On her recent trip to Zambia, Ms Mary Hanafin, Minister for Education and Science in the Republic of Ireland, visited Chileleko Community School. Chileleko is no ordinary school. I would like to share with you the story of a community's courage and determination that turned this place from a place of "suffering" to a place of "blessings".
When Zambia gained its independence from Britain in 1964, its first President, Kenneth Kaunda, in a generous gesture towards the many blind people in towns all over the country, gave them a large plot of land at Mapenzi, about 15 kilometres from Livingstone, the Tourist Capital in the South West of the Country. Two small housing units were provided at that time, but no other infrastructure.
Mapenzi is fertile, but the blind people did not know how to farm, so their only way to survive was by begging in the Tourist Capital. Little children led their blind parents into the Town to beg each day. This helped the community to survive, but it meant that none of the children went to school.
The village Headman’s son was 13 years old when a missionary priest from a neighbouring
parish discovered that he had never been to school. Emmanuel had no problem joining the 5 and 6 year olds in Grade l in Maramba Primary School when Father Don paid his school fees He was later joined by younger brothers and friends from Mapenzi. By 1999 these first scholars from the blind community had completed their Grade l2 examinations and three of them decided to build a mud and wattle, grass-roofed, four-classroom school so that, as they explained, “our children won’t have to suffer as we suffered, without education”. The blind people had named their village "Mapenzi", which, in the local Citonga language, means "Suffering" - and suffering they had in plenty - poverty, lack of amenities, recurring drought, etc.
While the building was in progress classes were held under a mango tree but once the rains came they had to be suspended. In 2000 the new school was ready and the pupils joyfully entered
Mapenzi’s first classrooms. The fact that they had no desks or textbooks or proper blackboards made no difference to the enthusiasm of teachers and pupils - mealie-meal sacks spread on the ground sufficed and serious teaching began. Emmanuel, Dought, Webby and Afran taught the pupils everything they had learnt themselves. This was a private village community school, no salaries were paid and few outside the village even knew the school existed for quite some time.
The Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa have a Home Based Care Programme in Livingstone to care for sick and needy people in the townships and villages around, and had visited Mapenzi during times of drought, helping with relief food. Also, when Sister Agnes Daka of the Sisters of St Francis, who is overseer of the Community Schools in Livingstone, heard about the new school in Mapenzi, she came to visit and was able to get some desks, blackboards and stationery to help the struggling teachers. But by 2004 the fragile school building needed repair and the grass roof was badly sagging and full of holes.
This is when I came into the picture. Having been involved in the Community School in Ng’ombe, Lusaka and now transferred to Livingstone, I was hoping to be able to help in a community school here too. I asked Sister Agnes if she had one very needy one and she immediately said “You just have to see Mapenzi”. We thought a new roof would solve their problem, but when we looked at the mud walls there was no way they could support a new roof. It meant building permanent classrooms, looking for funds, organising the Mapenzi community to provide a share of the cost of a new school. Since very few people were earning salaries their contribution would have to be sharing duties like digging foundations, mixing cement, carrying water, stones, etc and this they gladly agreed to do.
When we found that concrete blocks cost 2000 kwacha each we decided we’d have to make our own, at 1000 kwacha each. We bought two block moulds and the people quickly learnt to make the blocks - after four days they were able to make 58 blocks a day. We were working in a temperature of 32o C so the blocks had to be constantly watered. Small children were given little 2 litre plastic containers to bring to the pump where elders were pumping water. The children watered the blocks, the young men made the blocks and the women mixed the cement and carried water. Meanwhile foundations were being dug. Work continued, walls went up, more pupils came. The Ministry of Education in Livingstone gave us desks. At last four classrooms were ready, a staffroom and Headmaster’s Office with a store off each and later a kitchen and toilet block were built.
The new Community School was opened in mid-2005 and in November that same year we entered our first Grade 7 pupils for the National Grade 7 examinations. 20 pupils sat for the exam, 12 passed for Grade 8 in Maramba Maria Assumpta Basic School. Truly an achievement! In 2006, seeing the children progressing, passing examinations, winning football and netball matches with other schools and our teachers registered with Ministry of Education through distance-learning courses and many visitors coming to see the School, the people Mapenzi decided to change the name from Mapsenzi (Suffering) to Chileleko (Blessings). They are truly grateful to all benefactors and all who have encouraged them along the way, but they themselves have worked hard and deserve the success and Blessing they have attained.
A day of great joy came on 8th February 2007 when Ms Mary Hanafin, Minister of Education from the Republic of Ireland with her entourage and members of the Zambian Education Ministry from National, Provincial and District levels, came to visit Chileleko Community School. All were welcomed by the entire community and entertained by the School choir and Cultural Dance society. Minister Hanafin donated four radio cassettes, one for each
classroom, and later the Irish Embassy in Lusaka donated a hammer-mill to the School and Community. Now, instead of having to transport all the sacks of maize by bicycle to Maramba for grinding, grain can be ground at the school. This will provide income for extra-curricular activities, projects, and educational outings. Next step - we have to start building again. Our four classrooms are used for morning and afternoon sessions, but now we have started our own Grade 8, please God we will begin Grade 9 next year ... and so... we grow!
Sr. Malachy Mathews FMSA
Photographs by gareth bentley, Courtesy of the Irish Embassy, Zambia