by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.
“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.
Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.
A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.
“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.
Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.
“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.
Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.
Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.
“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.
Guest post by Russell and Daiza Smith, Reston, Va.
We had the privilege of helping support Regina in Zambia through ChildFund in the 1990s. This past winter, my wife and I were planning a business trip to Lusaka, Zambia, and we wondered if it might be possible to find Regina, now that 12 years had passed. We knew she had originally lived in a small town, but we thought she had moved to Lusaka when she left the ChildFund program at age 18.
We contacted the ChildFund office in Lusaka. The personnel there advised us that it would be difficult to find Regina. They would try to locate her, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up.
It had been such a rewarding experience to help support Regina between 1991 and 1999. The first we saw of her was a black and white photo; she was age 11 and wearing a little torn dress. She had this look on her face like she might have an attitude (or didn’t want to have her picture made). We would exchange letters and pictures from time to time, and gradually her look softened.
One year, we wanted to do something special; so we sent some extra money, which was enough to get a bicycle for her and some goats for her family. We came to love Regina almost like a member of our family. When she got to the end of the ChildFund program, we provided funds for her to enter a one-year program to learn a profession. We understood she had entered school in Lusaka in 1999, and there the news ended.
We were happy to hear from ChildFund in January that they had located Regina. In February we traveled to Lusaka to give a seminar. ChildFund scheduled a meeting and sent a van to pick us up at the hotel. We didn’t know what to expect. Would Regina be living in some desperate and unsafe circumstances? Would she be held down by a low standard of living or health problems? Would she even remember us?
We were escorted by Violet Mwansa of ChildFund and her driver on a trip to the neighborhood compound where Regina was living on the outskirts of Lusaka. She had walked a quarter mile down the road to meet us and took us to her home and into her living room. It was pretty unbelievable to meet Regina, and it was gratifying to see she had made a successful and happy life for herself. The neighborhood was a safe place with children playing outside. Her small house was a well-constructed residence with comfortable furniture. She had three of the most beautiful children we have seen, ages about one to 14. Her husband, a driver for a church group called “The Brothers,” was obviously a solid person, a good father and a good provider.
We were just overwhelmed with happiness when we saw how well Regina had done in her family, her husband and her life. In the brief 45 minutes we were together, there were a lot of hugs and some tears.
Regina said she thought we had just forgotten her after she left the ChildFund program. We would never forget her. And we were relieved to see what a happy person she is and what a good life she has made for herself.
by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator
I spent last week in Lusaka, providing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training to 12 staff from ChildFund Zambia and our partner organizations.
The DRR process helps communities identify internal and external hazards with potential impact on children and families who live there. We drill down further to identify what makes those communities vulnerable to the hazards. Our trained staff then guide community members — adults and children — through the process of developing their capacity to overcome those vulnerabilities.
At the Lusaka training session, our staff and partners were especially eager to learn how child-led disaster risk reduction could be applied at the community level.
The training had perhaps seemed a bit abstract until the ChildFund group watched a film that featured children in Nepal talking about what was important to them and how they felt climate change had led to more natural disasters that were impacting their futures.
One Lusaka participant said she had not realized the full extent of hardships that floods and landslides cause people in other countries. Community-level disasters that were spoken of in Nepal also occur in Zambia, and children in both countries have been forced to cope with these calamities and their aftermaths. Nepalese children have played a vital role in introducing community-level response plans. For example, children in one Nepalese community needed to cross a river to go to school. During disaster risk response training, the children identified the crossing as a hazard and worked with adults to have a bridge built.
Inspired by the children’s active roles in Nepal, the Lusaka group began mapping out plans to guide Zambian communities in taking initiative and developing community disaster response plans. They zeroed in on ways to communicate effectively with children and engage them in community action.
When news came of the earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami, the team’s work took on an increased level of urgency and meaning. Japan, a nation accustomed to frequent earthquakes, has highly developed action plans. Their citizens are well educated in disaster risk reduction and have community-level disaster risk reduction plans.
Our ChildFund team in Zambia now has a better understanding of the life-saving benefits of disaster preparedness.
by Athena Boulgarides, ChildFund Development Officer
When ChildFund supporter Dee Barbash and her daughter Brooke Siem organized a festive gathering of friends and fellow ChildFund sponsors in Reno, Nevada, Dec. 28, 2010, they kept one little detail up their sleeves — the honored guest.
The group gathered to ring in the New Year and celebrate the joy of sponsorship. They enjoyed a presentation about ChildFund programs around the world with special emphasis on Zambia since several members of the group currently sponsor children there.
Anne Stilwill flew in from McCall, Idaho, and Sandra Ray Morgan made the trip from Travelers Rest, S.C., to join Joyce Patterson, Allan and Kathy Fox, and Brent and Eleanor Begley from Reno. Eleanor celebrated her 94th birthday with us! And guests were delighted to see their sponsored child’s photo on their dinner place cards, thanks to a thoughtful touch by Dee.
But the biggest surprise of the night came when Dee and Brooke introduced their friends to their former sponsored child Magdalena Krasicka, who was visiting from Poland. Hearts were overflowing as Magdalena shared the compelling story of her challenging childhood in post-communist Poland and the impact that ChildFund programs and Dee’s sponsorship had on her young life. [Note: ChildFund no longer works in Poland.]
“Dee’s letters introduced me to a different world, a better world,” she told the group. “I could not believe that there was a place like America and that there were people like Dee who cared enough to invest in my life.”
As the evening continued, it was my honor to share a special update from ChildFund board member Thomas Weisner, professor of cultural anthropology at UCLA, about his visit to ChildFund programs in Zambia last summer. This helped set the stage for an energetic dialogue about current needs in Zambia and ways the group can work together to do more. The consensus: “Let’s go to Zambia!”
Guest post by Arthur of Zambia
My name is Arthur and I am 15 years old. I am HIV-positive. I tested positive in December 2006. I live in Kafue District of Zambia with my parents, older sister and aunties, and I am enrolled in ChildFund programs.
World AIDS Day is a very important day for me as people the world over come together to show their support for those living with HIV. When AIDS was discovered in the early 1980s, all the people in the world were shocked and filled with fear. A lot of stories trying to explain the cause of this deadly disease were being told.
After much research was done it was discovered that this disease was caused by a virus called HIV, which attacks the human immune system and is found in human blood. It was also discovered that one can get the disease through sexual intercourse, and this caused a lot of stigma and discrimination to the people infected. Eventually, people began to realize that everyone could be affected, as a lot of people were dying from AIDS.
Many children were left orphaned, and people were losing friends and relatives. The world again realized that even if you were not infected you were affected and decided to come together to fight this deadly disease called AIDS. Other discoveries were made on the mode of transmission such as mother-to-child transmission.
To show world unity, people began to commemorate World AIDS Day in December 2000. This is one of the biggest days for people living with HIV because it helps them to feel recognized, accepted and supported. They are not excluded but included.
AIDS has widely spread through six continents and 54 African countries. With so many people affected, there is no reason for a negative attitude toward people who are infected.
World AIDS Day is a day to show love, care and support to people who are infected. Despite AIDS not being curable, medicines have been produced to boost one’s immune system and give hope for the future. If one is infected, it does not mean it’s the end of world. With ARVs (antiretroviral medications), one can live their life to the fullest.
World AIDS Day is a day when the infected and the affected can celebrate the end of stigma and discrimination and continue fighting the good fight of faith. One day, we will win.
Reporting by ChildFund Africa
As with most successful projects, this one in Zambia began with the community coming together.
Parents in the Mumbwa district’s Shikapoli community started talking about their children’s future. They agreed their children needed more preparation before starting primary school. With 15 children age 3-6, the community found a teacher and temporarily set up class in a church compound in 2006.
When the church could no longer accommodate the school, the parents didn’t give up, instead they moved the children under a large mango tree. As the pre-school continued under the tree, the Parent Committee continued discussing other options. They approached the chief of the community, who, after some convincing, gave a plot of land to build a permanent pre-school.
With the help of a government child development agency and ChildFund Zambia, the parents were able to build a one-room school. ChildFund Germany donated materials for a playground. Soon attendance increased, and enrollment reached 45 students (25 girls and 20 boys). Children attend class daily from 8 a.m. until noon. The school is not able to provide snacks, but a few children bring drinks from home sometimes.
ChildFund ensured that the teacher received the necessary training to teach pre-school. Initially, the teacher received a minimal monthly salary from parents’ contributions to the school. But some of the parents are not able to make their monthly contributions of US$2, which means the teacher is not receiving a regular monthly salary. What motivates her to continue even when she is not paid? Giving support to her community gives her happiness, she says. She knows what it means for children to be without schooling.
Though they are happy to reach the stage they are at now — from the shade of a tree to a classroom — the Shikapoli Parent Committee notes that challenges still remain. The number of pre-school children is increasing, and the single classroom does not provide enough space or desks to accommodate all of the students who wish to enroll. In addition, the school lacks water and restroom facilities.
Once again community parents are coming together to address the school’s financial constraints. They are discussing how to approach the government and possibly other nongovernment organizations to fill the funding gaps. They are committed to keeping the school going for their children.
In Zambia, 78 percent of the rural population lives on less than $1 a day, says Ely Keita, ChildFund’s National Director for Zambia. The impact of HIV/AIDS has heightened pressures on poor families. To help reverse the extreme poverty in this country, ChildFund programs are focusing on educational opportunities, health services and livelihood training for youth.
Hear more from Ely in this video interview:
by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
In Zambia’s Kafue district, the Tithandizane community is home to numerous children who come from broken homes or live in child-headed households. Some have never heard a kind or encouraging word. They grow up feeling unloved and, likewise, fail to show love or appreciation to others.
Fortunately, many of them have joined the ChildFund Children’s Committee in Kafue.
Observing the lack of positive reinforcement in these children’s lives, committee leaders sat down to find a way of reassuring each child just how precious and valuable he or she is.
In the game known as Mutayilepo (“give it to her/him”), each child receives a blank piece of paper on which to write his or her name. The paper is then passed on to other children who are asked to anonymously write on the flipside one good thing they would remember about that particular individual.
At the end of the exercise, the children receive their original piece of paper and read all the good things written about them by their peers. This activity helps children feel appreciated and valued, and they become motivated to develop better relationships with each other.
“I come from a broken home, was abused and totally lacked confidence in myself,” says Auxilia. “After joining the committee and participating in this game, I feel very much appreciated and it has helped me to love myself again.”
by Virginia Sowers
It’s amazing what people can accomplish when they work together.
In just three months, 22 generous ChildFund supporters have raised $62,588 to reduce malaria in Zambia, feed malnourished children in Kenya and bring fresh water to rural communities in Timor Leste.
These supporters likely will never cross paths, but they all shared a common quest through Fund a Project, which identifies critical needs in ChildFund program countries.
For the project in Nambala, Zambia, five ChildFund contributors and one major donor have put up more than $41,000 for malaria prevention and education. The program will significantly increase the number of treated bed nets in Nambala. A much larger trained force of malaria agents will also educate households on prevention and management.
In Kenya, ChildFund’s successful Pamoja nutritional support program will continue and expand to the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi, thanks to the generosity of a major donor and 10 contributors who gave more than $18,000.
The program will supplement the nutritional needs and reduce the levels of malnutrition in preschool children within the settlement. Funds will also cover the costs of transporting and distributing the supplement, employing cooks to properly prepare foods for the children and monitoring children’s progress to ensure the reversal of malnutrition.
In Timor Leste, children will no longer have to walk up to 40 minutes to reach a source of potable water and then carry a supply home to their families. With more than $2,800 from five contributors, ChildFund will be providing a nearby source of clean water for approximately 15 rural families. Without such long treks for water, children will have more time to study, play and help with other family chores.
All three projects should be under way this spring and summer.
More worthy projects await funding. So, what else can we do together?
By Chola Chifukushi
During the first 10 years of the country’s independence, Zambians of all walks of life participated in the annual independence celebrations, which were characterized by dancing, eating and other forms of merrymaking. The government then used Independence Day as a time to engage children and youth in many social and cultural activities as a way of identifying and promoting their various talents in sports, music and dance as well as other creative activities. Children and youth were also taught the virtues of being a good Zambian citizen. During this day, the government also promoted feeding programs in schools, as a means of improving children’s nutrition.
“Our government made independence celebrations a joy for all, as it marks a memorable day in the history of our country,” says 75-year-old John, a former counselor during the UNIP (United National Independence Party) Government. “Our policy of inclusive participation in the celebrations of independence especially for young people was based on the understanding that the future of Zambia lies in the children and youth of the country,” he notes, adding that the country should not lose sight of this premise.
However, over the years, the diminishing economic fortunes of the country have made it difficult for Zambia to continue with the celebration of independence in the manner it was originally celebrated. Today, very few children and youth, if any, participate in the celebrations of their country’s independence. The anniversary has now become a symbolic gesture restricted to few people fortunate enough to be invited to the statehouse, where the president hosts some dignitaries and cadres, mostly from the ruling party.
It is therefore no surprise that although Zambia’s independence forms part of the curriculum for both primary and secondary schools, very few young people know well the facts and figures about their country. For some children like Taonga, a 10-year-old student at a private school in Lusaka, Independence Day is only a “holiday.”
“Teacher only told us that Independence Day is usually a holiday,” Taonga says innocently.
As a part of its strategy to help children understand some significant days on their country’s calendar, ChildFund Zambia plans to start holding community-based celebrations on days like Independence Day. It is envisioned that once implemented, such a strategy would contribute to the preservation of Zambia’s historic heritage as well as contributing to bringing up knowledgeable children, thus contributing to ChildFund’s achieving two core outcomes — educated and confident children as well as skilled and involved youth.
For more information about our work in Zambia, click here.
More on Zambia
Population: 11.5 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 810,000 children and families
Did You Know?: Zambia’s national flag holds much symbolism: Green represents the country’s abundant natural resources; red symbolizes the blood that was shed during the liberation; black stands for the people of Zambia; orange represents the country’s rich mineral deposits; and the eagle is the national symbol of unity and Zambia’s resolve to “rise” above all social, political, economic and other challenges.
What’s next: Timor-Leste, where independence is still quite new.