NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Chingola
CHILD marriage and teenage pregnancies rank high on social vices that hinder young girls from completing their education in Zambia.
These vices are common in rural areas where, due to high poverty levels, parents would rather marry off their daughters than spend scarce resources on school fees.
When not in school, girls are likely to marry early or become mothers at a tender age.
A recent study by the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) reveals a higher number of school dropouts among girls than boys in public schools.
Absenteeism during examinations is higher among girls compared to boys.
ECZ attributes the high absenteeism by girl exam candidates to pregnancies and early marriages. And research by many scholars indicates that schooling helps girls to delay marriage and sexual debuts.
Realising the importance of gender parity in education, Government and non-governmental organisations have been working at keeping girls in school until they complete their education.
Cecily’s Fund, a UK charity, is one donor that has been funding the education of girls from poor families, including children orphaned by HIV and AIDS.
The organisation is doing so through a programme called Learning for Life, Reducing HIV, Increasing Life Chances for Girls by Keeping Girls in School.
Cecily’s Fund was founded in memory of Cecily Eastwood, a British volunteer who died in a road accident in Kitwe in 1997 at age 19.
In its 20 years of supporting the education of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Zambia, the organisation has spent over £5 million.
In Chingola on the Copperbelt, the fund, working in partnership with Afya Mzuru, is implementing the Learning for Life, Reducing HIV, Increasing Life Chances for Girls by Keeping Girls in School, which is supporting 900 girls in schools.
Some of the beneficiaries had stopped school due to non-payment of school fees while others had dropped out due to pregnancy.
The programme is being implemented in 20 schools of Chingola and will run for two years.
Cecily’s Fund sourced funding for this project from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
However, the beneficiaries, who are all in grade eight, are hoping that more donors will come on board for the programme to continue.
Lyness Kayombo, 47, of Shimulala settlement area is happy that Cecily’s Fund is paying school fees for her daughter.
“I no longer worry about paying school fees for my child because Cecily’s Fund is paying for her. They are paying her school fees and providing uniforms and books for her,” she said.
Ms Kayombo said the programme has greatly helped reduce early marriages and teenage pregnancies in Shimulala, about 20km from Chingola’s central business district.
Ms Kayombo, however, says the programme needs to continue after its two-year lifespan to enable girls that are being sponsored to complete their education.
And Naomi Mpanga, 16, a pupil at Shimulala Basic School, where Cecily’s Fund is supporting 40 girls, says the programme needs to continue beyond its two-year time span, otherwise beneficiaries may drop out of school.
Before the UK charity came to her rescue, Naomi was often chased from school for non-payment of school fees.
“It was difficult for my mother to pay school fees. The school authorities would send me home while my friends remained in class learning. That really made me feel bad,” Naomi narrates.
Another beneficiary, Cynthia Katongo, a Grade Eight pupil at Shimulala, said some of her friends who dropped out of school due to lack of school fees have ended up getting married at a tender age.
“When your parents fail to take you to school, the next thing is marriage. This is the reason why girls need to be in school,” she said.
Felistus Kalulu, a widow of Shimulala, thanks Cecily’s Fund for coming to the aid of girls from poor families by keeping them in school.
Ms Kalulu said it is common for poor families in Shimulala to marry off young girls who are not in school. She said the UK charity has helped to keep girls in school and save them from assuming the roles of wife and mother at a tender age.
And Afya Mzuri programmes officer Beatrice Sambondu said the Learning for Life, Reducing HIV, Increasing Life Chances for Girls by Keeping Girls in School programme is being implemented in 20 schools in Chingola, seven of them being in rural areas on the Chingola-Solwezi road.
Ms Sambondu said through the programme, some young mothers have been given a second chance to get an education.
“We do not only pay school fees for these girls, but we also provide books and pens,” she said.
Ms Sambondu said Afya Mzuri will soon start distributing sanitary towels to the girls to ensure that they do not abscond from school when they are menstruating.
Limpo Sishekanu, the district guidance and counselling coordinator in the Ministry of General Education, commended Cecily’s Fund for taking interest in girls’ education.
Ms Sishekanu noted that most girls under the programme had dropped out of school, but have been given a second chance to better their future.
She said a lot of Chingola residents survive on part-time jobs in the mines, making it difficult to pay school fees for their children.
“We want to see this programme continue so that the girls can finish their education,” she said.
The 900 schoolgirls being sponsored risk not proceeding to Grade 10 if the programme comes to an end next year.
Those interested in partnering with the UK charity to sponsor a child in school can visit the website, www.cecilysfund.org.