A Village in Africa »

  • Farewell to Zambia

    November 16, 2010 @ 12:54 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    A Village in Africa has finally come to a close. This short video looks back on some of the highlights of my month in Zambia, and the text below is a copy of the farewell feature that appeared in today’s print edition of ‘The Irish Times’. Thanks to everyone who helped out with the project over the past few months, and most of all, thanks to all the people in Makwatata and Mfumbeni who shared their stories.

    YouTube Preview Image

    AFTER FIVE FANTASTIC weeks in Zambia’s Eastern Province, The Irish Times’s Village in Africa has come to an end. The project tried to document the life of one rural community, to highlight the challenges facing African smallholders and give a human voice to the statistics that can often ring hollow with an audience in the developed world.

    The project has been incredible to work on. Most visitors to Africa see the continent from the back of a safari jeep. I feel privileged to have experienced Zambia from a very different perspective.

    I won’t miss the creepy-crawlies, or the possibility of encountering a cobra in the bush every time I take a trip to the toilet. Nor will I miss having to hold my laptop in a certain skewed position while sitting on a tree stump, with fruit dropping on my head, while waiting up to 40 minutes for a blog post to upload each day. But there are countless things about Zambia that I have been missing since my return.

    For the first few days in Makwatata I sat outdoors to write, under the shade of a nearby tree. But my neighbours never liked to see me sitting alone, and would come themselves or send their kids to sit and keep me company. If I stayed indoors to write by torchlight they would knock in to bring me off to their gardens, to watch them farming, or into their kitchens, so I could learn to cook nshima. Although our communication was wordless for the most part, by the end of the trip I had made good friends in my neighbours.

    Life is difficult in the villages. Producing enough food to feed the family, and raising a little extra money to send children to school and to pay for basic healthcare, are challenges that face almost every family. But despite the very evident poverty in this region, I encountered optimism among the people that things were slowly changing for the better.

    One of the problems that struck me most during my time in Makwatata was the way women are treated in the community. Women farmers in Africa make up 33 per cent of the workforce, and provide 70 per cent of agricultural labour, yet are seldom allowed access to money or to make decisions in the household. Several women I met told me how the earnings raised from the household harvest are “stolen” by their husbands to be spent on women and beer.

    Zambians want to be the drivers of their own development, however, and time and again during my month in Zambia I saw this in action. While a certain apathy exists, largely due to a lack of education, most people I met in Makwatata expressed a desire for change, and a commitment to work together to achieve a better future for their community and their country. A help up instead of a handout can provide communities with a sustainable system of development for the future as well as the now, and that is what they want, what they need and what they deserve.

    I would like to thank the Nyewali family in Makwatata for letting me stay in their vacant mud hut, to Vanis Sakala, to Senior Chief Nzamane and his wife Nkosikasi, and to the people whose stories have been recounted here in the blog over the past two months. Zikomo.

    A Village in Africa was facilitated by Self Help Africa (selfhelpafrica.org).

  • Finding fun is child’s play

    November 9, 2010 @ 1:29 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    Young children in poor rural areas in Zambia have few if any manufactured toys to play with, so they make their fun themselves from whatever they can find around them.

    In almost every village in the Eastern Province, boys can be seen pushing handmade trucks and cars, intricately pieced together from wire and bottle tops. This is a craft that is passed down from father to son to brother, and more hours are whiled away hammering and twisting the metal than actually playing with the finished vehicles. Younger boys make simpler cars out of old cardboard boxes or empty detergent bottles, pulled along by string or a stick.

    Football is by far the nation’s favourite sport, and the game is played by most boys from an early age. Children seldom have real leather or plastic footballs to play with, so they make their own by tying rags or plastic bags around each other, like the boys of Makwatata village have done in the video below.

    YouTube Preview Image

    Girls, like those of all ages the world over, play house by imitating their mothers sweeping, cooking and washing. Both boys and girls are expected to help out with simpler household chores which some turn into a game in itself, and most families take their children to the fields to help when they get a little older.

    Girls also learn to braid eachother’s hair into intricate plaits from a young age. In one of the photos in the gallery below, a girl is having her hair straightened by another girl, using a tin can filled with hot embers from the fire.

    Anything large that can be pushed or wheeled, like old car tyres or bicycle wheels, provide endless hours of entertainment for boys and girls alike. Chasing games, and other forms of group play like singing and dancing which don’t require any equipment are also popular, especially among girls who emanate the chitelele dances performed by older girls and women.


  • Chief postpones initiation ceremonies in bid to prevent teen pregnancy, early marriage and spread of HIV

    November 8, 2010 @ 3:54 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    On one of my last evenings in Makwatata, more than 40 women of all ages from the village gathered together to show me what happens during an initiation ceremony, the rite of passage performed for every Ngoni girl when she becomes a woman.

    Vanis Sakala, a grandmother who has attended countless initiation ceremonies in Makwatata, tells me that the point of the ceremony is to “teach her how to dance with her husband during sexual acts, and how to be a good wife.” She is incredulous when I tell her there is no similar ritual for girls in Ireland. “Nobody teaches you?” she asks, stunned. A demonstration is organised for me immediately.

    Traditionally in Ngoni culture, when a girl has her first period, she must tell her grandmother or aunt. The elder woman then shares the news with the rest of the community, and the women are called upon to perform the initiation ceremony.

    The young girl is placed in an isolation hut for the duration of the initiation, which can take up to one month. During this time, she is given mukuvya ndola, nkhanda nchembere and kubwula, a mixture of herbs to make her strong. The herbs are taken straight as medicine, or cooked with chicken or mixed with tobwa, a sweet drink made from fermented maize.

    At night, the women crowd into the girl’s hut to teach her about womanhood. An elaborate “cleansing” ritual takes place where the girl is symbolically “washed down” by an elder woman. She is told how to look after herself physically, how to behave with men, and how to be a good wife to her future husband. The most important thing she learns, however, is how to have sex, which is demonstrated through dance.

    Younger boys clamber at the door to sneak a peek in, and the women shoo them away. I am told that this is all part of the ritual.

    As the group sing and drum, each woman, no matter what her age, takes a turn a performing the “sexual dance” by the dim light of a candle. The performer wears a folded chitenge (a coloured cloth which is usually worn as a skirt) around her waist. Her upper body remains quite still as her hips gyrate rapidly to the beat of the music. It is almost like a competition, and the more graphically the woman wiggles her hips, the louder the whoops she receives from the onlookers.

    On the final night of the initiation ceremony, when all the other women have performed, the girl presents herself in front of the group to demonstrate what she has learned.

    As my own demonstration “initiation” comes to a close, the chitenge is wrapped around my waist and I am ushered up to perform. The room shakes with laughter. I’m not sure if they are laughing with me or at my complete inability to shake my thing like they can, but despite my mortification it feels incredible to be at the centre of such a powerful expression of feminine energy.

    I, unlike the initiates in real ceremonies, can return to my own hut to sleep that night. I am trying my best not to be judgemental, and although I am moved by the emotion shared by the group of women during the initiation, I can’t help but think that it’s all a little too much to take in for a girl who has only just reached puberty.

    In an area where sex before marriage is technically frowned upon, where active measures are being taken to encourage girls to stay in school rather than marry early, and the spread of HIV is exacerbated by increased promiscuity and the sexual exploitation of women of all ages, is the initiation ceremony still serving a good purpose by teaching girls as young as 12 how to have sex?

    “This is precisely the problem,” says Nkosikasi, Senior Chief Nzamane’s wife, when I put my thoughts to her the following day. “Of course, when the initiation is finished, she wants to try out what she has learned, and it is common to hear of the girl becoming pregnant within a few months. The men in the village will all know that she has been initiated, which is almost like an advertisement for them to approach her.”

    In an attempt to discourage the “harmful traditional practice” of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, Chief Nzamane has ordered that initiation ceremonies in his chiefdom be delayed until a girl has finished her education, or at least reached 18 years of age. In 2009, with the help of US Aid, the Chief trained 25 women from Chilobwe village to become ambassadors for women’s rights in Mfumbeni, and they in turn travelled around all 325 villages in the chiefdom to spread the word about the social and health problems associated with early initiation.

    “Girls are reaching puberty earlier than they used to,” says Nkosikasi. “Years ago, a girl would begin menstruating at 16, and it was normal for her to marry around that age, so the initiation ceremony was appropriate. But now, it can happen as early as 12 or 13. This is too young to learn about sex and marriage. We want the girls to finish their education before they get married or get pregnant. This is why we brought in the new law. Also, taking a girl out of school for a month to be initiated is unacceptable.”

    Anyone found to be breaking the law will be brought before the Mfumbeni Traditional Council, but so far, there have been no breaches, and Nkosikasi believes that their efforts have been successful. “Chiefs in other areas are now thinking about introducing similar laws in their chiefdoms. It will take time to see if it will have an effect on the number of young girls getting pregnant. But I am hopeful,” she says.

  • Women do twice the work for little social recognition

    November 4, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | by Ciara Kenny
    YouTube Preview Image

    Nzima Tango Tamala lives in Makwatata with her two children. She is just 20 years old, but her children are aged 11 and 8. They are cared for by their grandmother, as Nzima is studying to be a teacher in the Chipata College of Education.

    When I asked her how she got pregnant so young, Nzima shrugged and laughed, “that’s life in the village!”

    In this video, Nzima speaks about how she copes as a single mother, and about the day-to-day challenges that face many other women in rural Zambia.

  • Unpaid volunteers are the unsung heroes of Zambia’s education system

    November 1, 2010 @ 5:20 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    Last week, I wrote about how state schools in Mfumbeni were struggling to cope with increasing class sizes and a lack of adequate funding for resources. But thousands of community schools around Zambia are providing basic education to hundreds of thousands of children without any state funding at all.

    Thirty kilometres away from the main road, a dedicated group of unpaid volunteers have been running Chamwavu Community School since 2005, which caters for 135 pupils from six villages.

    Community schools, set up by communities, churches and other faith-based organisations, NGOs and individuals, have been providing education to hundreds of thousands of children in rural areas who are unable to access state schools because of distance or over-enrolment in existing schools. The government estimates that there are more than 3000 operating all around the country, catering for approximately 20 per cent of the total number of children enrolled in basic education.

    Community schools range from fully-funded, well resourced establishments supported by NGOs, to entirely unfunded schools like Chamwavu School, run by untrained and unpaid volunteers in unsuitable or half-built structures.

    The school is a small redbrick building, with a corrugated roof. There are just two small, dark classrooms to accommodate the 135 pupils, and as there are no chairs or desks, the children sit on the concrete floor. There is a blackboard made from smoothed concrete on one wall, but the school cannot afford chalk at the moment, so all lessons are conducted orally.

    The head teacher’s “office” is a tiny room between the classrooms, completely empty except for an old bike which one of the teachers uses to travel to and from work.

    “We have no money for resources, and rely on donations of books from the nearest state school, who are already financially stretched themselves,” says Yotamu Phiri, the school’s head teacher.

    “At the moment, we have no chalk to write on the blackboard, or spare paper for the children to write on if someone comes to school without their copybook. The community have to raise money to supply these things, but they are very poor. It took 5 weeks to raise 60,000Kw (€9.25) the last time we needed to buy chalks.”

    A shortage of resources and materials is not the only challenge facing the school. The closest water source is almost a kilometre away, and there are no toilets or latrines for the children to use, meaning that sanitation is a fundamental problem.

    The school has three teachers, all of whom are untrained and unpaid. “Because we work at a community school, we don’t receive a salary from the government. We are given nothing,” says Phiri.

    “Sometimes, members of the community come together to help us in our fields, to thank us for the time we spend teaching their children at the school. They know we don’t get paid for what we do, and that our farming suffers because of it.”

    Before the school was set up in 2005, the majority of children in the area didn’t receive any education, as the closest state school was located 8km away in Chibambo village. “It was simply too far away for them to walk to every day. Most people could not read or write here, but now these children have a chance to learn,” says Phiri.

    Not all parents were enthusiastic about the school at first, however, and it has been a continuing struggle to persuade some of the benefits of providing their children with an education. MK-SAP, an NGO supported by Self Help Africa working with farmers’ groups in the area, helped to sensitise the community and to make people aware of the value of education.

    “As there was a history of non-attendance in the area, it took time to convince many members of the community of the value of education, that they should make the effort to send their children to school here,” Phiri explains.

    The United Nations School Meals Programme, part of the World Food Programme, was introduced at the school at an early stage. Under the programme, every child receives a bowl of fortified soya porridge at the school every day. The promise of a daily meal has boosted enrolment and promoted regular attendance at the school, and having a full stomach also helps the children to concentrate better.

    Because of the lack of resources, the curriculum taught at community schools is usually a compressed version of that covered by the state schools, and the children are not subject to the same assessment procedures. In an attempt to regulate the community schools and improve standards, the Ministry of Education introduced operational guidelines in 2007, which were intended to provide a framework for supporting the community schools in the form of teacher training and funding for basic resources, but the guidelines have not yet been implemented in the majority of cases.

    The government guidelines aimed to provide all community schools with at least one trained and paid teacher, and Chamwavu School expects to receive theirs in the next couple of weeks.

    “We have high attendance rates here now, especially since the school meal was introduced, but not all children in the area are enrolled,” says Phiri. “Some parents think that this is not a proper school because the teachers are not trained, and that their children are better off spending their time at home where they are useful. We hope more parents will send their children to school here when the new teacher arrives.”

  • Small loan helps a poor family to open a thriving drugstore

    October 31, 2010 @ 12:39 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    Harrison Sakala at his shop in Mtenguleni

    Two years ago, Harrison Sakala and his wife Margaret Mwanza were struggling to make a living from their small farm. The family were poor, and they often only had enough food to eat one or two meals a day. Now, Harrison and Margaret run a successful business selling non-prescription medicines, and are planning to expand the business in the New Year.

    Harrison used to work at an outlet selling drugs, owned by his brother in Chipata. His brother died in 2004, and Harrison’s family returned to Mtenguleni village to farm. He became a member of the Mthaonga farmers’ group, and began saving small amounts of money with the local Financial Association (FA) in Makwatata village in the hope that he would be able to apply for a loan to start his own business.

    In July last year, Harrison Sakala received a small loan of 400,000Kw (€62) from the FA. He identified a gap in the market for non-prescription medications at Mtenguleni, a small cluster of shops and businesses 30km outside Chipata city. He decided to use the knowledge he gained from his late brother, and spent just over half the money on buying over-the-counter medicines from a supplier in Chipata, and the rest on building a small shop.

    “We had just two shelves of products at first,” he says. “But as we began to sell, we could buy more and more.”

    In March of this year, with a larger loan of 1.1million Kwacha (€170), Harrison was able to travel to Lusaka to buy greater quantities of medications. He also stocked up on cosmetics, lotions and hair products, which are selling well.

    “Our customers come from villages all around. Before this, people could only buy medications in Chipata, so most went without when they got a cold or flu, or even malaria,” says Harrison.

    The family make repayments of 186,000Kw (€29) per month, in addition to the 5000Kw mandatory savings contribution that must be made by every member of the FA. Harrison and his wife are diligent about their repayments, and have constructed a small savings box were they put aside money on a daily basis.

    “Since March, we have managed to finish building the shop. We have also built a house behind it where we live, and added an extension to the shop which we are planning to transform into a hardware store. We are benefitting from the profits already, even though we are still making repayments on the loan,” he explains.

    “Once the repayments finish in December, we plan to use the profits to expand the shop to sell stationary and hardware. I do some carpentry myself, and I have to travel thirty kilometres to Chipata when I want to buy materials. There is a lot of construction going on around here now, and I think there would be a high demand locally for hardware materials. We are also located beside a school, but there is nowhere nearby selling paper and pencils. We will buy some stationary too to sell.”

    The business has transformed the family’s livelihood completely. “Our family now has three meals every day, whereas before, sometimes we could only afford one. It makes me very proud that myself and my wife have done this for our children. Other members of my own family now respect me more too,” he says.

    Harrison believes that the microfinance facilities offered by the FA are hugely beneficial for the community, but thinks that more business training should be provided. “A lot of us have very low levels of education. I went to school, but I was never good at maths, so I find it a real challenge to understand the loan repayments. My business skills are limited, so it is very difficult for me to calculate the shop’s profits.”

    “I am reading a book on how to improve your business skills, but I think a course would be better,” he says.

    Makwatata’s Financial Association is run by Micro Bankers Trust with the support of Self Help Africa. You can read more about how it operates in a previous post here.

  • Microfinance initiative provides much needed credit to rural farmers and businesspeople

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:49 am | by Ciara Kenny

    Euphrasia Phiri, Chairperson of the Makwatata Financial Association

    A total of 268 men and women from Makwatata and the surrounding villages have enhanced their business opportunities this year by taking out a small loan from the local Financial Association (FA).

    The FA is a savings and credit facility run by the villagers, for the villagers, with its headquarters in a purpose-built community hall in Makwatata.

    “The biggest single problem for people in rural communities who are looking to get involved in business is access to credit,” says Peter Tembo of Micro Bankers Trust (MBT), a Zambian NGO responsible for establishing the FA.

    Not only are banks located too far away for rural villagers to apply for loans, smallholder farmers are also seen as unreliable, he explains. “Commercial banks don’t trust rural farmers to make repayments, and it is simply too costly for them to review and keep track of each applicant for loans of such a small size. It just isn’t worth their while.”

    Micro Bankers Trust were commissioned by Self Help Africa back in 2006 to set up a Financial Association to provide credit to members of agricultural groups supported by Self Help Africa in the area.

    Tembo explains that there are several stages in setting up the FA. “First, MBT assist existing farmers groups in the villages to become ASCAs (Accumulated Savings and Credit Associations),” he says. “We use established groups, because they have already proven their commitment to working together to expand their business operations.”

    Before loans are given out, members must save for at least three months to build up money in the ASCA. Members must contribute small mandatory savings of 5000Kw (€0.80) each month. They can add a voluntary contribution also, and the more they save, the more they receive in interest.

    “The concept of saving is a very new one in Zambian society, especially in rural areas,” says Tembo. “Getting people to trust others with their hard earned money is often difficult at the beginning.”

    “We carry out a savings mobilisation programme, to educate the members about the benefits of saving. We also teach them about credit management and risk assessment, so the group doesn’t give loans to businesses that have little chance of repaying. If this happens, the onus is on the group to repay the loan on behalf of their member. It is a shared responsibility.”

    Once the ASCA has been successfully functioning as a savings facility for several months, members can begin to apply for loans. These are repaid over a fixed term, with interest. The profits received from the interest are shared out among the members, depending on how much they have saved.

    The group can then apply to join the local Financial Association (FA), a larger credit and savings facility catering for several ASCAs. The FA in Makwatata provides loans to 17 ASCAs, and has 268 members in total.

    In addition to the savings accumulated by the members, the FAs also benefit from funding from Micro Bankers Trust, which means they can give out much larger loans to their members than the ASCAs can.

    Loans are given out once a year, with a repayment period of nine months. In the last round of loans, a total of 86m Kwacha (€13,340) was distributed, 31m (€4,800) of which was raised from shares and savings by the members themselves.

    The average loan given out by the FA is 600,000Kw (€93), but the amount can range from as little as 200,000 (€31) up to 2 million (€310).

    When the member applies to their FA for a loan, an assessment of eligibility for a loan is first done by the ASCA, who would be familiar with the applicant and their business. A loans committee of the FA then do a final assessment before the loan is granted.

    So what do people do with the money? “Some open small shops selling groceries, or buy livestock to breed or resell at a higher price in town. Others become involved in crop marketing, or buying and selling fish. There are many opportunities there once the credit is available,” says Tembo.

    Others use the money to invest in good quality seed and planting materials to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farming.

    “Once they start making money from their business, the family income rises, which enables them to send their children to school, access healthcare when they need to, buy assets such as livestock, and make improvements to their home. Families’ livelihoods can change dramatically.”

    The FA are particularly supportive of marginalised members of the community, like people living with HIV, the disabled, and most especially, women. “Seventy per cent of our members are female. We have a deliberate policy to empower women by making credit available to them. Because of the gender structure in Zambian society, women have largely been left out of development projects, but if they are given the resources, it has been proven that they can make more of a difference to their families’ lives than men, because they are more likely to reinvest profits back into the family.”

    The chairperson of the Makwatata FA is a woman, Euphrasia Phiri. “I am an educated woman, I went to school, and I worked as a teacher all my life. I am retired now, but that experience gave me the courage to stand up in front of men, and to take a leadership role in the FA. I think it is important for women to be actively involved in projects like this, and I am very proud to be the chairperson.”

    Phiri is now a baker, and has taken several loans out from the FA to help her to grow her business.

    Micro Bankers Trust have been involved in the Makwatata area since 2006, and are preparing to withdraw by the end of this year. “The FA now operates just like a bank,” says Tembo. “It has been set up in such a way that it can now be fully managed by the local people.”

    All members of the FA need to buy shares each year, which cost 10,000Kw (€1.60) each. The more shares a person holds, the more influence they have on the FA’s board. Full shareholders in possession of 50 shares can become directors, though their term is limited to three years and subject to election by the members of the FA. These directors will run the FA when MBT withdraw.

    “Overall, the programme has been a success, but there are challenges that we are working to overcome. Typically, farmers only have surplus money once or twice a year – at harvest time, and when the FRA pays them for their maize. This means that savings and repayments are not steady. We are working on changing the system in some way in the future to accommodate seasonal issues like this,” says Tembo.

    Although the groups are trained to only approve members who they believe are reliable, in some cases people disappear with the money or relocate, or simply make no effort to repay. “I hope that the groups are learning from it each time it happens. We can help them to minimise risk, but it is impossible to eliminate it altogether.”

    The Financial Associations have been set up by Micro Bankers Trust as part of Self Help Africa’s Project for the Reduction of Poverty (PROP) in Eastern Province, which is assisted by funding from the European Union.

  • Breaking the silence essential to end norm of domestic abuse against women

    October 28, 2010 @ 5:44 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    Mary Makukula was serially abused by her husband for decades. In 2008, his blows were hard enough to knock out her two front teeth.

    Mary’s neighbours, who had closed their eyes and ears to the abuse for years, could no longer ignore what was going on in the Makukula household, and staged an intervention. With the support of friends, Mary finally struck up the courage to report her husband to the local police, and a few months later, she divorced him.

    “He was a very jealous man. He always thought I was going with other men in the village, and would beat me to try to get me to confess,” she says. “Sometimes months would go by and he wouldn’t lay a finger on me, and other times, the beatings would be regular. I was afraid of him.”

    Violence against women is a physical manifestation of the subordination of women to men in Zambian society. A Gender Based Violence Survey Report carried out by the Zambian Central Statistical Office in 2006 found that more than half of all married women in Zambia have been beaten or abused by their husbands, and almost two thirds of both men and women believe that wife beating is justified in certain circumstances, for example if she has been unfaithful, or neglected her children.

    Women are taught from an early age that what happens inside the home should stay inside the home, and that the relationship between husband and wife is no one’s business other than their own. Speaking about their relationship to others can be used as justification for divorce.

    These social restrictions kept Mary silent for decades, but since the divorce, Mary has joined the Mtenguleni Women’s Group for widows, and now speaks openly about the abuse. While the beatings were happening, however, she never spoke to anyone about it, though she admits now that most people in the community would have been aware of what was going on.

    “There is a big problem with domestic abuse against women here in the villages,” says her friend and fellow group member Rosemary Banda. “But it is rarely spoken about. Women are too afraid to tell other women what is happening to them, they fear their husbands will only beat them harder.”

    Women can report abuse to the village council, which consists of the village head man and his ndunas and other elders. The council can then call upon the man to explain himself, and also impose sanctions upon him if they believe he has mistreated his wife. However, as the council is exclusively male, and the sanctions almost entirely ineffective at stopping abuse permanently, many women are simply too intimidated to make a complaint.

    Both Mary and Rosemary believe that the community must be sensitised about gender based violence, and children should be taught from an early age that all people, regardless of gender, should be treated with the respect they deserve.

    “I hope that more awareness and education could help women in the future,” Mary says. “There are some men who change, who see sense with age, and I had hoped that my husband would be one of those men. But there are others who are born like a twisted tree that will never be straightened. They will be like this until they die. There is no changing them.”

    You can read more about the Mtenguleni Women’s group in a previous post here.

  • Free education boosts school attendance, but strained resources are failing to improve standards

    October 27, 2010 @ 4:30 pm | by Ciara Kenny

    The introduction of free primary education for all children in 2002 has made a significant difference to the lives of children all over Zambia. There are now three and a half million children between the ages of 7 and 15 enrolled in primary education. This amounts to 97 per cent of those of primary school age, up from just 57 per cent in 2004.

    While these statistics mark an impressive improvement in the numbers enrolled, and emphasise Zambia’s liklihood of achieving the Millenium Development Goal of universal primary education for all by 2015, regular attendance is still a significant problem, especially in rural areas. The distance a child must travel to school is the single most significant factor influencing their attendance record, their timely entry into grade 1, and indeed, whether they enrol at school at all.

    The Zambian school system consists of three levels: primary (grades 1-7), secondary (8-9) and high school (10-12). Basic schools now incorporate primary and secondary level, covering grades 1-9. Pupils are supposed to enrol in grade 1 at age seven, and complete grade 12 by 20, though often there can be an age gap of up to five years between pupils in the same class.

    The rapid increase in enrolment has put a huge strain on resources, however. 15,000 new teachers have been employed around the country in the past three years, which has reduced pupil to teacher ratios in many schools, but the employment of extra teachers has also caused difficulties. In 2008, government statistics showed that there was a shortage of more than 6000 staff houses, a figure which has only increased with the additional numbers of staff employed since. In rural areas, staff will not stay if they are not provided with adequate accommodation, and Mr Tembo, head teacher at Chilobwe Basic School in Chipata District, says that this is the single greatest problem facing his school.

    “We have twelve teachers employed here, but there are just six houses for staff. The other six are renting small rooms, but it means that they don’t stay and we are often short. Employing teachers is no problem, as the government will supply as many as we need, but we just can’t get them to stay. One of our classes now has 72 pupils to one teacher, because we are short staffed,” he explains.

    “We have applied for funding to build more houses time and time again, but because the government are spending all their money on building new schools, there is no surplus for maintaining the ones that are already there.“

    Kazimowe School, 5km away from Chilobwe, has a similar teacher shortage, with just four teachers catering for 346 pupils.  A further 3km down the road at Chikando Basic School, 959 pupils are taught by only 12 teachers.  That amounts to a pupil teacher ratio of 80 to one.

    “We have the accommodation for staff here, but there is a huge problem with getting them to stay, especially the female teachers who move when they get married,” explains Mr Greewe Mshanga, the school’s head teacher. “We hope to get a few more teachers next year, but if not, we will have to reduce enrolment.”

    Mr Tembo, head teacher at Chilobwe Basic School

    Chilobwe School receives a grant of one million Kwacha (€155) from the government each year, to cover all costs including maintenance and materials. Tembo says that the school is in desperate need of basic equipment, like desks and chairs. In grade 9, some students are crammed three to a desk made for two children. As these students are aged from 16 to 21, the facilities are clearly inadequate.

    Books and writing materials are also in short supply. “Pupils are expected to buy their own books, but most parents can’t afford them. The teachers have to write out whole chapters on the board for the students to copy, which wastes a lot of time.”

    Because of such high pupil to teacher ratios and the lack of adequate resources and learning materials, performance in the five core subjects in basic schools countrywide remains low, and Chilobwe School is no exception.

    “Unfortunately, many of our students fail their grade 9 exams, which means they are ineligible for high school,” Tembo admits. “I wish this was different, but the classes are just too big for the pupils to get the individual attention they need, especially those who struggle.”

    According to the National Assessment on Learning Achievement review carried out by the government in 2006, just 35.2% of grade 5 pupils showed mastery in the nationally defined learning standards of English, and 39% in maths. Children in rural areas perform worse than their urban counterparts.

    Drop out rates are also high, especially once pupils have completed their basic primary education up to grade 7. “The boys are sent out to look after cattle or to help out in the fields, while the girls are kept at home to help their mothers to cook and clean. Some parents just don’t recognise the importance of an education, especially once they have completed primary and have learned the basic skills of reading and writing.”

    Last year, just over half of all children completed grade 9, while just one in five finished high school (grade 12). At both levels, more boys than girls completed their exams. Completion rates were higher in rural areas than urban, and overall, the Eastern Province scored the lowest in the country.

    Tembo is eager to stress, however, that despite the many shortcomings that remain in the education system, there have been huge improvements in recent years.  He has seen a remarkable shift in the attitudes of parents, which he attributes to a growing awareness of the importance of education. “When you go around the villages now, there are very few children who are not going to school. Things have changed a lot since I began teaching here at Chilobwe. I just hope that we will be able to provide these children with the quality of education they deserve in the near future.”

  • Upholding traditional law in Mfumbeni chiefdom

    October 26, 2010 @ 9:00 am | by Ciara Kenny

    In Mfumbeni, traditional and judicial law are distinct but interlinking entities.

    Opposite Chief Nzamane’s palace, there is a small court house where judicial cases are heard in front of a judge. This court house is run by the state, and deals with minor crimes such as adultery, which is illegal in Zambia, and petty theft.

    Mfumbeni Traditional Court sits 100 metres away from the judicial court, and last Friday, I sat in on one of the trials, for a court report very different to any I have done in the past.

    Like every public gathering without exception in Mfumbeni, the council session opens with a prayer. The council are in the process of building a new courthouse, and for the moment, the members, witnesses and their supporters are gathered in the shade of a cluster of mango trees beside the construction site.

    “Yo Jere,” the gathering say in unison, giving respect to his Royal Highness Chief Nzamane, whose family name is Jere.

    The chairperson then calls the court to order, and summons the complainant to come forward and be seated before the council to make his case.

    The man is old, and is accusing a younger man of attacking him with a stick as he was coming out of church. The young man is called forward, and confesses to the crime, but says that he did it because the old man stole some of his maize meal. Witnesses are called forward to give evidence for both sides, before the court is adjourned for the council to make a decision.

    The Traditional Council consists of twelve eminent members of the Mfumbeni, including village head men, ndunas, and members of the Mfumbeni Development Association. The council sits every fortnight to hear all cases relating to traditional law in the chiefdom.

    All complainants pay a 5000Kw fee to register their complaint with the secretary.

    The Traditional Council has limited powers, and Head Man Kapachika says that complex cases are often referred to Chief Nzamane, or to the judicial court if the council believe it is a civil matter.

    “Our most important role is to rule on land issues, like disputes over boundaries between neighbours, or cases of landgrabbing. We hear a lot of cases of insult and slander, and also cases relating to the payment of dowries, for example,” explains Head Man Kapachika.

    Under Ngoni law, the chief owns the land, and holds it in trust for his tribe. He is free to designate who gets what and where boundaries are drawn, but land is still inherited within families. As there are no deeds or official records of boundary lines, it is the responsibility of the village head men to keep track of who owns what land, but any disputes must be brought to the Traditional Council.

    “The main aim of the council is to lead Mfumbeni, and to keep the peace between neighbours in the chiefdom.”

    The main aim of the council is to lead Mfumbeni, and to keep the peace between neighbours in the chiefdom.

    If a person is found guilty of a traditional crime, they are ordered to pay the complainant compensation. This can take the form of animals, like goats or chickens, but if the person has no assets to give they will be ordered to work a certain number of days on the complainant’s land. If there is no complainant, and the crime was committed against the chiefdom – for example if a person has cut down trees on his land without permission – the guilty person may have to pay the chief, or work on the chief’s land for a given number of days.

    Where the person is found to be in contempt of court, if they don’t turn up on the day that they have been summoned, they are ordered to pay a fine to the court. This goes towards the administration costs of the Traditional Council.

    What really struck me about the Traditional Council session was how the trappings of the judicial court, a system which would have been introduced under British Colonial rule, have been so well adapted to a traditional context. I had often wondered during my time here how the laws of the chiefdom are imposed, and it was truly enlightening to see the Traditional Council rule with such a strong but well respected hand.

    Yo Jere.

Next Page »

Search A Village in Africa