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Pens for Africa

Don't ever think that you can't make a difference; something that starts off small very often exceeds your wildest dreams.

In September 2001, I went with a Tour bus of Radio Today listeners up to Maputo. I had known Lorenco Marques, as Maputo was, as a child when I lived in Nyasaland, for many years I had longed to "go back" and see what it was like now. During the intervening years it had been ravaged by civil war and disastrous droughts and floods.

The poverty, even before we reached Maputo, was more than evident, the incessant rain had collapsed many roofs, people were still living in these houses, they had no money to fix them. The potholed streets were full of ragged children begging.

On the Sunday, we were offered a trip to the Incomati River Camp for lunch, as an extra. I jumped at the chance of going 30km up the coast, on the Xai Xai road, to Marracuene, seeing more of Mocambique and enjoying the launch trip 17kms up the Incomati River to the camp. On our arrival at Marracuene we were greeted by ragged children, giving us gifts made from the reeds. At the camp we met Richard and Colette Fair, who told us of the ongoing battle of the poverty. Back at the bus, the children begged for "Pens for School". Some of us opened our bags and gave them what we had. I got back onto that bus vowing that I would do all I could to alleviate their problem.

The project started very slowly, and it took ages to get pens from any of the pen companies. A letter to the local paper brought in some support, like the office that handed the hat around and kindly gave me a cheque to buy pens. The first lot of pens that I sent up, I never heard a word about, I don't know if they got to their destination or not, and from then on I said that unless I could be sure that they were going to the right people, I wasn't sending them.

The Big Hotels have pen collection boxes that stand in the foyers. So we started taking up pens ourselves and filling these. After our second trip I felt so overwhelmed by the need and felt so helpless that I nearly gave it all up. Paul Norman, General Manager of the Holiday Inn in Maputo, who had kindly given us accommodation, encouraged me to keep going as he said that no matter if I felt that it was a drop in the ocean the recipients were more than grateful. He then introduced us to Joao Gomes, the Minister of Educations Special Projects Manager, who was impressed with our efforts and encouraged us to continue.

Joao told us some stories of needy schools that are so poor that if they get a pencil its cut into 4 so that 4 children have something to write with. In another school in a very remote northern area, the children had never even seen a ballpoint pen. One school we went to at Marracuene had nearly 2,000 pupils and the teachers taught from 7am – 11am, 11am – 3pm and 3pm to 7pm, such dedication is rare anywhere in the world.

Bugging the big companies for pens is one thing, but once we have received them the fun begins. Up to 30 big boxes arrive, these we have to put somewhere, then each box has to be sorted, most pens have to be de-carded. The card bit goes into one bag and the plastic bubble or covering goes into another bag for recycling. The card is taken away by Mondi Paper but the plastic has to be taken to the re-cycling station and this results in many trips. Once de-carded the pens are counted and packed snugly into bags and boxes. We have a system of getting them through the border post. If the customs see them they want to put a value on them and charge us import duty.

We are very pleased to tell you that, to date, we have now taken over 369,000 pens to Mozambique and consider our commitment to the children of Mozambique of utmost importance, and for as long as we are able to we will continue to help and support the youth of this wonderful country!

We have had fantastic support from the Shongololo Express, who have a train going through Maputo 4 times a year and they have been an enormous help in taking many boxes of pens, pencils and paper through.

We have made 11 trips to Mocambique with pens, it's not a cheap exercise, what with the cost of petrol, the toll roads and my visa, it all adds up, but it has been so very worthwhile. We now give to Orphanages and Aids Homes as well as schools. Any stationary that is not suitable, or too bulky to take, is given to various local schools and children's homes/charities in the poorer townships, around Johannesburg and other outlying areas.

Our thanks go to:-

Bic Pens - Maureen Van Tonder
Scripto (Now Defunct) - Melanie, Alfred Zweni, Roy Chana
Staedtler - via the Presbyterian Church
Shongolo Express - Paul Bailey, Cindy Stewart
Stands Up - Nic Nieuwoudt
Holiday Inn Maputo - Paul Norman, Bruce Chapman and Cymon Charnley
Polana Hotel - Bernado
Incomati River Camp - The Fairs
Maria Nthayisi - For her never ending support and packing.

For their continued support and donations.

Organizations we have supported in South Africa with Stationary that we have been unable to utilize for Mocambique:

Soweto & Kliptown Youth
School in Clarens
The Young artists Hillbrow
Gretas School Orange Farm
Ruths Day Centre in Soweto
Nkosi's Haven
Twighlight Children
Children of Africa
Alexandra Haven
Out of the Box – Skills Development Centre

If you would like to help, please contact Moira MacMurray:
Telephone: 011 646-4071
Mobile: 083 534-0480
Email: moira@abigails.co.za