The cool, morning breeze nips at my fingers as we pass through the dusty, shanty villages and enjoy the pot- holed roads on the safari-style vehicle that drops us to morning projects. Before I’ve even stepped off the vehicle at Maanu Mbwame Community School, I’m covered in red dirt and it’s only in noticing my surroundings, that I finally realize exactly where I am.
It is surreal; but with a mud hut and tiny breeze block building making up the infrastructure, it is unsurprisingly typical of many community schools in Zambia. The vastness of the barren landscape that surrounds much of the school, however, becomes merely the backdrop as eager children flock around the flag for Pastor Smoke’s empowering assemblies.
Maanu Mbwame, like many other community schools, was set up as a response to the fee-paying basic or government schools, allowing those who otherwise would not be able to receive education, to attend school until Grade 7. A school where the facilities are extremely limited (there isn’t even a water pump on site) and staff remain unpaid, it becomes extremely difficult to develop; relying solely on funding via charity. Despite six years since it’s establishment, Maanu Mbwame (providing education for the Maploti community) continues to struggle with mud huts that wash away during the rainy season and inability to combat illiteracy fully. Working with the Grade 7 students, I immediately begin to recognise the reality of capability and reading level disparities within the class. With one teacher, it becomes virtually impossible to attend to the majority of the class who are unable to read at Grade 2 standard let alone Grade 7 (if at all), following the small minority who will take the examinations to go on to secondary school in October. Ages, indeed, vary within this class of 30; with anything from 13 to 19 it is clear that there is no differentiation between age nor ability leaving many behind. Those who are simply too old to remain in Grade 7 will need to take the examinations regardless of whether they are capable of passing or not. Even so, each child is so enthusiastic to learn it becomes even more difficult to accept their fate of failure in school, and thus becomes the tragedy of the education system here in Zambia.
Limited facilities only makes up half the battle, and on teaching you begin to learn the reality of the large majority of the impoverished that reside here in Livingstone. Out of 250 students, 101 are orphans and the remaining 149 are classified as vulnerable at Maanu Mbwame, living without the most basic of needs. Visiting the village and the homes of several pupils I finally understood just what the statistics indicated; 68% of the population (approximately 7,480,000) fall below the poverty line according to the Official Zambian Governmental Statistics in 2004 and with a life of expectancy of just 38 years old (World Bank findings), it is no wonder these children remain so disadvantaged at school. A child is lucky to go to school here in Mapuloti and for a family (particularly single parent) it is a sacrifice, with no clear achievement at school, high AIDS and mortality rates and extreme poverty- families are unlikely to see the benefits of schooling for most children who clearly deprived, are still required to live as adults like much of the third world. It becomes extremely understandable as to why so many underachieve, are forced to leave education and eventually in returning they fall dramatically behind.
However, Volunteer work and aid on behalf of the West always leaves me highly sceptical too and having experienced it, I begin to see how little it truly does for the African People. Much of these projects, particularly teaching, offer alternative and life altering experiences for the volunteers whilst an extremely short-term benefit on behalf of the students. The truth lies in the history and present-day reality of Africa, having been raped economically, socially, militarily and politically for centuries it continues to do so under the hands of capitalism and globalisation. Zambia is not short of resources, and the privatisation of the copper mining industries exposes glaring inequalities in the development agreements between the Governments and the mining companies; allowing investors to reap the benefits of the annual production (that will top 800,000 in the next two years) under the 1995 Investment Act and Mines and Minerals Act through reduced tax and unregulated remittance of profits whilst the Government receive 0.1% of the value of production. Such facts are relatable to the poverty of many in the third world, and paint a picture as to why little is done in establishing and improving education and health systems- the most basic of human rights. Unless Africans, like Pastor Smokes and his teachers, begin to realise that real change will only come about, not through reliance on post-colonial guilt-ridden Western aid but sustainable development via their own (like many in the South American people’s movements) change will not be coming any time soon, as the First World continues to rape and the World Bank holds Third World countries hostage under eternal debt. It is up to the people to apply pressure and appeal to men like President Mwanawasa, who otherwise is reluctant to combat anything he claimed to through his political campaign last year, to seek sustainable development. After all Zambia is a democracy, and if Venezuela is anything to go by- long-term change can only be delivered through political change by one’s own people.
On finishing the assembly with the Zambian national anthem “proud and free”, the children fervently disperse to their classrooms. Beautiful black skin glistening in the sun and sparkling eyes, these children have taken a strong position in my heart. Eagerness lies in the heart out of hope, and in running barefoot their heavy souls have truly endured more than most, shown by the scars on their Achilles heel, smiling all the while. This, indeed, is Africa.
I undoubtedly will do as much as I can to help the school. On leaving, Maanu Mbwame, undeniably, has a long way to go. Whilst it’s heart is in the right place providing many with opportunities of educational enrolment, it’ll only truly move forward and set an example for the future generations through interlinking with other community schools and working along side the system to push for sustainable developmental change. Marcus Garvey possibly says it best “Africa… for the Africans!”
(Written summer 2007)