Article published in PUBLIC EYE SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

The Moslem community in Butha-Buthe, who are citizens of Lesotho, have since time immemorial shared a common passion that has been rubbed on from generation to generation until today – education. Dating as far back as the 1880s, the community has inculcated in themselves a fervent conviction that the best gi­ft they can ever give to the district is educating the young so they can become useful citizens of Lesotho in future.

A respected member of the Moslem community who worked hard to realise his dream of becoming a veterinary doctor, Yusuf Dambha, is thankful to his forefathers and others and recalls how they drilled the family tree into a culture of hard work and the need to acquire a decent education.

A group of local residents under the auspices of the Muslim Community of Lesotho established their first mosque (masjid) in the country in Butha-Buthe between 1905 and 1910.

The community went on to set up an English Medium School in the late 1950’s. However, the entire mosque building was accidentally gutted by fire in 1971 but this did not deter the community from continuing to pursue their work of providing a house of learning to all irrespective of color, creed, race, religion, or nationality.

“It was our forefathers’ dream to give children the best education with the right and adequate facilities. So after the mosque was burnt down, we came together as the Muslim community and established a primary school in 1990,” recalls Dr Dambha, the co-founder of Soofia English Medium School. Dr Dambha told Public Eye on Saturday most of the Muslim community members in Butha-Buthe are educated and appreciate the value of education, hence their decision to support and fund the school.

He added: “We strongly believe that with education one can become anything they want in life – a teacher, a farmer or a doctor. Muslim elders here are educated and want this to rub on to all children.” Dr Dambha said his passion for education inspired him to work hard to realise his dream of becoming a veterinary doctor. But after completing his Bachelor of Science degree at the National University of Lesotho, he realised the country needed to improve its education beyond high school. The country’s education system was not offering students diverse subjects which allow them to pursue careers of their choice, forcing them to go to South Africa or elsewhere where they are required to take bridging courses before they can enroll for college or university.

The Muslim community then came together in 1990 to start a primary school with only 70 pupils and a handful of teachers. Fifteen years later, they introduced post-primary (Form A) and today they go up to Form E. Enrolment for both schools now stands at about 1,230 students. Dr Dambha noted their reward as founders and sponsors is the satisfaction of waking up and knowing they have contributed meaningfully to the country’s educational development.

Soofia English Medium School offers a number of scholarships every year to bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds to continue with their education. The institution does not receive any funding from government but Dr Dambha is adamant this will not deter them from playing a pivotal role in providing quality education. “We rely on fees paid by the parents and help from members of the Muslim community including the chairperson of the school, Mr Liaqat Anwary, and a prominent

businessman residing in Maseru, Mr Ashraf Abubaker. This is not enough but we are confident things will continue working well for us as we strive to educate the nation,” he indicated. The school’s principal, Mr Vijayakumar Bhaskaran said,

“We are blessed because the community has always assisted whenever we need help. Such kind of support has always inspired us to move forward. Our goal is to prepare children for tomorrow.”

The school plans to introduce ‘A’ Level classes as soon as they get approval from government after submitting an application in 2012, a move that is expected to help it grow further and enhance the students’ chances of going to tertiary institutions in the country and outside. Bhaskaran, 47, is confident they will be up to the task, adding they are aiming to go beyond this and set up a college in future. “Our aim is to bring services offered in Maseru here as part of decentralising education. We believe every child, no matter their family financial background, should have access to quality education.” Bhaskaran, known as Vijay, is buoyed by the awards garnered by the school in district competitions since he joined in 2004. “This year alone, we won 78 awards of excellence at a district awards ceremony held by the

district education office for our performance in 2013. The same year we were voted the best high school in a national debate contest and pocketed the top prize of M50,000, sponsored by the Lesotho Revenue Authority. This year we came fourth. And with such good results, we can only go one way – up,” a proud Vijay said.“Because of our impressive results at Junior Certificate and Cambridge Overseas School Certificate we now have parents coming from Maseru and all over the country enquiring about bringing their children here,” he added. A subject co-coordinator, Mr Malefetsane Motsamai, noted that modern facilities offered by the school like the state of the art computer (ICT) lab and science lab enable students to improve on their learning.

“Our pupils have access to gadgets such as computers and video visuals and we believe these make teaching and learning easier. “Those in primary school also have access to the science lab and this helps them in future grades as they will be used to apparatus found here,” Motsamai said, adding: “We are teaching them from a young age not to be afraid of Maths and Science, subjects that have traditionally been considered as difficult. Many have now developed a liking for them.” A parent and Soofia English Medium board member, Mr Tsorang Nkokona, hailed the school for creating a conducive environment allowing children from different religious backgrounds to study together and learn from each other.