The work of the Siriba Vocational Training Project is continuing to provide training for young people in a variety of practical disciplines. But it has so far proved difficult to get the project fully recognised with the local education authority which means that no funding has been forthcoming from the government. It is not fully clear why this is so. Our indications are that for the project to be recognised certain standards have to be achieved by the unit and this is proving difficult because of problems with funding both for ongoing costs and for building costs. For example, whenever instructors cannot attend the unit because of family difficulties or illness there is no one to keep the students constructively occupied. There was a hope that back-up instructors could be employed but there is simply not enough funding to support such a scheme. It may be that the project will have to downsize in order to be properly viable.
We are now in negotiation with the Board of Governors to see what funds we will be required for the next financial year. Fundraising is proving difficult although we are pledging that we can offer them £5000 GBP. We will have to work hard to raise this amount. We have asked the Board of Governors to come up with a sustainable plan for the next financial year because, in the past, their plans have not been financially realistic. (More news from them is expected soon) This may mean a reduction in staffing levels and in the number of courses being offered but this seems to be the only way forward since income from student fees and from product sales has not yet begun to match expectations. Of course, since most of the students are orphans that is not surprising.
This year as well as being able to see how the project was progressing, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the new staff and the management committee.
It is clear that everyone involved in the project is enthusiastic about changing the lives of the children. They stressed that just completing the course did not provide a passport out of poverty. The tailor told me that some of his students cannot afford to buy a reel of cotton costing K2,000 (about 25p), so there was no way they could imagine buying a sewing machine without help. One suggestion is for students to raise money from some of the practical agricultural work. They have each been given a small patch of land, where they are currently growing carrots. The idea is for these crops to be sold and part of the proceeds put aside to build a little fund to buy equipment on graduation.
There is a shortage of materials for the carpentry and tailoring courses which is presenting some challenges. Both instructors are highly regarded locally and, when they have time, they make some items for local people. This brings in some income for the centre. This money is used to buy some of the materials needed. There is also a shortage of tools and equipment. I am bringing back details of the specific shortages. These include certain types of plane for carpentry and a buttonhole making machine for tailoring.
Raising sufficient funds to pay the general bills is always a challenge. 300 day old chickens were purchased and by careful fund management they have been grown until now they produce 250 eggs each day. There was a loss of about a dozen chicks when a snake got into the barn and one chicken that looked a little different to the rest turned out to be a cockerel! The electricity bill has been reduced to about a quarter of its previous cost by discovering a special tariff for non-profit making organisations – this has helped considerably.
Additional profit generating activities are needed and if the fish ponds can be brought into use, this will make a big difference to the budget. There is a good water distribution system with a wind pump getting the water from a borehole, however there is a lot of leakage around the pump at the moment which would need to be fixed before the ponds could become operational – though the cost is likely to be small. Often the difficulty with maintenance is finding the appropriate expertise locally.
This visit gives me added hope because of the new initiatives from staff and committee members moving the project forward,despite receiving limited funding over the past year.
I will pay a final visit this week to re-establish the accounts system. The project laptop has developed a fault which seems to me to be terminal – so I will leave them my laptop to help them budget, as well as making it easier to communicate with me in the UK.
Today I had a wonderful time back at school! I attended classes from grade1 to grade 7 at PIZZ school with the sole exception of grade 3 where a new teacher is awaited.
I was very impressed by the way in which the lessons were conducted. The limited number of textbooks means that much of the work is done using the traditional blackboard and chalk. The children are very attentive and are enthusiastic. I was surprised how much of the lesson for the grade 1 students was in English. I don't know how I would cope if I had to learn my lessons in a foreign language. Even after spending more than 2 years in Zambia my Chitonga is negligible – to my great shame..
The grade 1 students were learning about shapes as part of the mathematics curriculum. I was impressed by the way the teacher praised and encouraged the children. These children come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and most are unlikely to have had any previous exposure to English. I felt privileged to be part of a project which gives them the possibility to move away from a life of poverty. It is also a huge responsibility. These children need our support so that they are not given a false hope.
In grade 2 they were talking about birthdays when I joined them. I shared that my daughter has her birthday today, so they each drew a birthday card for Barby in their notebooks.
In grade 4 the class was also doing maths. They were learning how to calculate the cost of common items of shopping – I now know why everyone here has no problem calculating my bill and providing change. (Unlike my experience in the UK where the cashiers seem to rely totally on the till.)
In grade 5 they were being taught English, concentrating on proper nouns, and in grade 6 the subject was science - the topic evaporation and condensation. Here a small experiment was done with with a kettle and bottle of cold water.
My final class was grade 7. This is the first stage were an examination is taken to determine whether the child progresses to the next grade. These students sit their exams at the end of the month and were doing revision with the teacher. A girl read a story from a textbook about a university student who had been ill and had just tested HIV+. Of course for many their situation has come about because of the disease, but the subject is not kept hidden in Zambia. I was welcomed by the children reciting poems and at the end of the lesson some of the students introduced themselves. Most were being brought up by their grandmothers and three of them said that they had lost both parents by the age of 8 or 9. Unfortunately this is a very common story among these children.
Being with the children and teachers brought home to me just how important this project is for the future of so many. It is being among them and glimpsing some of their potential that brings the project to life for me.
Funding is always a problem when the students cannot afford to pay fees. The past year has been difficult and yet my experience today showed me that, despite limited resources, wonderful things are happening.
The children ended by pleading for continued support and I am sure you will continue to be generous.