The school motto, printed on the white board in the little school office, is simple: “Education is a necessity”. It is appropriate. A firm belief in that simple truth led the people of this community in Chipata, Zambia, to establish the Mchini Basic School for orphans and vulnerable children.
Mchini head teacher Chasha Zulu sits in her office. It’s dimly lit – the school has no electricity. It’s clear, though, as she talks about her school, that she is proud of what has been accomplished.
Mchini was established as a community school in 1998 when the people and the local church decided there were too many orphans and vulnerable children in the area who were not getting an education. So they found some volunteers willing to teach, and the first classes were held in the open air under a tree.
But the parents of the community dreamed of bigger things. With their own hands they made mud bricks and assembled a one-room school house. Their work attracted the attention of international donors who stepped in to help. An Italian philanthropist helped expand and refurbish the mud brick school house. An Australian couple funded the building of toilets, the addition of cement floors and a tine roof for the school house, and the training of some teachers.
The little school grew and grew until today, according to Chasha, it’s bursting at the seams. Some 1400 children now attend the school – an almost equal number of girls and boys. Twenty-one classes make do with eight classrooms. Each class has an overwhelming 70 students.
CARE is stepping in to help. With funds from CARE’s SCOPE program, work is nearing completion on another two-room classroom block. CARE is also training volunteer caregivers who, working with the Mchini parent-teacher management council, go out into the community to find orphans and vulnerable children who are not attending school, and to give them and their families the support and encouragement to begin their education.
Chasa recalls some of the exceptional children who have been brought to Mchini in recent years. Three young girls living in the northern part of the district with elderly grandparents. In Chasa’s words the girls were “brilliant”, but because of their situation they were forced to work as maids. Another girl, married at the age of ten to a man who already had two wives. Caregivers found these girls and gave them the opportunity of education at Mchini. Yet another girl, she was married and bore a child to a man who ended up in prison. Having a child is one of the major barriers to girls, preventing them from attending school. Chasa saw to it the barrier was removed.
Education is not the only thing vulnerable children get a Mchini. A little ways from the class blocks stands a small, open cookhouse. There volunteer caregivers prepare a nourishing meal for the children every day. “When there is no food, attendance is poor,” Chasa notes. “The children will have something. Not enough, but something.”
There is much that Mchini still needs beyond more classroom space: books and teaching materials, furniture for the classrooms, more toilets, and housing for the teachers. As well, Mchini currently only offers classes up to Grade 7. Many of the children who complete Grade 7 at Mchini simply do not have the funds to go on to Grade 8 and 9 at other schools. Some will end up back on the streets. Chasa Zulu hopes to eventually provide Grade 8 and 9 education at Mchini itself.
Mchini Basic School has the power to give the vulnerable children of Chipata a brighter future. Through CARE’s SCOPE program, you have the power to help Chasa Zulu, her teachers, and the caregivers of Mchini to make that future a reality.«All Stories and Blogs