Everyone deserves to find their potential! ‘Being educated is just fantaboulous !’
As you will have seen from my previous posts I was on very steep learning curve as I started my new life in Zambia. Literally from waking up in the morning to go to bed – every experience was a new one!
I had never worked with children and never had any aspiration to do so therefore you will be as surprised as I was to find out that working with and supporting the young generation in rural Zambia became my living and breathing passion which continues to this day.
Part of my first volunteer job and much of my second job included the coordination of a sponsorship programme for vulnerable children in the community in order for them to attend school. As I got involved and began to understand more of the challenges these children faced the more the passion grew in me to give these children the chance of education they deserved and quite possibly took over my life (in a great way!)
You might be asking - 'Why is it so hard for children to attend school anyway?' It’s virtually impossible for the majority of children to attend school as even with Government run schools there is a cost associated for each pupil to attend school. This is where the greatest challenge lies as it is quite understandable that if a family are subsistence farmers and living hand to mouth each day how can they stretch to fees, uniform or even a pencil? Over the years I have been involved in supporting over 300 children from the start of their education through to being lucky enough to be invited and attend their graduation ceremonies. I really did feel like a proud Mum! To have been a part of enabling a 7-year-old who is proudly dressed in their ‘room to grow’ uniform with notebook and 1 pencil in a plastic bag going to school for the first time through to putting a student on the bus to go to the city for the first time to attend college is probably the most fulfilling thing I have done in my life
There is so much I want to tell you about these wonderful children so it will have to be in instalments!
Firstly I want to share some of the challenges girls in particular have to receiving the education they so rightly wanted and deserved
I quickly realised when I started this new job the majority of children being educated were boys. In a class of 95 (yes – 95 in a class) you would be lucky to see 15 girls. Girls who certainly draw the short straw when it comes to getting educated and in turn hope for a good and decent life.
Why is it so important for girls to receive education? There is a very true saying… ‘Educate a girl and you educate the community.’ There are many pressures for teenage girls to stay at home when living in a rural household, from helping out with household chores to looking after their young siblings. This can cause absenteeism through no fault of their own. The girls then feel discouraged from returning to school as they will have fallen behind in their classes. If girls receive a basic education, early pregnancy and HIV related illnesses are reduced, thus benefiting the community.
Education gives girls empowerment and a belief that they are not inferior and can achieve so much more in life. A high amount of parents in the community are uneducated and do not want to encourage their daughter to go to school as they have never seen the benefit and easier to have that pair of hands at home.
Let’s look at the bigger picture An educated girl has a much better chance of breaking out of the spiral of early pregnancies, possible prostitution as a way to get money, chance of contracting HIV and living hand to mouth with no future plans.
With education they have the opportunity to develop their confidence and have role models they can aspire to and understand that a different more fulfilling life is not just a dream but a reality. Without education how will these girls find out what skills they have in them that could take them in a completely different and exciting direction in life?
I thought I would share with you a few stories about some of the girls that I was firstly lucky to meet and secondly lucky to meet the wonderful people who saw the benefit of sponsorship enabling these girls to receive education and in turn really make a difference to themselves, their families and as a community as a whole Please keep in mind that all of these girls still have to be fully committed at home to complete household chores, fetching water from the borehole, looking after their siblings as well as carrying out their studies and homework by light of the fire. Now that’s a big challenge in itself that could instantly make many of us give up at the first step!
Qualified Teacher in Maths and Physics Nellie was my first young lady I worked with to enable her to go to college. Maths and Physics is not the chosen subject for many people but this is what Nellie wanted to do so this is what Nellie did! Orphaned at an early age and experienced situations no one should have to. I have never met a young lady so determined to reach her goal. Before she met me she had tried a number of options in order to raise funds to get to college. She tutored pupils, she did any form of work for extra money. She taught singing at her church. Her church groups were right behind her and raised enough funds for 6 months of the 4 year college degree.
I was determined that Nellie got her dream and now I am so proud that she is now a teacher and her profile is high in the community and a figure that so many girls can aspire to.
A budding athlete and performer! When Joyce smiles the world seems a better place! I was made aware of Joyce by the Head Teacher of the local secondary school as she had recognised potential in her and she urgently needed support. Joyce had just walked for two days through the bush risking elephants and other dangers to ask for acceptance that the school (the nearest to her) This is how shows you how valued education is to the children here!
She had missed two years of school, as her family was unable to pay her school fees. She came from a very remote village and she was doing nothing with no way to progress to senior school.
Joyce is now enjoying life as a pupil, staying in the dormitory which is now her home. (more about these dormitories soon!) Little did we know that she was a talented athlete and performer and regularly represents the school in these activities. So much untapped talent may be overlooked, but with Joyce it has been discovered!
Sarah Phiri is one young lady who is achieving her dream of be coming a nurse 21-year-old Sarah completed her education in 2011 with flying colours at The local secondary school and qualified to Chipata School of Nursing after attending some very competitive interviews. Out of 800 applicants only 55 students were accepted to study. Her father was extremely proud of her and did all in his ability to provide the necessary funding to finance her to college. Despite his best efforts and even selling some of his possessions he was unable to meet the financial requirements. Single orphan Linda was determined to make the most of this opportunity and with the support of her sponsor she is attending college and well on her way to a successful career in nursing.
A few words from my three wonderful girls, recognised at school for their conduct and who are setting an example of Girl Power!
What made you all continue to attend school when you were facing so many difficulties at home? ‘If we are educated we can change our whole future for ourselves and family. When living in the village people can discourage us from school, saying that there is no point, but we know better and want to show everyone what is possible to achieve in life.’
What does being Head Girl involve? ‘Most importantly being a mentor to the girls of the school and setting a good example of behaviour and conduct. I have to be a mother figure to the younger girls, especially those who have just started in secondary school in the dormitories and everything is new for them. I also carry out extra duties that are given to me by the teachers.’
What does being Head Girls mean to you? ‘Its fantaboulous !’ When I found out I was Head Girl at assembly I cried, people thought I was not happy but these were tears of joy. I never expected to be able to complete school and now I can…plus more!’
Congratulations on being prefects, what are your responsibilities? ‘As a House Prefect I have to make sure that the dormitories and washing area are kept clean and tidy at all times and the girls are keeping to the cleaning rota. There are over 100 girls here now so I have a big job’ ‘A Production Unit Prefect means that I manage the Tuck Shop and also organise the pupils to look after the new vegetable garden. There is only one of me so I have to be very organised!’