For thousands of years, Zambians lived a tribal-agrarian lifestyle without a written language. The country was dominated by hundreds of tribal entities each with their own language.In the mid 19th century European explorers (including Dr. Livingstone) started to colonize and take over the deep interior of central Africa. Some were well meaning missionaries and others were corrupt imperialists bent on exploiting the land. Over the last century European rule and exploitation broke down their native way of life. The British ruled the land (called Northern Rhodesia) for nearly a century. During this time English became widely used among the educated class of Zambians.The missionary efforts of the Europeans during the 19th and 20th centuries were very effective in converting nearly all the population to Christianity. The more rural areas still have some rare remnants of their original animist heritage. Small churches, or gatherings under trees, ring out with lively singing of praises across the land. The people are generally deeply religious.In 1964 the Zambians were granted independence from Britain. Independence was achieved during the middle of the 1964 Olympics making Zambia the only country to start and finish an Olympics as a different country. The positive legacy of the British rule was the teaching of a common language spoken across the country. This has made education and trade more feasible on a national level.Lusaka is the capital city of Zambia. While Zambia is a poor country overall, the outermost provinces are even poorer. The Northern province (where we concentrate our work) is exceedingly poor. The Northern Province is to capital city of Lusaka as the Mississippi Delta is to New York City. In the Northern Province virtually all the population lives in poor rural villages as subsistence farmers. Since it is physically far from the capital and other economically developing areas of the country it is treated by the government as a backwater area, and the people there suffer more dramatically than in other parts of the country.Zambia has largely been spared the ravages of war and power struggles common in Africa, primarily because there is almost nothing to pillage in this land. There are few natural resources. There are some copper mines that make money when copper prices are high and lose money when copper prices are low. The soil is not particularly productive and in some cases rocky and difficult to cultivate. Large portions of the country side sit idle as it can’t support people. Additionally, it is a land-locked country with little transportation infrastructure to support trading beyond it’s borders.The positive result of a resource-poor land is that Zambia has had little to fight over and so the population has had relative peace for a long time. So the people are peaceful, there are few weapons in the country and the different tribal sections of the country treat each other respectfully. Zambians see themselves as one unified, democratic nation even with the vastly fragmented language base.There are still 120 recognized tribal languages spoken in Zambia. A child learns their native language as babies. When they attend school they learn English. A traveler in Zambia can get by with speaking English. Literacy is very low in the country. This is largely due to the lack of reading material. While a student might learn to converse in English, there is little to practice reading with.
This is Chawli Mwape receiving a text book. The story behind this picture is very moving. Chawali is a seventh grade student at one of the village elementary schools. His mother died during an operation and his father was somehow poisoned. He lives with his grandmother. Chawli wants to grow up to be a doctor even though he knows this is a death sentence for him as most doctors eventually get HIV. He is an excellent student but has reached the end of his free schooling. He hopes that he will get some assistance to continue to high school. He thinks perhaps his Uncle will help him. In the movie Teach a Man to Fish, Chawli takes us on a tour of his home and tells us about his life. He walks two hours to school each day. He tells us that during parts of the year, he gets very hungry and has nothing to eat for days. When asked what he does in this situation. He admits that sometimes he just cries. He says he wishes he had something to read when he is hungry. Something other than the AIDS pamphlets he owns. Something to stimulate his mind and prepare him for being a doctor. A month or so after the filming of that interview, volunteers from the Zambia’s scholarship fund delivered 20 boxes of books to his school. This is a picture of Chawli opening the textbook for the very first time.