Shadreck Mulus, 33, is the father of a Taonga Market child. His son, Kenny, is four and started the radio distance education programme just over a year ago. Shadreck says he is grateful for the programme as it is the only way he could have educated his son. In fact Shandrek wasn’t able to finish school because his family couldn’t afford it. He says: “When I was a child I used to travel 20km to the closest school, but when I was 12 my parents had to stop me from going. Without the Taonga programme, I don’t know what I would have done for Kenny.”
As an educational tool Shadreck says the Taonga market programme is excellent: “It is a much better education than I received. We used to just listen to a teacher, which was very boring. With the radio, the children are very involved in the class. Kenny loves coming to school.”
Tall, well-spoken and smartly dressed in a grey blazer, Christopher Banda, 21, proudly tells me that he’s studying at a technical institute to become a procurement specialist. He credits his academic devotion to his ‘teacher’, Mwenya Mvula and the solid primary school education that he received from the Learning at Taonga Market interactive radio instruction (IRI) programme. The youngest of four children, he was raised in a Lusaka township by his mother, a domestic worker, who could not afford to send him to a government school. Despite primary education being free in Zambia, buying a uniform, books and other items were beyond her means.
Radio schools don’t require uniforms or books. Entering Taonga Market in Grade 3, Christopher said that learning for him was enjoyable and he still remembers the Taonga Market songs. A field trip to the international airport that Mr Mvula organized made a lasting impression because he met a pilot who had seen the world. Christopher added that Mr Mvula inspired him to study hard and to reach for his dreams.
Mr Mvula is not a qualified teacher. He’s a volunteer ‘mentor’ who has been trained in IRI methodology which actively guides teachers and learners through lessons on the radio. As one of the first Taonga Market mentors who started in the programme more than a decade ago, he estimates that nearly 90% of his students have gone on to secondary school. This is an exceptional achievement as a significant number of children were orphaned. Pupils in radio school, who at time learn under a tree, take the same exams as children in wealthier government schools.
I first met Mr Mvula in early 2007 when I visited community learning centres that used our radios. Despite it being just a 20-minute drive from central Lusaka, the ongoing cost of batteries to power a radio was too expensive for this impoverished township. The electrical poles were visible in the background, but they didn’t light up this part of town. At that time one of his classes met in a one-room house; another assembled on the grass in front of a maize field. Now they have small, dedicated classrooms. His enthusiasm for the programme, his pride in his work, and his love for the children were as palpable then as they are today.
The 46-year old Mr Mvula grew up in Katete, a farming village near the Mozambique border. In 1991 he headed to Lusaka to seek a better life and where he married Monica. They have six children and one grandchild. Mrs Mvula makes and sells chipati bread and sweets along the side of the road. Although he tutors students in the afternoon to earn income, sometimes parents can only afford to pay with vegetables or a chicken.
Mr Mvula has encouraged hundreds of young learners over years to strive for their dreams. He’s not giving up on his own dream either, to qualify as a teacher.
Support a Taonga Market classroom by donating a Prime radio!
Uzma Sulaiman was in Lusaka observing the Ministry of Education’s Learning at Taonga Market radio distance education initiative in action. Lifeline Energy has been providing solar and wind-up radios to ensure educational access to all Zambian children since the pilot project was launched in 1999. So far 900,000 children have benefited from the programme across Zambia.
This is the story of Nanjeke - a student taking part in the programme.
It’s one of the cardinal rules when you’re interviewing – detach yourself from the interviewee. Ask questions, take notes, but never get emotionally involved in the story. To put it simply, it isn’t professional to have a vested interest in the person’s life. I’ve always upheld this rule, that was until I met Nanjeke.
I first noticed Nanjeke at the back of the classroom at Moon City community school in Lusaka. She was well-mannered and exceptionally shy. When the teacher asked a question the other students squirmed in their seats hoping the teacher would pick on them, while Nanjeke would sheepishly raise her hand, copying the other students, but secretly hoping she wouldn’t be called upon. But there was no missing her – at just ten-years old Nanjeke was over five foot tall. In fact, she was already taller than me!
After class had finished I asked the teacher if I could speak to Nanjeke. She came over to me with her head bowed as if she had done something wrong. “So what’s your name?” I asked. Averting her eyes, she quietly responded: “Nanjeke. I’m sorry I just started school”.
Nanjeke lost both her parents when she was two to HIV/AIDS. At the time she was living in a rural area of Zambia. After her parents passed away she went to live with her grandmother. A few years ago, they moved to Lusaka to live with her uncle. It was then that she decided to take her future into her own hands.
“I told my grandmother I wanted to go to school after I saw all the other children going,” she says. With no money to afford school uniforms, supplies or the starting fee for Zambia’s “free” public school system, her family turned to the Moon City community school. The school was not far from her uncle’s house and a non-obligatory school uniform was provided along with school supplies.
It has now been a month since Nanjeke started at Moon City. She may be shy but her skills are developing.
After ten minutes of asking her questions and her timidly responding, she finally lifted here head when I asked what she wants to be when she grows up. She emphatically responded, “I want to go to university and become a lawyer. I know I can do this if I do well in school.”
Out of many children I spoke to during my time in Zambia, Nanjeke’s story stays with me. Although quiet, she chose a new path for herself at such a young age. I am confident that she has a bright future ahead of her.
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