BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Kalumbila
CREATING a conducive learning environment for both girls and boys is key towards achieving quality education.
This is why Government embarked on the construction of boarding secondary schools across the country to improve the learning environment for pupils in Zambia.
For instance, in North-Western Province, Government has built Kayombo Boarding Secondary School in Kabompo, Chavuma Boarding Secondary School in Chavuma, Mufumbwe Boarding Secondary School in Mufumbwe and Mushindamo Girls Secondary School in Mushindamo district.
Others under construction are Ikelengâ€™i Boarding and Kaimbwe Boarding secondary schools in Ikelengâ€™i and Kasempa districts, respectively.
In addition, Government embarked on an ambitious programme to upgrade some primary schools to secondary schools in all parts of the country in an effort to increase classroom space and improve enrolment at secondary level.
To this effect, over 22 primary schools have been upgraded into secondary schools in North-Western Province.
The move has also helped reduce the distance pupils covered to get to the nearest secondary schools.
However, in some places, pupils, especially girls, are still faced with numerous challenges that hinder them from excelling further in their education, among them lack of boarding facilities to support their stay in school.
This situation has forced them to be weekly boarders, in poorly-constructed, unsafe and makeshift huts made of grass and mud structures within the vicinity of the schools, affecting their academic performance.
One such school which is grappling with lack of accommodation is Matebo Junior Secondary School in Chief Mateboâ€™s area in Kalumbila district in North-Western Province.
The school is situated about 115 kilometres from Solwezi central business district
Matebo Junior Secondary School has a total of 203 pupils and comprising 105 girls and 98 boys, was officially opened in 1965 just after independence.
Since then, the school has been a day school, forcing pupils especially girls who were weekly boarders, to be accommodated in poorly-constructed mud and pole structures on the school premises.
This has resulted in some girls dropping out of school due to early pregnancies in the absence of supervision from their parents.
However, the situation for the girls at the school has changed for the better following the construction of a modern girlâ€™s dormitory by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The dormitory, which was handed over to the school recently by UNHCR country representative Laura Lo Castro was built at a total cost of K360,000.
The United Nations (UN) humanitarian agency donated 54 mattresses to the school while Kansanshi Mining Plc donated 12 bunker beds.
The request to UNHCR to assist with the construction of the dormitory at Matebo Junior Secondary School was made by residents of Matebo through the Parents Teachersâ€™ Association (PTA) during consultations undertaken by Government and UNHCR to start the process of local integration of former refugees in 2012.
As a result of these consultations, a 1×2 classroom block was built by UNHCR at the school in 2014 at a cost of K210,000.
Speaking during the handover ceremony recently, Ms Lo Castro underscored the need to attach importance to the education of girls, especially in rural areas by creating an enabling environment for them.
Ms Lo Castro said although UNHCR is not a development agency, it shall endeavour within its limited resources to assist local communities in refugee hosting communities.
â€œBefore the construction of the dormitory, the girls who had to walk a radius of about 25 kilometres to attend school were compelled to do weekly boarding in unsafe, makeshift huts made of grass and mud structures, a situation the boys are still facing,â€ she said.
She is hopeful that with the construction of a modern girlâ€™s dormitory at the school, it will help them learn effectively and obtain good grades and excel in their education.
Ms Lo Castro assured the refuge host communities in Chiefs Matebo and Mumena respectively of more good things to come for accepting to live with the asylum seekers.
She also thanked the government and the people of Zambia for hosting refugees over the years.
And school headteacher Lebson Njangi, who received the dormitory on behalf of the girls, said the facility will drastically help to reduce the accommodation challenges learners at the school face.
â€œIt has been a long awaited assurance but today March 31, 2017 it has come to pass and the suffering that has been there since independence will be a talk of the past,â€ Mr Njangi said.
He said the dormitory will help bridge the performance gap between boys and girls at the school.
â€œIt is crystal-clear that the role played by the UNHCR in this community and other parts of the country correlates with the Patriotic Front (PF) government plans to promote the girl child education across the country,â€ Mr Njangi said.
He said the facility will act as a pull factor for the girl child to enrol in school.
In receiving the donation of behalf of Government, Kalumbila district commissioner Robinson Kalota, who was represented by district administrative officer Chipawa Chipawa said Government through its co-operating partners is doing everything possible to ensure that children especially girls learn in a conducive environment.
Mr Kalota thanked UNHCR for the gesture and commended the people of Matebo for hosting the refugees.
â€œA lot of developments will be implemented in Matebo and Mumena where the local integration programme is being implemented,â€ he said.
Despite this wonderful gesture by UNHCR, the school is still faced with a number of challenges, which calls for concerted efforts of other stakeholders to ensure pupils at the school learn in a better environment.
Among the problems currently facing the institution are lack of proper toilets, a boyâ€™s dormitory, lack of computers and electricity to enable the learners use information communication technology (ICT) programmes running in all schools across the country.
Indeed, the gesture by UNHCR must be commended as it will go a long way in shaping the future of girls in Matebo chiefdom.
BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Kalumbila