Raising the Roof
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Raising the Roof

Generous OAT travelers Mike and Gretchen Zeller help repair a Zimbabwe primary school

When Grand Circle Foundation first began to work with the Ziga Primary School in Zimbabwe, it was a school that clearly needed Foundation support. The buildings were falling down, and there were no books or supplies. Fortunately, Ziga had the benefit of a passionate headmaster, Moses Chilufa.

Under the guidance and enthusiasm of Moses, the Foundation began to rehabilitate the school's sixth-grade classroom, sanding floors, plastering and painting the walls, replacing the rafters, putting glass in the windows, and building a roof overhead. Unfortunately, the actual construction was done by the government, which did not use the most durable materials. This May, a windstorm blew the roof right off the building.

"The classroom had been open before," reports Mike Zeller of Arvada, Colorado. "But now that there were nice buildings there, it's sad to go back to where it started."

Mike had always wanted to visit Africa, so on the recommendation of friends who had taken the trip, he and his wife, Gretchen, decided on Ultimate Africa: Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe Safari for their first OAT adventure.

The adventure incorporates OAT's Day in the Life program, which includes a visit to a local school—in this case, the Ziga School. It happened that the Zellers' small group visited the school on the day after the roofing catastrophe.

It also happened that the Zellers' Trip Leader was Samantha Johnson, and according to Mike, "She made our trip." To him, Samantha was an "inspiring" Trip Leader not only because of her enthusiasm for her native southern Africa and its magnificent wildlife, but also for her passion for making things better for the people who call the region home.

After Samantha introduced the travelers to Moses Chilufa, Mike played ball with the children in the schoolyard. Then, they all went into the classroom and saw the devastation. "I remember that school visit more than anything else about the trip," Mike says.

Generous about giving to others, Mike typically likes to donate to causes close to home. "I like to see the results," he explains, "because sometimes the money goes to administration and not to the cause." He knew, however, that 100% of donations to the Foundation go to the site, and he wanted to help the Ziga School.

When Moses confirmed that a new roof was the school's most pressing issue, Mike and Gretchen donated $2,044 through Grand Circle Foundation—the entire amount needed to underwrite the cost of the materials to replace the roof. The new roof would be zinc, which is hardier and less hazardous to students' health than the asbestos of the former roof.

Mike reveals that he and his wife "plan on doing more" for the people of the Ziga School, including supporting a scholarship fund named after his Trip Leader, Samantha. "In the U.S., life is not so bad," he says. "But in some of these villages, there is no choice. You can't go down the road and get a job in the local hardware store, because there isn't one." By helping to provide a better educational environment, he hopes to give those children more opportunities.

Generous in spirit as well as pocket, however, Mike gives the credit to Samantha. "We were lucky to have not only a great Trip Leader, but someone who is interested in making things better," he says. "I applaud her."

Grand Circle Foundation applauds Mike and Gretchen Zeller for making things better for the Ziga School, too.

Featured in our June 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.