NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Kitwe
SUSAN Samakai of Kitwe’s Kwacha township recalls how life became unbearable when she lost her father, who was the only breadwinner of her family.
In the turn of events, her mother who was a fulltime housewife started struggling to support Susan’s and her siblings’ education.
Things became so hard for Susan that she had to walk to school barefoot and attend class in her clothes instead of wearing the school uniform.
“When I was in grade 5, life became so hard because I lost my father. I remember by mother visiting our head teacher at school to seek permission if we could be allowed to wear our clothes in school because she could not afford to buy us uniforms,” she narrates.
Susan is one of the beneficiaries of Afya Muzuri’s Connecting Communities Initiative, a programme funded by Cecily’s Fund to help Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) access education.
Cecily’s Fund, a United Kingdom (UK) charity, has in the last 20 years been sponsoring OVC in school.
The charity was founded in memory of Cecily Eastwood, a British volunteer who died in an accident IN Kitwe in 1997 at age 19.
After finishing high school and securing a place at Cambridge University, Cecily decided to spend her gap year as a volunteer in Zambia.
While in Zambia, she was teaching at Lechwe School in Kitwe, at the same time volunteering for a charity called CINDI where she helped run a homework club for orphans.
After the tragic accident that claimed her life, Cecily’s parents Basil and Alison Eastwood came to Zambia and in honour of their daughter’s memory, decided to meet some of the orphans that she was teaching.
On their return home, the Eastwoods managed to collect £6,500 from friends, family, and other well-wishers in the UK which they donated to the orphans that Cecily had worked for.
This is how Cecily’s Fund was born and 20 years later it has benefitted 20 000 OVCs in Zambia and spending about £5million.
With the help of Cecily’s Fund, Susan completed school at Helen Kaunda Secondary School in Kitwe and she thanks the UK charity for making her future prospects bright.
Cecily’s Fund started paying for Susan’s education while she was in Grade 5 until 2006 when she finished secondary education.
She says apart from paying her school fees, the fund also helped her with books, shoes and other basic school necessities.
“I was not any different from other children who had fathers when Cecily’s Fund started taking care of us. I started looking nice because I now had a uniform and shoes,” she says.
Apart from supporting OVC in school, the fund, through a programme called Fresh Start Trainer, also equips the beneficiaries with entrepreneurship skills.
While in school, the children undergo entrepreneurial training and upon completion, they are given start-up capital to encourage them to venture into business.
Susan also benefitted from the business training and now she supplies rice to business houses. She buys her rice from Nakonde.
“I can walk in any business house and cut a deal because of the skills I acquired from the training programme,” she says.
Christopher Phiri, 23, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in tertiary education at Mukuba University in Kitwe is another beneficiary of Cecily’s Fund.
Christopher was enrolled on the fund’s scholarship when he was a third grader at Natwange Primary School in Chimwemwe, Kitwe.
After the death of his father, he recalls how his mother would struggle to provide the school necessities for him and his siblings.
“Life became hard when I lost my father. At one time, I never even had school shoes. When I was in primary school, I remember doing piece work to raise K28 for a pair of shoes,” Christopher recalls.
Christopher, who is on internship at Afya Muzuri completed his secondary school in 2012 and obtained 18 points.
He thanks Cecily’s Fund for empowering him with leadership and advocacy skills through the Copperbelt Education Health Programme (CHEP), a non-government organisation working with the UK charity.
And Sera Phiri, who finished her secondary school with 12 points, is another beneficiary of the fund.
She narrates that her father was involved in a road traffic accident, which left him crippled and incapable of fending for the family.
“If it was not for Cecily’s Fund, perhaps this time I could have been a prostitute, but they paid for my school fees and I have completed by education,” Sera says.
In Kitwe, Cecily’s Fund is sponsoring over 400 OVC in 50 schools.
Eukeria Katongo, a programmes officer from Afya Muzuri explains that Cecily’s Fund pays 50 to 100 percent of school fees for beneficiaries depending on their needs.
“Under the Connecting Programme, we have a total of 480 pupils that we support in schools, of these 222 are girls and 258 are boys,” Ms Katongo said.
And to encourage beneficiaries to put a premium on education, the organisation has a programme that focuses on encouraging schoolgirls to be focused and assertive as a way of dissuading them from illicit activities.
Cecily’s Fund programme manager Steven Barlow says the goal of the foundation is to remove barriers to education so that every child is educated.
Mr Barlow said lack of school fees, distance travelled to get to the nearest school and inadequate school necessities are some of the barriers to education.
“Zambia’s future lies in education and we have to ensure that we remove all the barriers to education for more children to access education,” he said.
Cecily’s Fund supports about 5000 children per year across its projects in Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces.
The organisation’s director Cheryl Hooper, during her visit to Zambia recently, pointed out that the charity has no benefactors from Zambia.
For this reason Cecily’s Fund wants Zambians at home and abroad, to come on board and sponsor Zambian’s OVC in school.
Ms Hooper calls on those that would like to help to visit the organisation’s website, www.cecilysfund.org.