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Draper Journal

Corner Canyon graduate helps build elementary school in Zimbabwe

Sep 07, 2023 02:45PM ● By Julie Slama

After laying bricks each day to build more classrooms at the Zimbabwe school, Corner Canyon High 2023 graduate Anna Rupp would play with the school children. (Photo courtesy of Anna Rupp)

Recent Corner Canyon High graduate Anna Rupp doesn’t want to be a brick mason, yet she gained brick-laying experience when she volunteered this summer to help build a school in Zimbabwe.

For about 20 days this summer, she and 19 other teens from across the United States, participated in a humanitarian trip through Humanitarian Experience, a nonprofit organization aligned with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We built classrooms for an elementary school,” she said. “There are four or five groups through HXP who are going to Zimbabwe this year. I was part of the second group, so we were building interior and exterior walls on the foundation the first group laid.”

Rupp said this building was an extension, or a separate building of three classrooms, from the existing school, Zimbiru Primary School. Inside the main school, it was simple, with desks and chairs and chalkboards.

“There are lots of kids there and some students and their teacher would be outside because there wasn’t enough room for them; that’s why we were building them classrooms,” she said of the students who wore uniforms and walked to school. “Every lunchtime, they would always come, storm us and we’d talk with them. Their English was good, but they have a strong accent, so it was still hard to understand them. They always just wanted to give us a high-five or play with our hair. They were so cute.”

When school was done for the day, Rupp and the other volunteers would play with the elementary students.

“We would stay after building for an hour or so to play soccer with these kids. They were so good,” said the former club soccer player. “It was very humbling because most of them didn’t have shoes. Their field was bumpy and half of it was sand. I was struggling to control the ball, but they just loved their field, and they didn’t mind because they were having fun.”

Another day, Rupp played basketball with them. 

“It was humbling as well because there wasn’t a court. It was just dirt and grass matted down. The ball was not a good one and the backboard was a piece of wood, but it didn’t matter to them. They just had fun playing and loved doing sports,” said the former Charger who was on her school’s mountain biking team.

On the teens’ first day in Zimbabwe, they went to church and walked around the neighborhood.

“We got to talk to the people outside of their homes, which are on dirt roads,” Rupp said, adding that they entered the home of a single mom and her four kids another evening. “They didn’t have electricity and their house wasn’t big at all. Maybe the whole house was the size of a small classroom, but they were happy. That’s what surprised me most; they were grateful for what they have.”

The next day, three native workers taught the group how to make mortar to lay and cement the bricks for the Domboshawa school.

“It wasn’t hard. We’re learned the technique of laying bricks and once we got the hang of it, it was pretty easy. We’d lay the mortar, which is cement and dirt, and while it’s wet, you lay the brick, scrape off the sides, make sure it’s level and then do the next one,” she said.

They worked on the school’s classrooms for about seven hours every weekday in the 85- to 90-degree heat, which was Zimbabwe’s winter. Lunch, which was mostly native dishes around rice and chicken, was brought to them at the worksite.

“They used a lot of different spices, so it was good and pretty flavorful,” Rupp said. 

Breakfasts were typical of American dishes—oatmeal, bacon, toast—and were brought to where they stayed five or six teens per room in a rented house 30 minutes away in Harare. For dinner, they’d try different restaurants in the town. 

One night, while visiting a home, the mother wanted to provide a meal for the teens.

“She wanted to feed us even though we had already eaten. I felt bad because I could tell she couldn’t afford to buy much. She made us sazda. It’s similar to cornmeal and looks like mashed potatoes and it’s really bland. We ate it with our hands,” Rupp said.

Another night they were invited to neighborhood dance and game night.

“We played a game where everyone stands in a circle and it started with the leader saying, ‘Hello, my children.’ After we responded with ‘Hello,’ the leader would do a dance and we’d have to copy it. It was a lot of fun to see their culture,” she said.

Another neighbor held a dinner and invited a band to play so the teenagers could dance.

“Everyone was so welcoming. A little girl was so excited we came; she loved braiding everyone’s hair,” Rupp said.

Other nights, the teens would play cards, throw a football or juggle a soccer ball.

On a weekend, the volunteers visited Wild is Life, a wildlife sanctuary that helps injured and orphaned animals.

“They had rescued and were rehabilitating animals. They had baby elephants, zebras, lions and then we got to pet and feed the giraffes. We saw about 20 animals, but they had more than that,” she said.

They also went hiking.

“It was a lot different from hiking in Utah; there were just big, huge rocks we climbed over. It was short, but super steep. We ended up having an amazing view of Domboshawa,” Rupp said.

Before flying to Zimbabwe, the group met in New York City and then spent a few days in Kenya where they visited a village, and got to see their traditional dances, chants and songs, and they went on a safari where they saw elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, lions and “huge herds of zebras” in the wild. 

“It was awesome. Our guide took us in a van without a roof so we could just stand up and see all the animals,” she said. “It was four or five hours, and it was so cool.”

Rupp, who plans to study sports medicine at Brigham Young University, applied in the spring to participate in the humanitarian trip. A few weeks before the end of the school year, she learned she would be going to Zimbabwe. She rushed to fill out papers, get doctors’ forms, and find her passport. 

“It was a wonderful experience. I definitely miss the kids and it got me out of my comfort zone. I’m pretty shy, but it is easier talking to them when I was playing with the kids and was helping them. I loved doing something for someone else where I knew they were in need. I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. before, so I was able to see and learn more about the world and creating friendships with the other builders,” Rupp said, adding that the group still texts on a group chat. “This experience has made me become more grateful for what I have, and I realized you don’t have to have much to be happy and loving. They accepted and were kind to everyone, no matter what background people have; I learned from them to love them.” λ