SUNDAY PROFILE with YANDE SYAMPEYO
IT IS 09:00 hours on a drizzling morning in November of 2016 and John Zimba is visiting his grandmother in Chiparamba area of Chipata district, when he encounters a group of children in school uniform seemingly headed home.
As a teacher, this situation puzzles John as he finds it odd that the young learners could be returning home from school at that ‘hour’.
Curiosty, he approaches the pupils of Mpapa community school with a view to finding out.
“ When I inquired, they informed me rains forced them to knock off as their classroom was leaking. But I found that response quite weird, at the same time, I noticed genuineness in what they were saying.”
To verify the claims, John visited the community school.
At the school, he was ‘greeted’ by three makeshift structures made out of mud and pole, covered by grass.
“I could not imagine that an effective lesson could take place in such an environment. It was raining outside and so was it was inside the three structures as the roof was porous,” he recalls.
“I asked the school management what they were doing to change the situation at the school because pupils were losing out on lessons.”
John, who was touched by the state of affairs at the school embarked on a campaign to raise funds.
He shared photographs of the supposedly education facility with some networks he established while pursuing a master’s degree in Scotland.
The aim was to raise enough funds to build a durable and conducive learning space at the community school.
The community at Mpapa was also craving for change and so, it mobilised and moulded bricks for the project.
Luckily, John’s friend, Katrina, of Czech Republic responded to the his SOS.
Katrina was touched by the story of Mpapa School that she quickly mobilised resources.
John continued sharing the story with friends and allies at the British High Commission in Zambia, a relationship he developed through the Chevening Scholarship.
The 34-year-old teacher of Anoya Zulu Boys Secondary School in Chipata was privileged to be among 17 Zambians that were awarded the Chevening Scholarship in 2015 to study a master’s programme in Scotland.
“I recall when the British High Commission to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet visited Mpapa school last year, he was equally moved by—what he saw,” John recollects.
As of December last year, a one-by-two classroom block was built at the community school with a pupil population of over 200.
The school has a catchment area of 16 villages.
“The impact of the building of the school has been massive,” John says. “We are talking about reduction in absenteeism, increased motivation on the part of the teachers and increased enrolment.”
Luckily for John, his humble and selfless service to the community of Mpapa and Chiparampa area in general has not gone unnoticed.
Last week, Queen Elizabeth II recognised John, who is founder of Chiparamba Trust, as the 70th Commonwealth Point of Light, in honour of his exceptional voluntary service in promoting literacy in rural areas.
John becomes the second Zambian to be recognised by the Queen, in an award which celebrates inspirational acts of volunteering across the
Commonwealth and help inspire others to make their own contribution to tackling some of the greatest social challenges.
“I reached out to the community, but see what have I received in return,” John, who also took part in the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, says.
John says the award has inculcated in him an insatiable appetite to do more for communities.
John, who is inspired by the likes of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr and Barack Obama, believes small acts multiplied by a million people has the ability to transform the world into a better place.
He takes pleasure in seeing young people being transformed into responsible leaders. He is an advocate of inclusive education.
John believes most community schools in Zambia are in dire need of help just as the case is at Mpapa.
It is John’s desire to see the quality of education in rural areas improved.
He says literacy skills in rural areas are still lagging behind and need to be assessed by Government and other stakeholders religiously.
“There has been so much focus about getting children in school with little attention on what goes on in the classroom – the quality of education,” he says.
John, who believes in supplementing Government’s efforts in national development, seeks to assist the state to increase access to quality education especially in rural areas through the Chiparamba Trust.
“Chiparampa Trust engages communities and sensitises them on the importance of education. We also want to work with those people who are not in education, employment and training.
“We have high school leavers that are not doing anything. So if we can mentor these young people, it can make a difference to the economic landscape” he says.
Second born in a family of four, John’s dream as a youngster was to serve the church as a Catholic priest.
However, this dream slowly faded after he lost his father as he had to fend for his siblings.
John attended secondary education at Saint Mary’s Junior Seminary school in Chipata after which in 2002, he was accepted at the University of Zambia (UNZA) School of Education to study Geography and Physiology.
He graduated in 2009 with a merit. In 2011, he was recruited as a teacher by the Ministry of General Education and deployed to Anoya Zulu Boys Secondary in Chipata.
In 2014, John tied the knot with Catherine Lungu. In 2015, John applied for the Chevening Scholarship programme and was accorded an opportunity to study a Master of Science in Education Policy with focus on people, social inclusion and change at Scotland’s Glasgow University.
“One of the things that Chevening does is to mentor young people to be leaders in their field. I noticed that people like to give back to the community. I was engaged in a number of such voluntary works,” he recollects.
He returned to Zambia in 2016 and he is still a class teacher at Anoya school.
SUNDAY PROFILE with YANDE SYAMPEYO