Although education is a basic human right, UNICEF estimates that in Zambia at least 800,000 children are out of school. The majority of them come from households living in extreme poverty, in slum-like settlements such as the Matero compound located in the country’s capital Lusaka.
With employment opportunities in Matero being limited, most adults are casual workers and often have less than a dollar a day to feed their families. This leaves them with no savings to spend on their children’s education.
As children of school age make up over half of Matero’s population, public schools in the area are overcrowded. On average, there are between seventy and eighty students in each class so the quality of teaching suffers.
To help the most vulnerable children in Matero get quality education, Reverend Peter Kaunda founded Destiny Community School in 2001. Since then, he and his team of teachers have been trying to help children from the poorest families secure a better future through education.
I asked some of the children who study at Destiny Community school what education means to them. Here are some of their answers:
“Education is a gate behind which there are great opportunities. I come to school to learn things that can help me improve my life today and in the future” – Manasi, grade 8.
“I want to get an education because I don’t want to suffer, I want to end poverty in my life. And I want to get a job where I can use my mind, not just my body” – Isaac, grade 9.
“I come to school so that I can have a better future, not live in poverty, and be able to provide for my family” – Nathan, grade 9.
Unfortunately, despite having ambitions, finishing school is not easy for most students at Destiny.
Almost every student I talked to mentioned that their family struggles to afford school fees and other essential supplies.
School fees at Destiny are four hundred kwacha per term which lasts months. This means that for one month they need to pay one hundred kwacha, which is around six dollars. This illustrates how severe the levels of poverty in Matero are. On top of school fees, families need to pay for uniforms, the cost of which is one hundred fifty kwacha.
“School fees are a problem. They are too expensive. Sometimes our families cannot pay on time so we are delayed and start learning later in the term” said Faustina in grade 5.
“Buying school materials is also difficult. And, what makes things worse is the fact that bullying and theft happen often. When someone steals our book, we need to buy another one but we do not have the money to do it so we cannot study“, added Onisha in grade 6.
Since Destiny is a community school, it is dependent on the support of the local community and donors. This is why covering the costs associated with running the school and paying teachers’ salaries is not easy.
Two major problems linked to having limited funds are retaining teachers and purchasing textbooks. Typically, teachers have only one book for each subject so they need to write examples and exercises on the board. But, as Telma who teaches kids in grade 4 told me, ‘having only one textbook for forty students makes it difficult to prepare classes. Children need tangible resources to learn effectively.’
Poor living conditions are another obstacle that all the children at Destiny face each day. Very few of them have their own bedrooms. Usually, they share a small room with numerous siblings and other family members. With noisy surroundings, maintaining concentration to revise and do homework is hard.
Destiny Community school views education as a tool of empowerment. When those who are born in impoverished areas such as Matero are deprived of access to education, they become condemned to spend the rest of their lives there. But, through studying, they can make economic advancements and break the cycle of poverty.