Cross Over

DSCF0605I spent the day yesterday at Cross Over and with our good friends Alan and Deb Norton. When we first met them in 2007, Deb was tentatively beginning Cross Over, a new education project aimed at the children and young people in the communities they were serving where the state education system had almost completely collapsed.

Key issues included:

  • Teachers being amongst the lowest paid professionals and continually neglected by the government. This caused a situation in the area called Westgate where Cross Over began and not untypically, where there would be classes of fifty children to one teacher and the teacher would only be present every other day.
  • The majority of children leaving school around the age of thirteen when the state stops covering any of the costs. Because of the lack of teaching and resources, these children leave with a very poor standard of education and no real prospects (at the beginning of 2010 UNICEF estimated that the textbook to student ratio in Zimbabwe was 1:10).
  • The overall situation in Zimbabwe lead to a ‘brain drain’ – very few well educated and professional people are willing to stay and pass on their expertise to the next generation. This all contributes to the standard of teaching in state schools, where it exists, usually being very poor.

DSCF0668Starting from the obvious place of the apparent need for a ‘school’, but one that worked, Deb began to see and realise that the standard school model was actually not going to be the best place to begin. Closely examining and trialling several of the existing education programmes and packages available, she found that they were not going to work with the children and people they wanted to help. A very significant issue, often completely overlooked by the state system and those wishing to promote existing education programmes, is that of English-second language (ESOL) teachers who are teaching ESOL students. Add to that the home and family circumstances many of the children are coming from where, given the high number of sibling-led households and the lack of positive adult care, support and role models, the children are not served well by any of the existing educational models.

DSCF0695During the past eight years, Deb and her team have grappled with these issues and have continued to develop a concept of care and education which, although initially often snubbed by professional educationalists, is beginning to turn heads in a positive way when people see and experience it and the results it is producing in the children and the communities they come from.

We have seen the amount of work Deb has done to establish Cross Over and in some small ways have at times been able to help and have some input. Back in 2012 we spent three weeks teaching an APT course with some of their older boys. At this point, with the establishment of SALT, we are also asking ourselves the question of whether SALT is able to help and support further what Cross Over is doing, not just financially, but perhaps more importantly with human resources and expertise too. An example of a need currently is in the ongoing design and production of materials within the curriculum and for a gifted artist/illustrator.

DSCF0572Recently, an American couple who are professional film makers and producers, gifted a video they have made about Cross Over. They were visiting Zimbabwe learning about Conservation Farming and heard about the project, so visited and spent some time there themselves. The six-minute film does a great job of conveying the essence of what Cross Over is about.

You can see the film by clicking the link here.

For those reading who do not have any specific position of faith, I should point out that Cross Over is very openly a faith-based concept of education. It is quite normal here for people not to separate the spiritual and what is often their ‘biblical’ world view from what we might term the secular. As was once the case historically in our own culture, many people here see their whole lives as lived before God and unto God. They do not compartmentalise religion as something personal or private, but express their faith (in Christ) quite openly and normally in all they do.

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From Bulawayo to Harare

Today I have driven from Bulawayo back over to Harare and this evening have the luxury of both electric power and a working internet connection. It’s quite late here so I won’t write too much, but will post a number of photos which show some of the people I’ve been with over the past few days.

The past week has been full of meetings and visits, both with groups of people and individuals. Amongst them were the children, babies and staff at Isaiah’s, including the two newest members of the household – little baby Minenhle was left on the veranda of someone’s house as a new born; Nomthandazo, just an hour or so old, was found in a dustbin. They were both placed with Isaiah’s about three weeks ago.

The ongoing repairs to the house are also going well. A visit to Ebenezer Training Centre, Lighthouse School, orphans at Trenance, the Northend Boys Home and the Hearts of Love team have all been part of the week.

Here are some photos which hopefully tell a bit of the story too:

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Visiting Ngosi Mine

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Entering into the squatter camp known as Ngosi Mine for the first time is an experience that confronts the sensibilities. The people are living on the edge of one of Bulawayo’s large rubbish tips whose contents they sort and process to make a living.

Littered with piles of plastic, metal and items being broken down into their component parts, the area is dotted with the makeshift huts which serve as people’s homes. I was accompanying the Hearts of Love team from ONM who visit the elderly, sick and disabled in such places to assess their situations and see if it’s appropriate to help them in some way, usually by taking gifts of food (a kind of mobile food bank).

We were there to visit Hilda, a widow who has been disabled since birth with no use of her legs. She is living there because currently there is nowhere else for her to go. Approaching the doorway of the little hut, I could already hear a happy shriek and laughter as she welcomed Florence and Helen who had gone in first. Following Qondile and Admore through the door, I too was greeted with a huge smile and delighted face as Hilda’s loud voice welcomed me into her home. Far from being sad and depressed in her abject circumstances, Hilda spoke of the practical help she received from several others in the community too and how the children there spent a lot of time with her. She also made it clear to us that this was a very special day because we had turned up and come to her home. “God is so good to me and is blessing me today” she said.

The poor can sometimes teach us a lot about perspectives and expectations. I find I am so often deeply challenged by them.

I’ve quoted Philip Yancey before. He says in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” :

I now view the Beatitudes not as patronizing slogans, but as profound insights into the mystery of human existence. God’s kingdom turns the tables upside down. The poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the oppressed truly are blessed. Not because of their miserable states, of course – Jesus spent much of his life trying to remedy those miseries. Rather, they are blessed because of an innate advantage they hold over those more comfortable and self-sufficient. People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may well go through life relying on their natural gifts. People who lack such natural advantages, hence under-qualified for success in the kingdom of this world, just might turn to God in their time of need.

Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.

(Philip Yancy, The Jesus I Never Knew, Marshal Pickering, London, 1995)

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Repair work to the fire damage at Isaiah’s

It was really encouraging to see the start of the repairs to the house at Isaiah’s on Tuesday afternoon. The contractor has estimated that the work will take approximately a month. When it’s finished and all the decorating done, the house will be in better condition than before! See some photos below.

The temporary accommodation is a little out of town and so logistics are more difficult, especially for the care staff, most of whom are reliant on public transport and walking to get there.

Moving back into Isaiah’s will seem like the start of a new era.

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Hello from Bulawayo

Thank you to everyone for the texts and emails. Being able to receive them and reply is, as normal here, not predictable because of the random nature of power cuts. The situation on that front is only getting worse. A combination of poor rains and poorer maintenance has resulted in the water levels at Kariba and the net output of power generation being considerably lower that they should be. This is resulting in much longer periods without power all across the country.

Even with the generators that many people have at their homes, the ability to communicate by phone, email or through the internet is restricted because the emergency generators for the communication masts and the servers often do not work either, resulting in everything being down for many hours at a time.

The journey here was good. I was able to set off early from Harare on Friday morning before it got too hot and arrived in Bulawayo by lunchtime. After a cup of tea and catch up with David Cunningham, who’s house has become a second home when we’re in Bulawayo, I went to the ONM offices to catch up with folks there and confirm some details for this week.

As usual the time is going to be full and there are some situations that require care, insight and wisdom. I don’t ask glibly, but to those of you who engage in the activity and mystery of prayer, I know I will need a gift of wisdom for much of what I will be involved in. Your prayers will be greatly appreciated.

Power and internet permitting, I’ll send another post soon.



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A New Charity

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The past few months have gone by far too quickly for us. It’s one of those laws of life – time perceptively speeding up as you get older; but life doesn’t get any less busy and this seems to accelerate the passing of time too.

Since the beginning of May, we’ve been going through the interesting and at times frustrating process of setting up a new charity. It is something we’ve been prayerfully considering for a couple of years and after our last visit to Zimbabwe earlier in the year, we came home feeling that now is the right time to go ahead.

Interest in what we are doing has been increasing, as well as the influence and involvement we have in Zimbabwe. Taking into account various factors and receiving advice from a number of trusted friends and confidants, we felt it was the right thing to set up a distinct charitable framework within which we could operate, also facilitating people’s desire to give and the addition of Gift Aid to their donations.

Beginning the process of our application to the Charities Commission, we soon became aware of the large backlog in their work, apparently receiving unprecedented numbers of applications for new charities this year. Together with the large backlog of applications at HMRC too (for charitable tax status), the process has been taking a lot longer that it should have.

We have now come to a point where the charity is registered and operational and our new website has just ‘gone live.’

The charity is called SALT uk (Serving Africa-Led Transformation) and the name is meant to (hopefully) make us think. Those from a Christan/church background will be familiar with the ‘salt’ metaphor and its significance, but SALT also provided us with a useful acronym to convey something of our ethos in terms of Africa and the way we think about missions and overseas development.

As we’ve expressed on this blog before and to quote from the new website:-

“Our primary purpose is to promote long-term sustainable development and self-sufficiency – helping people to help themselves and break the pernicious and destructive cycles of poverty and deeply embedded dependency. We do not believe this will happen just through prescriptive solutions and resources coming from outside, but will come from Africa itself as the continent takes responsibility for its own future and leads the initiative for real and lasting change. Hence our name which conveys our ethos: Serving Africa-Led Transformation.”

Zimbabwe is currently the centre of our focus, but we also have interest and enquiries from other parts of Africa and remain open to the future possibility of the work extending – in fact we feel this is part of what SALT is meant to do. The charity is a framework that will facilitate any future developments. At the same time, it isn’t hard to extend a portfolio of involvement in Africa and we only want to follow the connections that we believe are being made by God, not opportunism.

We invite you to have a look at our new website:

Also – of particular note and something I was going to post about separately, but it will be more efficient if you go to the post on the website – is the very recent fire at the Babies Home in Bulawayo. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt!

Coding  websites nowadays is somewhat more involved than it used to be with the need for a site to render reasonably well on the plethora of devices people use to access the internet – large TVs, desktops, laptops, notebooks, tablets and smart phones; some with landscape and portrait views just by turning them in your hands. The site has been tested fairly extensively for these various possibilities, but you can never account for every combination of device, operating system and browser. If you encounter some problematic glitches, please let us know as we’d like to iron out any unforeseen problems. You can email me at my existing email address or at

You will probably notice that currently the site doesn’t draw any attention to us as individuals. We may be being over cautious, but that is deliberate. As we’ve shared here before (and the reason we’ve kept this blog off the search engines), is that currently, as white Brits, we need to exercise wisdom about raising our profile in Zimbabwe. We’ve seen quite a few people (back in April, an Australian lady) who do raise their profile and advertise their presence in Zimbabwe (because God has called them there…) and it doesn’t take long before they’re told by the authorities that they’re not welcome in the country and get sent packing. The authorities know we visit regularly, but because it’s always fairly short term and we’re not there to do things off our own bat, they seem happy to leave us alone. They also seem happy if NGO’s work through Zimbabwean partners, not as independent entities doing their own thing. For these reasons, at this point in time, we feel it’s wise to err on the side of caution when it comes to advertising ourselves as individuals. It’s probably also a reflection of how we work and the role we believe God has called us to have.

In connection with the above, we’ll also keep this blog going for the foreseeable future. It has been a useful way to occasionally communicate with everyone, especially when we’re actually in Zimbabwe. As you can only get to it if you know the URL, not through a search engine, it affords us the opportunity to sometimes share more candidly than we will through the “Latest” news section of the website, which will be out there ‘in the ether.’

Just before I close – and thank you if you’ve got this far – we are also starting a regular SALT uk email News Letter using the popular MailChimp service that people can subscribe to from the website. As a subscriber to this blog, we have taken the liberty to include you in that mailing list and the first News Letter will be sent fairly soon (some of it will inevitably duplicate this post). If you would rather not continue to receive those News Letters (but we obviously hope you do), then you can easily unsubscribe from the service at the bottom of the email.

You can also take a look at our new Facebook page (and “like us”… some of you know I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook, but I’ve submitted to the wisdom of the day and current culture). Apparently “once your Page has reached 25 “likes” you are able to claim your own unique Facebook URL.” Now that’s really going to set my world on fire!

I will be going to Zim again on the 14th October for three weeks and will be in touch again about that.

As always, thank you for your interest, prayers and support. We really appreciate it.


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News on Ebenezer Training Centre, Shalom and Maleme Farm

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It is now just over a month since the news that the decision to acquire Maleme Farm, which includes the Ebenezer Training Centre, had been reversed by Vice President Mphoko (see our post from the 1st April). Rodney Mashingaidze, a district officer in the President’s Office and a senior official in the CIO (the secret service) had decided that he was going to take over (steal) Ebenezer Training Centre, Shalom and Maleme Farm. As usual for people in his kind of position in Zimbabwe, this was without any legal process and with what he thought would be impunity. However, the intervention of Vice President Mphoko has thwarted all this and we shouldn’t underestimate just how significant his decision and action is!

It is good to be able to report that business has returned to normal at Ebenezer, Shalom and the farm. We are told that there has been a real sense of celebration for the people living in the community around Maleme and near to Ebenezer. This is combined with a great swell of faith as they have seen with their our own eyes the very real way in which God can answer prayer! Their lives would have been deeply affected if the planned acquisition had gone ahead, with many of them losing their jobs on the farm and as support workers at Ebenezer. People in the community have also benefited from being able to graze their own cattle on large areas of the farm for many years at no cost.

Apparently there is still some work to be done to secure the official paperwork confirming the reversal of the acquisition, but once that is completed they will celebrate with a thanksgiving service for the community at Shalom. We will let you know once we hear that the official paperwork is complete.

In the past four weeks, much work has also been going on at Shalom and Maleme to revive neglected crops and re-establish normality. Everyone is enjoying being back at work and we are told bookings at the Shalom Camp Site are flooding in once again. At Ebenezer the apprentices are enjoying a sense of security now that the project no longer faces the threat of closure. In the words of one staff member, “We are at home and no one is now going to tell us to leave.”

One of the good outcomes of the situation over the past few months is the way in which it has raised the profile of the work of many churches in Matabeleland to help see the potential of small scale farmers fulfilled. Ebenezer has also been propelled into a greater position to bring hope and light to the nation and to further build the capacity of small scale farmers throughout Matabeleland and Zimbabwe.

In light of this there are plans for the expansion of the work at Ebenezer which include putting in a further 30 hectares of vegetable production this year, bringing the total to 60 hectares. Thereafter, the plan is to put in a further 50 hectares each year for the next 4 years, bringing it to a total of 260 hectares (642 acres). This will in turn greatly increase the capacity at Ebenezer for the number of apprentices. Bear in mind that Foundations in Farming, the method of agriculture being taught at Ebenezer, is what is generally called Conservation Farming which is pretty much all done by hand – there are no tractors! Alongside this they are planning to increase the broiler chicken (bred and raised specifically for meat production) capacity to 100,000 birds and the layer (egg production) capacity to 30,000 birds.

Since his visit to Ebenezer and his meetings with the area Chiefs and people in the community, all this will be in line with the Vice President’s own wishes. He has spoken of his desire to see Ebenezer (together with the establishment of other Ebenezers in different parts of the country) be a harbinger of change in Zimbabwe and help in the the growth of sustainable productive agriculture amongst its indigenous people. What a great turn around! We can pray that this will continue to be the case.

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