First, make your football

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Children in Zambia find plastic bags useful in their pursuit of Beckham-like status. Michael Shaw reports.

The white footballs which Zambian children kick and head to each other across the dusty pitches between their villages are an entirely home-made creation.

Young people construct the balls by wrapping plastic bags tightly around other plastic bags with strips of canvas torn from empty maize sacks.

Mtosa Mtonga, aged 11, lives in the northern copper-mining town of Mufulira, yet supports Manchester United.

"The balls last a long time, maybe a month of playing," he said. "And they feel the same when you kick them."

More than 6,000 miles away, in Somerset, children at Countess Gytha primary school have been trying to create their own versions. Early attempts, sadly, have proven unsuccessful.

"They fell apart after a few minutes," said Terry Bishop, a Year 1 teacher.

"So we ended up with plastic bags flying around the playground."

Luckily, the Yeovil primary is being visited this month by two teachers from its link school in Mufulira, who will give pupils a masterclass in making the balls and other toys from used materials.

The Zambian school began working with the English primary 10 years ago, and the pair now exchange two teachers every year using funding from the British Council. This summer the schools are sharing ideas about recycling.

The pupils in Somerset are learning how shopping bags can be turned into kites and how old electrical wire, bottle tops and unwanted plastic sandals can be transformed into toy cars. Meanwhile, the children at Mufulira basic school have been learning about the UK's systems for dealing with waste.

Mwenya Chisimba, aged 12, recalled a lesson she had from Jenny Maybury, a Countess Gytha teacher who visited last year.

"She told us about bottle banks," she said. "In Zambia bottles are not recycled - we should do that."

Teachers at the Zambian school say they have found the English teachers'

advice on reading lessons extremely helpful as they have been trialling the Primary Reading Programme, a UK-funded scheme modelled on the national literacy strategy.

Webby Chongo, headteacher, said that staff had known little about phonics until Mrs Bishop trained them and that the school made regular use of large-print books donated by the English primary.

The teachers at Countess Gytha have, in turn, learned from their Zambian visitors. Many have tried telling stories from memory, rather than reading them from books, after seeing how entranced their pupils were by the traditional African tales of Mufulira teacher Andrew Bakuluma.

Mrs Maybury and Mrs Bishop were invited to Mr Bakuluma's wedding while they were in Mufulira, and attended his wife's "kitchen party", a women-only event where guests present the bride with bowls and other kitchenware and whisper in her ear how they should be used.

On their return to the UK, Mrs Bishop decided to hold a surprise Zambian kitchen party for Mrs Maybury, who was getting married during the summer holiday.

"We decorated the school's gazebo and her whole class dressed in the traditional clothes," Mrs Bishop said. "They all brought gifts for her kitchen, like egg timers and tea-towels. It was magical."

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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