Scholarships Change Lives, Holistic Programs Transform Lives

“I wanted to be a part of the movement that is transforming the lives of the youth.”

Frederick Kamanya is the Manager of Academic Activities for the African Education Program (AEP)’s youth center in Kafue, Zambia, and this was his response when asked why he decided to get involved with the organization back in 2010. Transformation is exactly the right word. Students in Zambia understand that education is the path to a brighter future. It is important to note that approximately 60% of the population in Zambia lives below the poverty line. Luckily, Zambian primary school education is free in the beginning, but this changes once students hit 8th grade and are obliged to pay a fee few can afford.

William takes a selfie at his university.

William takes a selfie at his university.

William Chirwa, a first year student at Copperbelt University and beneficiary of both a four-year AEP high school scholarship and a current university scholarship, revealed in an interview that, “At the age of twelve, I noticed I used to be sent away from classes due to unpaid school fees.” This is why the scholarship program is so impactful. As Frederick said in an interview, the alternative situation, one in which a student did not receive scholarships from donors, is that, “we’re going to have students who are hopeless. They’ll never believe in themselves, because like in many other countries, education is very important in order for one to hope for something better for the future.”

William also spoke of one of his greatest challenges: “Every grade required more studying; in this I mean the school work was increasing each grade.” Studying well is indeed crucial, as each Zambian student has to undergo three exams in order to advance to the next level of education. The first takes place in 7th grade, and success allows you to advance to junior secondary school, passing the second exam in 9th grade qualifies you for high school, and finally, in order to attend college or university, you must pass your 12th grade exam. As William states, “Passing these exams is very important; failure to do so will not qualify you to the next level.”

William’s school, the University of the Copperbelt.

William’s school, the University of the Copperbelt.

Having passed exams, there are definitely notable differences that students may encounter as they transition to a different school. The subject matter, rigor, and environment are all susceptible to drastic change. William recounted one particularly striking experience that came with starting university in a different part of the country: “My school is about 400 km (250 miles) from home and it takes me over eight hours to get to school.” His commute is one that would seem daunting to most.

Evidently, school is taken incredibly seriously in Zambia, and its importance is clear. However, a difficult home life can detract from one’s learning experience in any situation. This could mean anything from abuse, a shortage of food, lack of caregivers, a need for help with homework that cannot be met, or the absence of sanitary products for girls. If a child’s physical, social, and emotional needs are not met, it is much harder for him or her to do well in school. Frederick Kamanya and Lumuno Chongo, who is the Manager of Extracurricular Activities and Counseling for the AEP, weighed in on some of the ways the program relieves these daily worries.

Meals include Zambia’s staple food Nshima (made of corn meal) accompanied by a protein and vegetable.

Meals include Zambia’s staple food Nshima (made of corn meal) accompanied by a protein and vegetable.

A family’s financial situation does not only affect their ability to send their children to school, but also their ability to put a food on the table. When speaking about this issue, Frederick said that “we provide them with the feeding program.” He is referencing one of AEP’s programs, known as the Breakfast Club, that is run out of the youth center. The Breakfast Club was born in January of 2008 and provides over two hundred vulnerable students with a meal every day of the school week. Proper nutrition is especially important for the members of the program who are HIV positive, as the daily antiretroviral medication that is given to these students demands it.

Another issue that proves not just distracting, but disruptful, to the education of female students is a lack of sanitary products. Before the establishment of the African Education Program in Kafue, it was not uncommon for girls to miss several days of school once a month because of their period. To combat this issue, Lumuno explained that “We provide sanitary pads to the girls; we give them pads every month. In the past girls would stay at home when they are having the menstrual period because they didn’t have ones to use, but now they can come to school.” Additionally, the program is currently looking for a partner to provide a sustainable and eco-friendly option for the girls.

Lumuno councils a student.

Lumuno councils a student.

Most children do not have not have access to guidance, whether it be about a homework problem, a personal issue, or career guidance at home. A pillar in the community of Kafue, the youth center is a place where students can seek both emotional and academic support. Frederick explained that “We ask [high school graduates who are in their gap year before college] to help them with their homework, because for some students their parents might not be able to help them for various reasons.” Lumuno further discussed the help available at the center: “We offer teachers every day. The same classes they have at school, they get to have at the center. It’s a bit more personal. They get to ask questions, and if they are lagging behind, they get to catch up. So you find that kids get to improve their grades.”

Lumuno is the primary counselor for the students. Starting off as a volunteer, she “fell in love with the job.” She explained, “It’s something that I always wanted to do: to work in the community with kids. So when I was to know about the youth centre, I fell in love with the place and the kids.” She recounted a particularly memorable story: “There was one girl who was sexually abused, and she had to undergo counseling with me. At first she was a very shy girl who was not very social, so I reached out to her and asked her if anything was wrong. That’s how I found out she was sexually abused. After counseling with me she’s in a better place now. She has fun with her friends.” The center is a safe place for students dealing with personal problems outside of school hours. As Frederick said, “They don’t have to worry that someone is there who cares about them.”

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There are an unfortunate amount of obstacles that present themselves to students pursuing their education in Zambia. The African Education Program pinpoints a number of these challenges and creates programs and solutions to make education as accessible as possible, making sure your donations and scholarships are funding opportunities that will transform lives! The students of Kafue are able to enjoy a sense of security and community, all while performing in school at a level above the national average.