BENEDICT TEMBO, Petauke
TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Rabson Samuel Ngoma of Chiparamba in Chipata is a double orphan who had no hope of accessing college education.
He completed his secondary education at Chipata Day Secondary School in 2015 but has nobody to pay for his college fees.
The advent of Fountain of Peace College of Health Sciences in Petauke, the first-ever private health sciences college in Eastern Province, was therefore like the proverbial â€˜manna from heavenâ€™.
â€œI just heard about this school, I came, applied and attended interviews,â€™â€™ he said.
Ngoma, who hails from a family of three â€“ two boys and one girl â€“ is eager to complete his education and find a job so that he can start looking after his younger brother.
He is one of the two pupils who are being considered for scholarships by the college. The other is Tembo Njovu, 20, from Nyangu village in Chief Ndakeâ€™s area in Nyimba, who has also been offered a scholarship because his parents are too old to afford fees.
Apparently, the Fountain of Peace College of Health Sciences was established to provide training to the less privileged.
Founder of the college, Grace Mazala Phiri, says the need for higher institutions of learning to be closer to rural communities motivated the setting up of the institution.
Based on research findings in Chief Sandwe where intelligent pupils are failing to access college education due to distance, Ms Phiri decided to open a college in Petauke so that she does not just symphathise with the school- leavers but empathise with them as well.
In association with a non-governmental organisation called Zambia Women Development Association, Ms Phiri worked around Mawanda, Chiputula, Koloso and Sichilima villages in Petaukeâ€™s Chief Sandwe in 2007 doing community work around gender and development, adult literacy and safe motherhood.
She discovered that many girls from there have difficulties to get into college.
Despite there being mission and government colleges, there were a lot of teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
An interaction with the girls and some boys pointed to lack of further education.
Ms Phiri decided to open a college in Petauke to give the girl-child hope by establishing a learning institution near their reach.
â€œMost times, children in rural areas are not given opportunities they deserve. That is what made us to start this college, the first private college in Eastern Province. We are here to help girls and boys get college education than drop out,â€ she says.
Ms Phiri acquired a house in the Fairview area of Petauke in 2014 which she converted into a college by upgrading the structure and building more facilities.
The first intake of 71 students reported in July 2016 and the second intake of 50 students reported on January 9 this year.
Currently, space is the limiting factor.
â€œThe response is overwhelming, there are so many who would want to come but there isnâ€™t enough space,â€™â€™ Ms Phiri says.
Currently, the college is renting boarding houses for its students but will soon build hostels after being given land by the council.
The institution charges a modest K4,500 per student per semester.
â€œThis is a rural area where most parents and guardians are peasant farmers,â€ Ms Phiri says.
Most of the school places have been taken up by the girl-children with only 21 percent of the students being male.
â€œThere is positive discrimination because girls are very disadvantaged,â€ Ms Phiri says jokingly.
The arrival of Fountain of Peace College of Health Sciences is transforming Petauke into an education centre.
Across town in Nyika township, the second private college of education, St. Salome College of Education which is affiliated to the Zambian Open University, is thriving.
St. Salome College of Education, which opened in 2013, has already graduated 105 students, most of whom have been recruited by the Ministry of General Education.
College director Bishop Anzanga Mbebe says the second intake has 118 students while the third intake has 126 students. About 150 students are expected this month.
Bishop Mbebe says St. Salome College of Education, which became the second private college in Eastern Province, offers diploma courses, while Jubeva, the first private teachersâ€™ college, trains primary school teachers.
â€œSt. Salome is the first to train secondary school teachers,â€ Bishop Mbebe says.
The college has opened a secondary school and has grade eight and 10 pupils.
â€œThe big idea is to have a demonstration school. The school is managed by full-time qualified teachers,â€ Bishop Mbebe says.
Following the arrival of other training institutions in Petauke, St. Salome is now planning to offer degree programmes for teachers.
And seemingly not to be outdone, local businessman Gideon Moyo is opening Promised Land Canaan University in January next year.
Mr Moyo, who is director of GM Enterprise, says he expects an initial 500 students at the Garden Compound campus.
The first-ever university in Petauke will be offering education, medicine, law and business studies.
Mr Moyo says the university has six lecturers â€“ four of them at PhD level and two at masters, putting things in place.
â€œWe want to help those who cannot afford public universities. We will be offering reasonable fees,â€ Mr Moyo says.
Promised Land Canaan University has been twinned with North Carolinaâ€™s Wiltop University in the United States of America.
â€œAt the moment, I am doing it on my own,â€ Mr Moyo, a road contractor, says, as he waits for technical help from the American university.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Petauke