’s cross-continental partnerships add a global perspective to formerly isolated channels of information and learning. A newfound global awareness on the one hand, combined with the increase in resources on the other, both awakens young students to the range of possibilities available to them and drives them to become more engaged learners. To make the most of this changed perspective, Dumsani additionally trains the schools to provide leadership programs, boys’ and girls’ summer camps, and intergenerational learning initiatives.
Now two-years-old, the dual strategy of meeting basic needs from abundant supplies and creating access to the global community is showing dramatic results in teacher performance and morale, community attitudes toward education, and overall student engagement. Schools that were once derelict have libraries and sports equipment, and the students have shoes to wear. Thanks to the initiative, students are passing at higher rates, and a renewed culture of reading and learning has taken root.
Education in Zimbabwe is no longer providing the opportunities it promised in the first years after independence. Thanks to rapid inflation, widespread poverty, and ineffective government policies, investment in Zimbabwe has declined dramatically in recent years. As a result, there are few available supply chains for books and education materials. The steady decline in resources allocated to the education sector and the deterioration of the country’s economy has led to a lower quality of education and stagnation. Students consequently dropout at high rates and those who remain often fail to advance to the next level.
These problems are all the more pronounced in Zimbabwe’s rural areas, where 65 percent of the population lives. The little investment available for education has been primarily directed at urban schools, leaving resources in even shorter supply for most Zimbabweans. The dearth of resources, including teaching and learning materials, books, and sports equipment has helped to produce a greater failure rate than that found in urban areas. The resulting unskilled workforce only perpetuates the problem, leaving rural communities in a cycle of poverty and isolation.
Dumsani’s model relies on existing partnerships and a pattern of network-building. To save costs and guarantee a sustainable supply mechanism, Dumsani negotiated space on existing shipping runs from the U.S. to Zimbabwe, making the shipments free. Once the shipments arrive, Dumsani again utilizes existing delivery routes to transport the supplies to the rural communities. Having strategically selected thirty-five schools on these routes, the Learning Center for Rural Development ensures quick and easy access to the supplies.
Dumsani realized early on that close contact and reliable feedback mechanisms within each community would be essential to the success of the program. To this end, he partnered with a respected development organization already active throughout rural Zimbabwe, whose representatives were drawn from many of the communities he serves. The partner organization provides a storeroom for supplies and helps to introduce new schools into the program.
Additionally, the partnership enables Dumnsani to quickly gain the communities’ trust and support. When schools are introduced into the program, Dumsani makes sure that local residents provide input on the best use of the resources and spaces. Each school then elects an on-site teacher and/or Head of Department to run the program. Through regular follow-ups with the program representatives, Dumsani gains a deep understanding of community dynamics, allowing him to refine the model to meet specific contextual challenges.
The schools involved in the program are brought together through an internal network, providing valuable links between rural villages, and the structure for sports teams, teacher training, and a program to support orphans and vulnerable children.
Dumsani is scaling his network of schools on both sides of the Atlantic and aims to expand throughout Africa.
Dumsani grew up in a family of social activists; his mother, the founder of a prominent rural development organization, inspired a deep commitment to serving his local community. Only twenty-five-years-old, Dumsani is pursuing a vision to improve education by breaking down international barriers. During a Rotary Scholarship to Canada, he met students from all over the world and became fascinated by the differences between various countries’ educational systems. While there, he initiated an international day, in which students share their food, dress, and other elements of their culture. Upon his return to Zimbabwe, he started a sports league for unemployed at-risk youth. Working with a local secondary school, he introduced several creative outlets that he found prevalent in the Canadian educational system, including a music group and a poetry, drama, and public speaking club.
Having spent additional time in several major U.S. cities, Dumsani now draws on those experiences and the contacts to support his school partnerships.