Providing Hope Amidst Adversity

The school yard is buzzing with activity as the children from the morning classes make their way to the kitchen for their daily meal, and those from the second shift enter the small thatched classrooms. They set their notebooks down on the low wooden benches they will use as desks, and sit on the sandy floor behind them, eager to start the day’s lessons. The teachers briefly catch their breath and gather their thoughts, preparing for their next group of students. Because there are not enough school buildings or trained teachers in Zambia, children go to school in shifts - meaning that teachers often teach three different groups of students from dawn until dusk every day. Though their days are long and tiring, most of the teachers don’t mind the extra work. They recognise the immense value of education, and have committed their lives to tirelessly providing opportunities for a better future to the children in their community.

As I wander through the school yard and in and out of the hut classrooms of the Kids Alive Jerusalem School in Mongu, western Zambia, snapping photos and occasionally stopping to observe a lesson or talk with a staff member, something seems to be missing - something besides the needed blackboards, shoes for the students, new textbooks and school supplies. I can’t put my finger on it for a time, and then it hits me: where are all of the older children? There are almost two hundred children present, but hardly any seem to be older than ten years. Isn’t this school supposed to cater to children up to eighth grade? I seek out the Head Teacher to find out more, and the answer he gives me breaks my heart.

Despite the best efforts of the government social workers to combat traditional anti-education sentiments and convince local parents to let their children go to school, for most of the children of Mongu going to primary school is a privilege, not a right. In an area devastated by malaria, HIV and famine, many families here are struggling not just to make ends meet, but literally just survive. Because of this, many children are forced to leave school as soon as they are old enough to work in order to help their families

The Head Teacher tells me about Bihinda, aged nine, one of the older children in the school and a very bright student of his. After her fisherman father was killed by a crocodile while trying to provide for his family three years ago, Bihinda’s older sister, now eleven years old, dropped out of school to collect and sell firewood in an attempt to take care of her younger siblings, aging grandmother and wheelchair-bound mother. Bihinda often misses school for several weeks when the river is high and fishing is good because she is helping her sister carry their firewood down to the riverbanks to sell to the busy fishermen. Despite her academic aptitude and the school’s appeals to her mother to let her continue studying, the Head Teacher has little hope that Bihinda will stay in school past class six. She is already feeling pressure from her sister and mother to make a more immediate contribution to the family’s income, and will likely drop out within the next year.

As I sit there, struggling to understand such a devastating story, the Head Teacher quickly moves on, changing the direction of our conversation and showing me that God is very much at work and there is hope for the children of Mongu. This year the school has four students who have qualified to go on to high school – more than any year before – and all of the teachers are working hard to ensure that their students are afforded every opportunity available to them. It may seem small, but for these four students to have made it this far is a huge accomplishment.

The Kids Alive Jerusalem School, and the larger Kids Alive Academy down the road, are the only schools in the area that cater to children living in extreme poverty. While the government schools require students to wear shoes and purchase uniforms and textbooks, and bar from attendance anyone who cannot afford these items, the Kids Alive schools do not. All children are welcome whether they can afford shoes, uniforms and books or not. The two Kids Alive schools also provide a free, nutritious meal to their students every day, and on many days, that is the only meal many of the children will eat.

The challenges faced by nearly 500 students and staff of the Kids Alive Schools in western Zambia are many. They need better facilities and more foodstuffs, new books and blackboards, pencils, notebooks and uniforms for the students who, while grateful for the free education they are receiving, often feel the stigma of not being able to afford such basic items for themselves. Yet despite all of these obstacles, there is a feeling of optimism and hope in these schools. The teachers are doing what God has called them to, and He is blessing their efforts. The children are learning and earning opportunities for brighter and better futures.

Those four students now preparing for high school would not have even been able to attend primary school if not for the sacrificial services provided to them by Kids Alive Zambia, and that knowledge only inspires the other students and further energises and motivates their teachers to continue this work to which they have been called.

Posted on May 17th 2013

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