Our week started with a catch up with John and Mainess about their recent activities at the Light of Hope Clinic.
Mainess was in the midst of a new programme of door-to-door outreach HIV testing using two kits, firstly testing for the presence of HIV then for the type. This is a new initiative, implemented since David and Katie’s trip in early June. Mainess is finding that there is a good response and attributes this to the programme being voluntary and in the privacy of client’s homes.
The Clinic plays a role in supporting young people in the area and we met Joseph that morning, who was quite despondent as he has has not been able to afford the fees to complete his craft certificate in plastering and bricklaying. We planned to visit Thorn Hill Construction College with him the following day.
Mainess outlined her role mobilising the women through the Village Savings and Loan Association. She explained that the programme started in 2015, previously women were dependent on their husbands economically and it was difficult for them to stand on their own. Each group has 15-25 members with each initially contributing 22 kwacha. Vision Zambia had also provided seed money for each group. Women can take out a loan to start a business, etc. There are currently eight groups and it is up to the individual group to decide on the interest rate to charge; women have three months to return a loan. Mainess maintains strict rules with fines of 5 kwacha for lateness, missing a meeting without sending apologies, using a mobile phone, etc. The scheme runs annually from January to December with savings and interest being returned to the women at the end of the year. The groups are growing and some have split into two: Tiyende Pamodzi has split into A (36) and B (27). Mainess feels that the optimum number of women is about 20.
Each group meets fortnightly on Mondays between 2.00 and 5.00pm. This is Mangana Group which has also grown so large it has split into A (35) and B (40). Many of the women were absent as they were involved in harvesting. The four bowls are for savings, social fund (including support for hospital visits, etc), loan payments and fines.
John explained that Light of Hope’s work focuses on voluntary testing and counselling,
growth monitoring and nutritional support for the young and elderly and sporting activities. There are now over 40,000 people living in Linda. John has encouraged taxis to pick up outside the clinic and the opposite corner has become an informal trading spot so there is a growing vibrancy about the area.
John is concerned about the growing transport costs for sporting activities with the annual cost now around 200,000 kwacha and considered that it may be more cost-effective to buy a bus which could be used Monday to Friday to ferry passengers to offset maintenance costs.
He showed us around the site and the progress he has made with the newly named Cowardly Baboon Lodge. Three ensuite bedrooms are almost ready with the foundations laid for four more rooms and a reception area. This will be the first such lodge in Linda and aims to cater for the growing number of visitors to the area; guests so far include visiting MIT students and church groups. John has been able to involve local young men in the construction.
During this visit we had the pleasure of meeting John’s family including his parents, left, and his youngest son Lazarus, who is 12 in uniform, far left, with Patricia
and his friend David.
Mainess’ husband John Mwandila is a sculptor using wire and wood, mainly ebony which they walk to the forest to collect. His work is exhibited at the Henry Tayali Gallery at Showgrounds and also at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Patricia and John outside his home with one of the sculptures (Thirst). John is showing Patricia where a pot would sit.
Ruth, their youngest daughter, right, with Mainess and some of the smaller works.
On Tuesday morning we started early to arrive in Linda in time to see the water being collected from one of the hand pumps, installed with support from Vision Zambia. We met Elijah who showed us around the Water system now due to be taken on by Lusaka Water. Linda inhabitants can choose to have water in their homes for 70 kwacha per month or collect it for 10 kwacha per week.
We had the first of two meetings with Doreen, the Head teacher at Linda Community School and saw a lesson in progress in the newly built Science Lab.
Children arrive from 7.00am for the first of three sessions, the others start at 10.30am and 12.40pm. Teachers work for eight hours; four hours of teaching and four of preparation. Doreen stressed the importance of looking after the teaching staff, equipping the staffroom, etc in terms of staff morale and the achievements of the students. The School currently caters for Grades 1 to 9. Grades 1 to 7 currently cost 180 kwacha per year Fees for Grades 8 and 9 rise sharply to 670 kwacha annually but can be paid termly. Doreen explained that parents tend to pay promptly for Grade 1 and Grade 8 but it could be difficult to collect fees at other times. School policy is not to turn children away in the event of non-payment and where children genuinely need support the Head allows them to continue at school until money is found. Doreen maintains a list of children needing sponsors and ready to be linked up with donors.
Her next major priority is to build three more classrooms to take children up to Grade 12. Doreen explained that children needed to complete Year 12 to be able to gain employment and improve their life chances.
Lessons are held in Nyanja, the local language until Grade 4 and in English from Grade 5. The academic year runs from January to December, with national exams in the third term, which is a high cost to the school in terms of printing.
We saw children come into school in their own clothes, do some tasks in the grounds, then play before going home to change into uniform and returning to school for lessons. The children are keen to be in the school grounds and learning opportunities are provided around them.
In response to a recent theft a security system has been installed providing a panic button and covering the computer lab and key offices. The School is seeking support for a bus to enable trips and enrichment activities. Our visit to the library during the school tour later in the week made it clear that improvements are also needed here. During the tour we also saw a remedial maths extra class, part of a programme sponsored by Edulation using iPads and including a porridge based meal as an incentive to attend. The School is using the Friends Helping Friends Hall for assemblies and exams. Doreen is concerned that there is not enough light for exams and fans are needed to make the October exams more comfortable for pupils.
When we returned on Thursday Doreen explained the recent introduction by the government of a two tier curricula system offering academic and non-academic tracks. The TEVETA (Technical, Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority) Certificate can be achieved at Grade 9 and aims to prepare pupils at more effectively for jobs in woodwork, hotel work, gardening, farm work, etc. Doreen has chosen music as a key subject for the non-academic pathway: she would have preferred to offer home economics but lacked the necessary resources. It is access to Grades 9 to 12 which offers children the opportunity to follow an academic pathway and ultimately to get a job offering greater potential for the future.
We went with John and Mainess to meet Joseph at Thorn Hill College to find out more about the construction course.
Meetings with the Secretary to the Accountant and Course Tutor established that Joseph was a good potential student but would not be able to start until January 2018. As he had been hoping to attend in September he was disappointed to hear this but he returned the following day to apply.
In the afternoon we met with the women of Tiyende Pamodzi, meaning ‘We walk together’. Agness Kaposa, pictured left in her angel wing dress, described the Group as the leading suppliers of Chitenge materials, fresh fish and slippers. However, Juliet Longa explained that as there
is a lot of competition for Chitenge they want to move into farming maize. Their recent venture with fish is a new initiative and Agness explained that they order and collect fresh fish in bulk then share out and re-pack to sell the product individually in different venues. A box is 150 kwacha and reselling in this way makes a profit of 40-50 kwacha.