In 1995 a group of Tongabezi staff approached Vanessa – the wife of Ben Parker who owns Tongabezi Lodge – and asked her to open a Pre-School so that their children could learn how to read. Vanessa had initially come out to Zambia to volunteer with VSO, so she had a background in teaching, but she had no idea how to run a school. She eventually agreed, however, on the basis that the Pre-School would remain small.
Tongabezi Lodge donated the money to build a single open-plan classroom, and on May 1st 1996 fifteen very excited children had their first day at school. All of them lived within walking distance, and amongst this tiny group was Ben and Vanessa’s own two-year old daughter, Natasha. Vanessa gave the school the name Tujatane, meaning ‘let’s all hold hands together’ in the local language, Chitonga. She agreed to run the school on an entirely voluntary basis, how hard could running a tiny Pre-School be?
Today, Tongabezi Trust School has over 280 current students, and is made up of classrooms, as well as an art room, a music room and amphitheatre, sports grounds, a library, and a canteen. The current President of Zambia has visited Tujatane on a number of occasions. The children participate in a variety of extracurricular activities such as ICT, sports, music, drama, cultural dance, chess and art. Tujatane also supports over 60 children who have moved on to secondary schools all over Zambia and many Tujatane alumni are at universities and colleges all over the world.
Tongabezi Trust School students have gone on to become everything from accountants to engineers, lawyers to clinical officers, pilots to teachers. Vanessa Parker still runs the school on a voluntary basis, but luckily now she has an extremely, talented team to help her do it.