Bana ba Metsi finds joy in shaping our children’s future
Steve Harpt is a man on a mission. His goal is to help primary school dropouts reconstruct their lives and have a meaningful life.
A retired teacher, Harpt arrived in Botswana as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in 1980 and taught at several secondary schools in Botswana before starting the Bana ba Metsi School in 1990.
Describing the purpose of the school to The Voice Harpt said, “Our purpose is to provide an opportunity for youth at risk to develop understandings, skills, attitudes and personal qualities through the dignity of learning and work, in order to re-enter the formal education system and become productive members of the community.”
He said that majority of his children are those who had problems that have interfered with their primary-level education.
“Things such as lack of positive role models, being orphaned, peer pressure and poverty to name a few can drive children out of school and we try our best to rehabilitate such kids when they get here,” he said.
Besides preparing children for Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE), the school, which is in a remote location, near Ngarange at the upper end of the Okavango Delta, also offers vocational skills in addition to academic skills. Vocational skills taught at the school include bricklaying, carpentry, mechanics, agriculture, music and information technology.
“The vocational skills, as well as being practical, give the kids a sense of achievement and self-worth which may have been lacking before. The remote location also keeps them from temptations such as Gumba Gumba music, alcohol and others that may drive them away from school”, Harpt says.
Since the project started, Harpt and his kids have used their vocational skills to build their own classrooms, kitchen, dining hall and workshops.
The school also provides its own eggs and meat as the school keeps chickens for both consumption and sales. They also have a vegetable patch that provides for their needs.
Harpt explained that their children are brought in from all over the country on the recommendation of social workers.
“Kids stay here for three years because we offer standard 5 to 7 classes. In the past we used to allow kids to start off where they left but we learnt the hard way that we needed them to be here for at least three years. Some kids who stayed here for more than three years became wayward when they got to secondary schools and spoilt out otherwise good name.”
Harpt, whose staff comprises volunteers, is pleased with his school’s achievements so far.
“We have kids from here at a number of secondary school. A former student is also a member of staff. I must also tell you that the other day I met one Bana ba Metsi student who is now a detective. I am pleased that my work is bearing fruits,” says the man who has a presidential award for his contribution to the development of local education.
Harpt is also happy that the school, which was started on donor funding, is at last getting some help from the government.
“We get two-thirds of the money from the government and raise the rest ourselves. We also get some from donor agencies and other well-wishers.”
He is particularly grateful to the likes of Dr Nomsa Mbere and the Y-Care Charitable Trust, Shell Oil and other business houses and individuals for always chipping in.
Harpt has one more dream to fulfil. “I have always wanted to travel around the world on a motorbike and as soon as I am confident that the school can run for sometime without me I will get somebody competent to run it whilst I live my other dream. After that I will come back to Bana Ba Metsi and continue with my work.”