CHOMBA MUSIKA, Choma
IT TOOK her 15 years to return to school after she was married off at an early age, but she never gave up on her dream of becoming a nurse.
â€œI believe high levels of illiteracy among women have contributed greatly to the high levels of poverty. I overlooked at my age and marital status and went back to school as a sixth grader because I did not want to continue living in poverty,â€ says Sonia Mwaanga.
Mrs Mwaanga, 34, a wife and mother of five dropped out of school at 16 and got married soon after. However, she has always wanted to learn how to read and write.
This is the reason why when an opportunity presented itself, Mrs Mwaanga gladly enrolled for adult literacy classes at Chomaâ€™s Adastra Basic School in 2011. She is now in grade nine and able to read and write.
She went back to school with a desire to become self-reliant like most literate women are. She has had ambitions to start her own business so that she could earn a steady income to raise her family.
â€œI got married at a tender age because my parents said they did not have enough money for me to continue with my education. So thatâ€™s the reason why I could not complete my primary education.
â€œBut I always loved school and envied educated women, so I kept that dream of going back to school alive,â€ she calmly narrated at her school during commemoration of the literacy month.
Mrs Mwaanga said her love for education prompted her to go back to school. Luckily enough, her husband who is supportive of her future ambitions, encouraged her to enroll at Adastra, one of the schools offering adult literacy.
â€œI used to trouble my husband about my desire to go back to school and when he attended a Seventh Day Adventist crusade, there was an announcement that Adastra was offering adult literacy and that is how he encouraged me to enroll,â€ Mrs Mwaanga said.
She disclosed that after enrolling in grade six, she later attempted grade seven examinations and successfully qualified for grade eight.
Mrs Mwaanga, who is preparing for her grade nine examinations, is studying hard and is confident of qualifying for grade 10.
â€œEven if I donâ€™t pass grade nine exams, I will not quit but continue with my education because education is power. Itâ€™s good to be enlightenedâ€.
â€œI always prayed to God that one day I would be counted among educated women. This adult literacy class is my chance to get educated and even if I donâ€™t pass my impending grade nine examinations, I wonâ€™t quit because I know God knows what is best for me,â€ Mrs Mwaanga, a trader said.
â€œWhen I complete my secondary education, I want to do nursing. My aim is to help people in need of healthcare. For now, I am happy that Iâ€™m able to read and write, and Iâ€™m also able to communicate in English with a journalist,â€ she said.
She advised illiterate married women to take advantage of the government adult literacy programme by enrolling at the nearest adult literacy centres.
Ms Mwaanga also urges girls to put education before marriage, saying literacy provides an enabling environment for one to sharpen oneâ€™s business acumen and position oneself for various business opportunities.
â€œWhen I started going to school, some people laughed at me and wondered why a woman of my age would start school at the expense of performing matrimonial duties. They told me that even if I were to go to school, I would not be able to find a job.
â€œBut I was never discouraged and here I am; Iâ€™m now literate, able to read and write. I can even venture into other businesses such as cross-border trade,â€ Mrs Mwaanga said.
She said women should strive to get an education because illiterate people can easily be misled and misinformed.
The mother of five is also happy that her family has been supportive towards her quest to become literate, especially her 16-year-old son, Ishmael Nchimunya, a grade nine-pupil at the same school she attends.
Ishmael, who was found studying within the school premises, said he was proud of her motherâ€™s love for education.
â€œIâ€™m not embarrassed to be in the same grade as my mum. Iâ€™m actually happy and comfortable that she decided to start school, at least sheâ€™s catching up with writing and speaking English,â€ he said as his mother smiled.
In a separate interview, Adastra Basic School head teacher Bornwell Siagwelele, described Mrs Mwaanga as a â€œvery good and focused learner.â€ He said the school has 21 pupils who have been enrolled in the beginnersâ€™ adult literacy class.
â€œWe also have 57 pupils, among them Mrs Mwaanga, who will be writing grade nine examinationsâ€¦ 42 and 33 others are in grades eight and seven respectively,â€ he said.
Realising the centrality of adult literacy to development, Zambia has committed herself to the United Nations Education For All goal of reducing adult illiteracy by 50 percent by 2015.
CHOMBA MUSIKA, Choma