By Sister Yvonne Mwalula Mwila
Sister Yvonne Mwalula Mwila has spent the last decade forging a path in her native Zambia for developing communities to receive the education and training they need to succeed. In February, she visited Middlesbrough to thank the community who have helped play an important role in transforming her home country.
Over the past few weeks I have been travelling around the UK to say thank you to the communities who have volunteered, campaigned and fundraised to help fund a project in my community through aid agency CAFOD.
With the help of the Middlesbrough community, CAFOD, Irish-based charity Misean Cara, and my congregation, we have been able to transform a place where there was once nothing into a school which provides education to around 300 of the local children.
I have spent the majority of my life living in Zambia, a country in central Africa. The country is blessed with beautiful scenery, strong communities and, most importantly, peace. Yet, despite this, there are still many struggles that the country faces. It is estimated that half of Zambians live below the poverty line, and this figure rises dramatically in rural areas. This means that many families do not have enough money to meet basic needs such as food, housing, and education for their children.
Zambia also has one of the world’s fastest growing populations with the UN predicting that its population of 13 million will triple by 2050.
I currently live in the Northern Province of Zambia in a town called Mbala, which is home to around 25,000 people. My congregation has been in the town since the 1960s and I truly believe that our work together with partners like CAFOD is one of transformation.
Children in this area used to start school when they were teenagers; the earliest age children would start going to school would be 10-years-old and above. This is because the nearest school was between 15km to 20km away and parents were afraid to let their children walk this far. Now, as the school is much closer to where they live, children are starting school when they are 7 or 8 and this has made a massive difference to their lives.
In my community, people see the school as an opportunity. So many people in the community volunteer at the school, and instead of paying school fees, the children bring in maize or beans, anything they can spare, to help support the community volunteer teachers.
One young boy Dennis stopped school in year four because his parents could no longer support him. So, he started a small gardening business and eventually earned enough to buy a rabbit, then a goat. And he raised money through raising animals and selling some.
He is now back in school supporting himself and is an inspiration for other young people. He said: “I don’t want to be like other men in my community; I want to make a difference.”
This is a feeling reflected in the people I have met in my short time in the Middlesbrough community. People are so ready to volunteer and help, coming together to support people across borders.
When I first visited the UK as a young woman in my early twenties, I was inspired by the approach of English schools to educating young people with disabilities. For children living with multiple disabilities, there was no place for them in Zambia.
With the help of funding, raised in part by the Middlesbrough community, we have been able to set up a special unit to help teach children with disabilities skills and make a difference in their lives.
When the unit first opened, one boy came and he couldn’t use his arms or legs. Despite this, he said: “God has gifted me with a brain, and that is enough”. He received business training and now runs a shop, employs people to work on his field and gives out loans in form of seed to local people. The change in him is amazing and he is so proud of what he has achieved.
My work with children is my greatest passion; I really believe that this project provided small windows of opportunities for these children, and changed their lives.
With the support of the communities in the UK, our project is making people feel loved and cared for. This gives them the dignity and confidence to walk through their community with pride.
I would like to say thank you for the wonderful help and support that you have given. It has helped to transform communities like mine.