VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
AT the age of nine, he was responsible for looking after his father’s cows. Now aged 16, he tends after 35 cows all by himself. He learnt the craft from his older brother.
This is nothing unusual for Roderick Munsaka, who lives in Mbila village in
Itezhi Tezhi district. In these granary is parts of the country, cattle rearing are part and parcel of people’s livelihoods. In fact, their wealth is counted in terms of the numbers of cattle one has.
But still, Roderick, who is the fourth-born in family of 10, says herding cattle requires one to be brave and focused because one encounters challenges while herding in the field. But Roderick has grown into it, and is now used to being alone in the bush.
“I wake up early in the morning every day to open for the cattle from the kraal and lead them to greener pastures. I do this up to midday during school days and the whole day when on holiday,” he says.
Roderick says the life of a cowherd is extremely harsh, as one spends their days walking with cattle, often in sweltering heat during the hot season and extreme cold in winter.
The herding of cattle is a practice that is said to have developed over a 100, 000 years ago as pre-historic hunters domesticated roaming wild animals such as sheep, cows and goats.
It is an important occupation for most men and boys in rural areas. While some do it out of choice, some (especially young boys) have no option but engage in it in order to support their families, and Roderick is a living example.
It can cause one to lose focus on their education, a scenario Roderick is fully aware of.
“Whenever I get the chance to read books, I do to the best of my ability because I know that life without education is hard at times and so I have to ensure that I better myself by being educated,” Roderick says.
At 16, he is in grade five at Muyasani Primary school. The school is located about three kilometres from his house and he goes at 10:00 hours and knocks off at 13 hours. At that age, some of his age-mates would be nearing the end of their high schools.
Still, Roderick says nothing will stand in his dream of becoming a teacher one day. To keep track of his school activities, he has, in consultation with his family, developed a strictly followed schedule that works both for himself and his family.
When he is not in school, Roderick tends cattle and uses his free time to study.
“Although my favourite subjects are mathematics and science, I take time to study all I learn in school because I know it is the only way I can pass my examination,” he says.
Roderick has the support of his parents, who understand his desire to become a teacher.
His mother, Saviour Ng’andu, notes that her son has very unique traits from the rest of the children. She says he loves school and works very hard in his school work despite a hectic cattle herding schedule that he is subjected to.
“Roderick is determined in becoming a teacher, a career that we are all embracing to ensure that it is realised,” says Ms Ngandu. “He is also good when it comes to cattle herding; he quickly notices when an animal is not well.”
She says her role as a mother is to encourage her son to work extra hard at school and at the same time be of help to the family by taking care of the animals.
Education can be the main difference for most deprived children, particularly in rural areas, in changing their fortunes.
In its quest to enhance education, Zambia in 2014 revised the education curriculum to ensure children like Roderick get to know how to read and write.
The new curriculum is meant to promote root learning and easy memorising for school-going children.
Hillary Chipango, the Ministry of Education spokesperson, says the poor reading and writing culture is one of the biggest challenges school-going children face.
With that, government has established access and quality of education, especially for girls, as a national priority.
Zambia achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number two on universal primary education with net primary enrolment increasing significantly from 80 percent in 1990 to 103 percent in 2013.
United Nations country coordinator Janet Rogan says learners reaching grade seven have increased in the country from 64 to 90 percent and literacy rates between the ages of 15 and 24 years have progressively increased from 75 to 89 percent.
The global education agenda (Education 2030) is part of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.
The goal on education ensures that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030. It also aims to provide equal access to affordable vocational training, to eliminate gender and wealth disparities, and achieve universal access to quality higher education.
With such measures in place, Roderick and millions of other children in similar circumstances remain hopeful of achieving their desired dreams.