By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication Manager
The road to education is hard, rocky and bumpy in Zambia. There are overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of materials, long walks to school and often not enough food.
Flocks of children, age 8 and older, walk more than a mile each way to school every day, sometimes without having eaten breakfast. Some have no shoes, and their school may not have fresh water when they get there. Access to education is the right of every child, but poverty creates many obstacles to school attendance in Zambia and other countries that ChildFund serves.
ChildFund strives to make the journey to school easier by working with the Zambian government to build standardized facilities that include libraries, labs, restrooms and learning materials. Sometimes we help provide shoes and uniforms too.
John and Gracious, two Zambian children, say they are happy just to be in school, even though it’s sometimes difficult to walk there. Their mothers now work for a small business that allows Gracious, 11, and John, 9, to attend school. They hope one day that there will be a school in their own community or a means of transportation other than their own feet.
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
A Zambian youth group supported by ChildFund recently won a national award for its entrepreneurial spirit. The Mukubulo youth group’s work — growing vegetables and selling them at a local market — earned them a laptop computer and a cash prize of US$654.
The Zambian government awarded the prizes on March 12, National Youth Day, as part of its first young entrepreneurs’ exhibition, “Opportunity for Youth Through Enterprise.” The Mukubulo group reached the national level after beating 15 other teams in the provincial level, winning a trophy and US$935 in cash.
The national event attracted 61 teams, including 24 international competitors from Namibia and Zimbabwe. The exhibition was aimed at encouraging young people to create their own wealth through innovation, creativity and hard work.
The Mukubulo youth group is supported by ChildFund Zambia through the Youth and Caregiver Entrepreneurship Development Project. They initially came together in 2007 as a group of 10 that grew vegetables and sold them at a local market.
Group leader Davey explained that they struggled to share the money raised from the sale of their vegetables, because their profit margins were too small.
“When we started, we did not have modern agricultural equipment, and we used to water our gardens with buckets. Thus, we did not make enough profits for us to share,” he explained.
The big breakthrough for the group came when they began receiving support from ChildFund. They were trained in organic farming and entrepreneurship skills and then were given start-up seeds.
With further support from ChildFund, the group managed to procure modern agriculture equipment and is now involved in gardening on a large scale. The size of their market presence has also grown, and they are now selling their products not only in Chongwe but also in Lusaka.
“We are grateful for the support from ChildFund, and winning the first prize both at provincial and national level is a big motivation for us to work even harder and explore further business ventures,” Davey said after receiving the award.
During the presentation of the prizes to the group, Zambia’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Chishimba Kambwili, urged the group to recruit more young people.
“As a ministry in charge of the youth in this country, we would like to see the group grow from its current membership so that other young people that are not in formal employment can benefit,” he said.
Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia
Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.
Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.
This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.
Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”
Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.
“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’
“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”
Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.
Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.
I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.
Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”
Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.
We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.
I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”
Jake Lyell, photojournalist and videographer, provides a behind-the-scenes view as he travels to southern Africa to document the needs of the people of Zambia and report on the successes of ChildFund projects in the area. Enjoy the video.
Reporting by ChildFund Zambia
She owns her own tailoring shop and makes student uniforms for the local school. Jacqueline also has regular clients in the Mpanshya community for whom she makes clothes.
But how did Jacqueline manage to own a shop of her own at such a young age?
“Life was really hard for me before I learned about the ChildFund livelihood programs,” she explains. “I failed to continue school after grade nine, as my parents could no longer afford to pay my tuition fees and other school requirements.”
After dropping out of school, Jacqueline started spending most of her time doing odd jobs at people’s farms to help her family earn a living. But the jobs were poorly paid, and Jacqueline’s family continued to struggle.
“I joined my mother as she did odd jobs, but we never made enough to make ends meet. It was very hard and sometimes we went to bed without eating anything,” Jacqueline recalls.
Her life took a turn for the better when a friend invited her to a youth meeting organized by ChildFund in Mpanshya. After that meeting, she began attending trainings in entrepreneurship, life skills and basic accounting, among others.
After being trained in tailoring and clothing design, Jacqueline and other youth received sewing machines. “I was in the group business for three years and after sharing the profits, I decided to buy my own sewing machine and do my own business on the side, she explains.
As her business grew, Jacqueline decided to leave the group and set up her own shop at the local market. Immediately, she was approached by the local school who later gave her a contract to start making uniforms.
Today her business has grown, and Jacqueline has now taken on the responsibility of helping send her siblings to school.
“I’m very happy now that I can help my parents send my younger siblings to school,” Jacqueline says, “and I will forever remain grateful to ChildFund for empowering me with tailoring skills.”
You can help empower other girls like Jacqueline by sending them a gift from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope Catalog.
By Christine Ennulat
The high school dropout is a familiar phenomenon. But an elementary school dropout? In developing countries, it’s a common problem.
“Your first-grade classroom may have 135 kids in it,” says Mary Moran, ChildFund senior specialist in Early Childhood Development. “Your second-grade classroom has 60, and by the time you get to fifth grade, you may be in a class of 10 or 12.”
ChildFund’s Stepping Stones program, in Zambia’s Mumbwa region since 2009, eases the transition between early childhood and primary school environments, helping more children stay in school.
For a child who is moving to primary school, whether from home or one of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, the change is often a shock. A typical primary school is a teacher-centered, highly structured setting with little individual attention and few to no materials with which to work or play.
The primary school teacher usually has little training in child development or in education methods for young children. Parents may have had no school experience at all, which means no understanding of the school process or how to support their children in it.
Stepping Stones connects teachers, parents and children. Teachers from ECD classes and first-grade classes collaborate on a plan for understanding each other’s practices and expectations. Groups of children and teachers may visit classrooms, or parents may take their children individually. Teachers from both settings spend time in each other’s classrooms. They’re also trained in how to engage with parents and families.
Likewise, parents receive coaching on how to engage and interact with teachers, as well as to recognize when their children are under stress or having other difficulty. All adults work in concert on behalf of the children.
The Stepping Stones program supports children as they learn lifelong skills: resiliency, adaptation to change and how to recognize the differing expectations of people and environments. To help them, teachers are trained in social-emotional learning strategies, from understanding different learning styles to new ways to structure classrooms and schedules that help children prepare for change and provide them with a sense of control.
“We now know how to ask questions of children,” said one teacher who has participated in Stepping Stones. “I thought my role was to make sure the children know the information.” As they learned their new role as guides rather than givers of information, teachers also noted that children were more apt to both ask for help and share their enthusiasm for learning. The level of parents’ engagement was another pleasant surprise.
When the time came for a graduation ceremony to honor the transition, some of the preschool teachers literally handed the children over to the primary teachers as parents looked on. “In one case, a child told us that graduation was really important because he had his first taste of cake,” Moran laughs. “Another told us that what was so important to her was that her community gave them a book to write in, and it was the first time she had ever had a book.”
On the first day of primary school, only one of the 143 children cried. But both the teachers and the parent were prepared to support the child. It took only a handful of days for him to find his footing.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene Simmons is a rock star, a reality-TV celebrity and a businessman. He recently entered into a most unusual business contract.
It all began with a two-hour car ride in Zambia, with the final stretch along a bumpy dirt road, delivering Gene and his wife, Shannon, at the home of Esther, a young woman who recently lost her mother. She is being raised by her grandmother in a small house with a dirt floor and a thin metal roof. A few chickens scratch in the dirt yard.
She is excited to meet her ChildFund sponsor and has called her family together to join in greeting Gene and Shannon. Esther shows the couple where she sleeps with her sister and grandmother. She shares how she walks 6 kilometers to sell vegetables. There are days, though, when she and her family have no food. And while she loves school, she has to walk long distances to attend. But she doesn’t complain. She has a dream – she wants to be a nurse.
“So, why do you want to be a nurse?” Gene asks. Esther doesn’t hesitate: “If there were more nurses, my mother would not have passed away,” she tells him. Her mother died only last month and her father died when she was five months old.
Gene pauses and looks at Shannon, who nods in unspoken agreement. “I am a businessman,” Gene begins.” I want to make you a deal. We will pay all of your expenses for school.”
Loud chanting and cheering break out among Esther’s family members.
Gene isn’t finished, though. “You have to do well in school,” he tells her. Esther nods vigorously in agreement.
Shannon adds, “You don’t owe us anything. You don’t have to pay us back. You owe us to be a good nurse.”
As Gene leaves the village, he reflects on the time spent with Esther. “We just met an amazing 16-year-old girl with lots of charisma, who can change the cycle, but the odds are stacked against her,” he says.
“We can help,” he notes. “And ChildFund points us in the right direction. Hopefully, she’ll become a great nurse.”
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene and Shannon Simmons recently traveled to Zambia to visit several of the children Gene sponsors through ChildFund. The trip became the basis for the June 25 episode of their reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
Today is all about learning. Gene and Shannon visit Zambia’s Muchuto Basic School, loaded down with notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons. The children eagerly look through everything, giggling and smiling. Suddenly they give a robust shout, “Thank you!” The children also belt out a healthy rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap your Hands.
While at the school, Gene and Shannon meet six children they sponsor: Miyoba, Lydia, Cecilia, Isaac, Kaoma and Robam. While the couple learns about the school and explores the classrooms, the children are busily drawing pictures for their honored guests. Gene and Shannon have brought a gift for each child, and a much-needed one for Roban, whom Gene has sponsored for more than two years. Robam loves school, but he doesn’t always make it to class because he has to walk more than 3 kilometers each day, each way.
Meeting Gene and Shannon is a thrill for Robam, but, truthfully, he’s even more excited when they present him with a bicycle. He jumps on the bike and makes energetic circles around the school yard, as his classmates cheer. This bicycle is more than a vehicle for fun; it will help Robam get to school on time and complete his education.
As Gene and Sharon prepare to leave, the children come running out of their classroom and surround the couple, eager to present them with drawings they created using their new school supplies. It’s been a good morning at Muchuto Basic School.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Fourteen-year-old Edward has waited patiently most of the morning. He’s sat on bench outside his one-room home with his hands clasped in his lap, gazing eagerly down the dusty road that leads to his home. His extended family members are gathered around him.
It’s an important day because Edward is going to meet his ChildFund sponsor. In his eyes, a sponsor is like a rock star – someone whose monthly contribution enables him to attend school and have the books he needs. Little does he know that his sponsor is actually a rock star.
And then the big moment unfolds. Gene Simmons of KISS and star of Gene Simmons Family Jewels arrives with his wife, Shannon, warmly greeting Edward and his family. Gene hears the traditional Nyanja greeting of “Bwanjia,” or “How are you?” Edward breaks out into a big grin.
A gracious host, Edward shows Gene and Shannon around his home, made of mud thatch, and notes that one of his chores is to wash the dishes. He shows them where his mother cooks the food. A pot is simmering on the small fire, and Gene inquires what is in it. “Sweet potatoes,” Edward answers softly.
Edward takes Gene and Shannon down the long dusty road to the community well where he pumps water for his family to use for drinking and cooking. He points further down the road in the direction he has to walk so he can attend school. As they return to the house, sponsor and child are at ease, with Gene’s arm comfortably resting on Edward’s shoulder as if they’ve been friends for life. And in a way they have. Gene has sponsored Edward since 2006.
As the cameras roll and capture the reunion, a teary-eyed Gene has a difficult time talking. “Just be courageous,” Shannon whispers.
Edward tells Gene that he wants to be a teacher. A delighted Gene observes: “He will continue to give and raise up people.”
At the end of the visit, Edward hands his gifts to the couple. “I don’t want gifts,” Gene protests. “I want to give.” But he accepts the gifts graciously – a flag depicting Zambia’s win of the Africa Cup, a Zambia cap and a skirt for Shannon. After consulting with the interpreter, Gene turns to say thank you to Edward in his native language: “Zikomo.”
Gene and Shannon also have brought gifts, including a soccer ball, which Edward and Gene immediately put to use.
Before departing, Gene takes a moment to talk with Edward’s mother, who is raising him on her own because her husband left when Edward was 6 or 7. “Mothers are the most important people in the world,” Gene tells her, adding that she is raising “an amazing young man.”
As Gene leaves, Edward’s grin doesn’t fade. “I am very happy, very happy.”
And what child wouldn’t be if they could meet their sponsor?
By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
OMG! I’m in an African village with Gene Simmons of KISS. Yes, that KISS.
He’s an imposing man. Six-feet, two-inches, and all action. He’s here in Zambia to take action – to meet the children he has sponsored through ChildFund for years and to determine what else he can do to help.
The experience will be captured for an episode of his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. His wife, Shannon, helped organize the trip.
I’ve been to ChildFund programs before. I’ve seen the dirt roads. The thatched houses with no running water or electricity. The classrooms with nubby pencils and recycled newspaper as activity books. I know what we’re about to see. Gene and Shannon don’t.
“We came here with a TV show. Let’s go to Africa and visit the children. It’s a nice sound bite,” Gene says. “But what happened along the way is that real life got in the way. We’re going to do something about this.”
Shannon adds, “Poverty and starvation… once you see it in person, you can’t walk away.”
And they don’t. They go for total immersion. And they’ve brought gifts for the children: school supplies, soccer balls, backpacks and clothing. There’s even a bicycle for one of Gene’s sponsored children, so he doesn’t have to walk the long distance to school. Shannon gives one young woman the shoes off her feet.
As we talk about what they saw and experienced, Gene often has to pause because he’s choked up. I’ve seen KISS perform – who would ever expect Gene to be quiet? But it was a lot to take in. “Here is a wake-up call,” Gene says, after meeting Edward, one of his sponsored children. “We must do something.”
Gene and Shannon are absolutely great with the children. They spend tons of time with them. At the schools we visit, they often sing with the children and in one school, Gene plays guitar.
What’s really amazing about the visit is that Gene and Shannon don’t act like rock stars. They’re truly humbled by the experience. “It really makes you appreciate the little things,” Shannon says. “I will waste less, spend less and appreciate more.”
The trip to Africa, Gene adds, is a “stark reminder that life doesn’t treat everyone the same.”
ChildFund supporters like Gene and Shannon help change those circumstances. Although the children didn’t recognize Gene as a celebrity – even when he handed out KISS swag – he’s a rock star in their eyes because he is their ChildFund sponsor.