KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
ANDREA Mwalula walks into the Twende Education for All learning centre at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka as a group of children call out her name. Their faces immediately light up at the sight of her as they run to embrace her.
Her reaction towards them is no different. She is visibly excited to be with them. Some of the children cling on to her, refusing to let go of her.
From Monday to Friday, the children gather at the Twende Education for All learning centre whose aim is to ensure that there is no stoppage in their education while receiving treatment.
Andrea established the centre in February last year.
“I wanted to help the less -privileged, so I came to UTH and spoke to management at the paediatric wing,” Andrea says. “It is an innovative project which is one of its kind in Africa. We bring schooling and play therapy to the children in their wards.”
The learning centre started in the paediatric play room which was later turned into a learning centre.
Andrea, who has been an educator and administrator for over 20 years, explains that in the beginning, they were catering for all children but that it later became overwhelming as it included both long term and short term patients.
“We decided to focus on the long term children who happen to be the children with cancer,” she says. “I started with Fridah and Charity. We could come in twice a week for four hours and we play with them, read for them and teach them different subject areas. My family and I pitched and made donations to kick it off the ground.”
Andrea’s dream was to get other teachers on board so that they could get the learning centre open from Monday to Friday but it was impossible in the beginning because she is not in full time employment and currently uses personal resources with help from family to sustain Twende.
“My goal is to have Twende open in all major hospitals in the country so that children who are sick can have the opportunity to continue with their schooling in the wards,” she says.
Though passionate about children and their wellbeing, being an educator was not her dream when she was young.
She wanted to be an air hostess.
“We travelled a lot as a family. My father was one of the first Zambian students to be awarded a scholarship to the former Yugoslavia in 1960,” Andrea says. “There, he met my mother and they got married. Together they had four children. So we followed my father to Scotland and that’s where my passion for travelling started.”
Andrea, who completed her secondary education at Dominican Convent in Ndola after which she proceeded to the University of Zambia (UNZA) where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, says it was while at campus that a call was sent out for air hostesses.
“I remember when a call for air hostesses was sent out. My sister and I applied and she was picked. I was devastated because I felt my world had come to an end. At one point I wanted to stop at UNZA but I completed,” she says.
Andrea also has a Master’s of Science with major focus on educational management and leadership.
Upon graduation from UNZA, she went to Uganda and opened a school with her friend. But after seven years in Uganda, she returned and did a teaching certification course with the University of South Africa (UNISA).
She later joined the International School of Lusaka where she worked before resigning so she could broaden her horizon and venture into international teaching.
“I am probably one of the first Zambians that ended up to the International Schools recruitment fairs in London,” she says. “People asked how I could not renew my contract at ISL in case I did not get a job. But then I thought that if I didn’t, I would probably join my mother’s planting business.”
Fortunately for her, she was offered five jobs at the recruitment fair; three in Europe and two in Africa. She wanted one in Africa, so, she chose the one in Ethiopia. But the director told her there were problems. He informed her about Cambodia.
“I asked where Cambodia is,” she says. “That evening, I went home and looked up Cambodia. I discovered it was next to Bali and I had always wanted to go there on holiday. The next day, I have accepted the job.”
After two years in Cambodia, Andrea was offered a job as vice-principal International Baccalaureate (IB) primary years co-ordinator at the newly -established Aga khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya. She was there for five years.
“During that time, I was invited by the IB to join the team as a consultant, workshop leader and also school visitor which enabled me travel around Africa, Middle East, Europe and Asia pacific regions giving workshops, training administrators and leaders, government officials in education sectors,” she says. “And I was evaluating and authorising school, something I still do.”
Andrea later returned to Zambia from Mombasa when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. After her death, she stayed and got a job at International School of Lusaka. She was then head hunted by the Aga Khan educational services who offered her a job at a school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
She accepted the job and worked there for four years, transforming it into a top leading international school in Tanzania.
Andrea was also offered a three month consultancy and leadership training in Saudi Arabia by the International Baccalaureate Foundation.
“I retired at the school in Dar es Salaam because I wanted to come back to Zambia and see how I could utilise my knowledge, expertise and skills,” she says. “Since 2007, I have been a consultant and workshop leader for the International Baccalaureate Organisation and this has enabled me develop and facilitate workshops across Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia.”
Unfortunately, her return was not as smooth as she had hoped.
“I came back so determined and passionate but it was frustrating not to immediately get things going,” she says. “I felt my skills and knowledge were valued and appreciated outside than in my own country. But my family encouraged me to stay.”
That is how Twende Education for All was eventually birthed.
“Twende’s project ‘learning never stops’ is facilitating and enabling children to continue life as children. Just because a child is sick in hospital does not mean education has to stop,” she says.
Everything from books to furniture and text books as well as learning tools are provided by Andrea. Apart from her family, he has had minimal help from well-wishers.
One of her biggest challenges is sustainability and ensuring teachers are paid every month. With only two volunteers, Andrea complains that it is difficult to get more to get more help as staff want to be paid.
“Everything I do, is out of my own resources, I can’t always run to my family to help out and that poses as a constraint on my part,” she says. “I had three teachers who were volunteering here but I had to let one go because I had no money to pay her.”
Andrea has appealed to the government to provide some assistance to the centre, perhaps in form of more qualified teachers. This will ease the financial burden of running the centre.
“This is clearly a success and because of it, I have been asked by the paediatric wing to open a second learning centre for the sickle cell anaemia children,” she says. “It could have been opened in May but because of financial constraints, I pushed to December. I need somebody there full time there.”