Sitting in the cafeteria of Ibex Hill Secondary School, I found myself surrounded by ten apprehensive faces. I had already tried to make some light small talk, but the fact remained that I was the skinny white guy with the giant camera in their faces. Trying to get the ball rolling, I looked over at Iwell, who was lounged back in his seat, munching on a muffin.
“So, what do you think of the Kucetekela Foundation, Iwell? Just kind of explain what all they do for you.”
Iwell instantly sat up, raised his head and let out a bright, white grin.
“If I had to tell you what all the Kucetekela Foundation does for me, it would take the whole day if I had to say everything.”
On my three-day tour of KF, led by worker extraordinaire and crashing spot provider Libby Denniston, I saw an organization that is directly and completely transforming lives.
Started four years ago by American Oliver Barry, the Foundation provides private school scholarships (to three separate partner schools) to disadvantaged youth from the Greater Lusaka area. That is, of course, a very simplified definition. KF also provides a mentor program, constant staff support, tutoring, clothing, help with medical bills, work-study program, etc. etc. ETC.
These students have become the children of the Kucetekela Foundation. Just from my time with Libby, I could see that this former Princeton student has become another mother to these students.
Pulling them out of unbelievably dire circumstances, KF has been a saving grace for both the students and their families.
Penius wants to be an engineer. Now interning with Lusaka Toyota, it definitely seems that this intelligent, extremely well spoken kid is on the right track. However, he wouldn’t be at this point if it weren’t for KF.
Penius’ mother works as a maid and is a single-mother of three in Lusaka’s struggling Ng’ombe compound:
“Before the Kucetekela Foundation, I was doubting, and didn’t know where my child was going. There is no way to express how grateful I am. Without them I didn’t know what I’d do. Helping him is like helping the whole family. Nothing has been hard since being in their hands. They have taken me to where I couldn’t have gone on my own.”
School fees are becoming outrageously expensive for lower-income families in Zambia. Many children drop out after the seventh grade, because tuition and educational materials are simply too steep in price. Providing children with that monetary gift not only helps them to further themselves, but is also a huge financial relief for the families, who are often pinching pennies to get by.
Mercy, a Kucetekela student, was left with one blind guardian and six other children, after several members of her family died from AIDS. The scholarship, along with the mentor and staff support, has proven invaluable to her and her family.
It is important to mention that these children aren’t just attending school, they are excelling. In many of the grades, Kucetekela children are the top of the top.
As Florence Nkowane, director of the Kucetekela Foundation stated, “People are curious to see how kids from the slums can compete in boarding schools. How will they perform? Given the opportunities, we thought they were likely to do better, and clearly that is the case.”
Barry started the Foundation after seeing the dire circumstances and crowded classrooms of everyday public schools. Standards were through the floor, teachers were unreliable, and overall quality was just dismal. Some students were clever, but wouldn’t be able to continue.
According to Mrs. Nkowane, “If kids are continually stuck in this situation, Zambia will never develop and will be forced to rely solely on donor aid.”
Financial Officer Simasiku mirrored this statement, saying, “Education is the key to success and the development of our country.”
One of my last days in Lusaka, I saw Edson, who is number one in academics and a dominant athlete at Chalo Trust School, speak to a group of seventh graders at his former school. Completely calm and in control, he spoke about his mother’s death and his KF experience. Seeing a ninth grade student speak to a huge crowd of seventh graders with such ease is evidence of the Kucetekela Foundation’s effect.
However, the effect has been diminished. With the economic crisis, the amount of KF scholars has been greatly reduced, and the Foundation needs YOUR help.
“The Kucetekela Foundation goes deeper than just paying school fees, they gave us hope.” (Penius)
Troy Smith, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is currently an In-the-Field traveler visiting GlobalGiving projects throughout Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. Follow his trip at http://troygivesglobal.tumblr.com/.