Education is difficult for the government of Zambia to provide because of the very small tax base of the economy. Very few people in Zambia have jobs that that can be taxed. Subsequently, the best the government can do is provide education through the seventh grade.Even though free education is promised, as many as 20% of the students don’t get a teacher at all, or may only get a teacher off and on. They are just too rural or they just don’t have enough teachers to go around.Typically the village school is a hut or mud brick buildings built with the common labor of the community. Some people think they need better schools, but what they really need are teachers and support materials. The students can meet under a tree if they have to, but they can’t do anything without a teacher. Grass and mud are plentiful, teachers are scarce.Village schools usually serve a large geographical area. Their homes are spread out widely to be near their farms, so the students walk long distances to school. It is not uncommon for students to walk two hours to and from school each day, almost always barefooted.Most village schools require the students to wear uniforms. This requirement is usually waived if the students are just too poor. Most students (even in high school) have only a uniform and a second change of work/play clothes.Each student has a set of “books” which are thin notebooks made of very cheap quality newspaper thin paper. This is what they take their notes and study. Pencils are expensive and they use them until they are tiny nubs. Pens are a great luxury in Zambia. Regular printed books are very rare. We have delivered books to students in schools who have never even seen real books.Chalkboards are simply a portion of the mud wall that is painted black. Chalk itself is valuable. Some schools have nice desks for the children to sit at and other schools simply have nothing, not even chairs. Those children will sit on the ground or rocks and use their laps for desks.The students are always very polite and respectful to their teachers. They stand when the teacher enters the room and they are attentive to the teacher during lectures.If students learn enough to pass the high school entrance exams, and more importantly, if they have money to pay for high school, then they move from their village homes and go off to a boarding high school for the 8-12th grades. These are the very lucky and rare students, especially in the poorer areas of the country.These schools are all private institutions run by businesses or charities. They are still barebones school buildings, with generally large classes and few resources. Even the High School library will only have a few outdated books, and the tech center may only have a couple of computers running DOS on amber screens.The very rare students will be able to attend a college. There is only one university in the country which is extremely expensive, but there are several specialty colleges, like teacher colleges. These teacher schools have specific programs tailored to prepare students to become certified to be teachers in the Zambian education system. Generally, these are two year programs.
This is Abraham; He attends one of the elementary schools we sponsor. But he is really only the start of the story. In the words of one of our volunteers: I was tired, I had visited so many schools, I had traveled over 3,000 miles and I had seen crushing poverty all around me and at that moment like so many others I was asking myself if we were making any difference. I was asking God if what we were doing was doing any good. I remember Abraham’s school because it was the last school on our list, it was late in the evening and we were behind schedule as usual. When we got to Abraham’s school we found his teacher Shagrina Kalenga was not at school the school looked abandoned but Abraham said he would take us to Shagrina’s home. He ran down a tiny dirt path and we tried to keep up as we passed up tiny huts the people inside would throw their hands out and wave. Just then a man came running down the path shouting greetings and wearing a huge smile. He told us he was also a teacher and his wife was Shagrina, the teacher on our program. Finally we came to some old buildings with faded paint and missing roofs. Shagrina, her husband and her two babies lived in one of these old buildings.Read more...I will never forget that home. I tried to smile and act comfortable as she motioned for me to enter her home. I need to say that the rusted old piled boards heaped up for a wall and the crack in the wood planked floors were nothing compared to the stink. I will never forget that stink. I was getting sick to my stomach sitting there. Shagrina had a baby tied to her back and one sitting in the dirt just out side the door. She smiled a huge smile that was so out of place for the setting. She clung to my arm as she told me how much this job meant to her. She told me she had been waiting for three years to get a job and she and her little family just could not make it on her husbands wages as for many months he was not paid correctly. I wanted to cry the situation was so pathetic but it was her joy that kept me from that. Wouldn’t you know it? That’s when my camera battery died. I got no pictures of Shagrina. Nothing but my story.But God had just answered my prayer, yes what we are doing is huge in the lives of some of his favorite people.