This week, youth from our two Lubuto Libraries graduated from the mentoring program. They had gone through 12 lessons designed by Dr. Lawrence Mukuka, a Zambian Sociologist, and delivered by trained library staff. The lessons are designed to impart values and empower marginalized youth. This girl, Chimwemwe, was accompanied by her grandmother, who expressed gratitude to Lubuto. She said Chimwemwe has become a good student in class and relates better with her family at home. The grandmother is the primary caregiver in the family and see’s Lubuto’s efforts as helping her and Chimwemwe cope with very difficult realities. For Chimwemwe and her friends, this was a very joyful occasion. One of the few places in life where they are recognized for an accomplishment.
The Government of Zambia recently announced the Grade 9 examination results. Zambia’s education system remains a cut-off point system, meaning students have to achieve a certain score in nation-wide exams at Grade 7 and Grade 9 to progress to Grade 8 and Grade 10 respectively. Those students who achieve this score progress to the next grade while those who don’t either repeat the previous grade or drop out of school. For 2013, more than 60% of those who sat for Grade 9 exams failed, the Minister announced. Almost 200,000 young people have been ejected from the education system and many will not have another chance at education. This is a sad situation in a country where almost 70% of the population is under 25. Zambia has made tremendous strides in improving primary enrollment but is failing to take care of its older children and youth.
Libraries can play a very important role in providing informal education opportunities to this group. The programming in Lubuto Libraries has been developed to provide a space for young people to explore their talents and develop skills. Several youth have discovered their talents in art and gone on to exhibit their work in Zambia and abroad. Others are gaining media skills and graphic designing skills that will be transferable to formal work environments. For some youth, Lubuto Libraries are the only place where they can read – growing their knowledge while interacting with peers. From their unique position as public libraries, Lubuto Libraries are meeting the needs of children and youth left out of the school system.
Children at FOHLL discussing Mandela’s life and his love for children.
Today marks the end of seven days national mourning declared for Nelson Mandela in Zambia. Over the past week, Lubuto Libraries have been places where children came to reflect on what Mandela meant to them. This was achieved through reading, discussion and drama performances. Many of the children already know about Mandela’s life and his great sacrifice, largely due to things they have read in the libraries or from mentoring sessions where Mandela has come up as an exemplary figure. The children see Mandela as someone who they can look up to as an inspiration. Referring to Mandela’s humble beginnings in Qunu, one child said “we should not forget were we come from and even if we are poor we can achieve our dreams.” They were also deeply affected by the fact that he forgave his captors after twenty-seven years in prison. Commenting on his extraordinary vision, one girl stated “to forgive people who arrested you is hard… he knew what he wanted.” Mandela will be remembered by most of us as the man who reconciled a nation: white and black, and black and black. His singular leadership qualities are a rarity in Africa and, indeed, the world. One child noted his ability to relinquish power at a time when many African leaders clung on to it. But children also recognize that they can take a leaf from Mandela’s book and becoming leaders in whatever they do. They want to use the opportunities they have to rise above their circumstances and help others, like Madiba did.
By Thomas Mukonde
Our libraries are more than places where you find an excellent collection of books. They are also places where children can come to find a way to express themselves in our different programs. Some children come to the library because it is a safe environment. Such is the case of a young girl who I will call Carol. Carol spends lots of time in NLL, looking at books and participating in different programs. After a recent mentoring session, Carol opened up to library staff about having been sexually abused in the past. We were there to hear her story, when her home environment did not provide the love and care she deserved. Yesterday, Carol approached one of our staff members with a deep wound on her forehead. I was in NLL at the time and was told that the wound was a result of physical abuse from her mother. Carol had not been given medical attention for several days and was clearly traumatized. “My mum did this to me,” she said, “she wanted to kill me.” I spoke to her and realized that Carol had an abusive and negligent mother. Since yesterday, Lubuto staff have initiated action to protect the girl. We have worked with her school and the Child Protection Unit of the Zambia Police Service to make the mother accountable, while ensuring that Carol receives very urgent medical care. And since NLL is embedded in the community, we will continue monitoring Carol’s situation.
by Thomas Mukonde.
One of the activities that we do at Lubuto is connect with children living and working on the streets. This week, I joined our outreach team from FOHLL at Lusaka’s Soweto Market and read The Three Little Pigs with children we met at the market. Brenda, one of our Program Facilitators, helped me translate the story into Nyanja. While I speak Nyanja, my native language is Bemba. It was a beautiful experience, reading amid very difficult circumstances. As we read, more and more children joined us, many sniffing “glue,” a common drug on the streets.
Our environment was a far cry from the comfort of a classroom in an elite American elementary school or even a Zambian classroom. A stream of dirty water flowed right by us and various types of trade happened in the open air market. There were stalls with used clothes, restaurants and electronics for sale. Some of the children were themselves parents, living on the streets with their families. There is a whole world on the streets, with their own economy – modes of earning a living – and communities.
But it was almost magical how we were all united in story. It seems we were, for that half hour, shut out from the rest of the world. Many children we meet on the streets are eventually drawn to Lubuto Library Programs. The Fountain of Hope, a local non-profit organization that hosts a Lubuto Library, helps reintegrate the children into society while Lubuto provides a rare opportunity for these children to explore talents they thought they never had, talk to a caring adult or simply come to a quiet place to read a book.
by Thomas Mukonde
About the Author:
Thomas Mukonde recently joined the Lubuto Library Project Zambia Office. Thomas is a native of the Copperbelt town of Kitwe. He grew up there and attended both public and private schools before proceeding to boarding school in the southern part of Zambia. After this, he studied under scholarships in the U.K. and the United States. In the U.S., he graduated with a B.A. in History from Georgetown University. After teaching for a year at a private, elite, school in Washington, D.C., Thomas decided to return home and give back to his community. During the months between returning to Zambia and beginning work with Lubuto, Thomas worked at a primary school that his family runs in Kitwe. Thomas has a deep interest in education and social equity. He is excited to be back in Zambia and working with the Lubuto Library Project in bringing quality library services to its vulnerable children.
Our two Lubuto Libraries in Lusaka continue to draw large numbers of children. The libraries complement the formal education system by providing high quality collections and programming to all children, especially vulnerable children. Class sizes in Zambian primary schools are often large, usually with over fifty children per class. This means that many Zambian children have little contact with their teacher. Although primary education in Zambia is now free, uniform costs and other fees make attending school prohibitive for many. Lubuto provides a place where children can find a comfortable, welcoming, environment in which to explore knowledge on their own and to participate in our programming. They also find friendly library staff, who are ready to help them find a book, read to them or simply listen to their concerns.
One of the most popular programs in the libraries is LubutoMentoring. Lubuto developed a series of mentoring topics with a local expert, ensuring that content was culturally and age appropriate. The expert also trained staff in how to effectively conduct a mentoring session. Invariably, children enjoy these mentoring sessions and parents have reported positive behavioural change. Mentoring sessions are built around stories, both traditional and those found in our collections. This is very much like the traditional African way of deliberation. Children respond well to the open discussion format of the sessions and the architecture of the Reading Room, with a talking circle at the center, facilitates the process. Observing mentoring sessions, one is amazed at the freedom children express in sharing their opinions or asking questions. It is probably the only place in their lives where they are seen and heard.
Lubuto provides a place for children to be themselves, something greatly lacking in Zambian society. Because of the breakdown in family structures that has occurred in the wake of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, many children have lost one or both parents. The 2010 Census revealed that 15.8% of Zambian children have lost one or both parents. Many families are strained, leaving children with little parental care or on the streets. But Lubuto changes this. Its staff welcomes all children, particularly those at the fringes of society, giving them hope, a chance to expand their minds and connecting them to their own culture. Lubuto is a model of how a library can serve to enrich the lives of vulnerable children and provide a space for them to realize their right to be children.
Construction of the third library is in the early stages. Excavations are being completed; on Monday we hope to start building the foundations.
The Mumuni Library, the third Lubuto Library in Zambia and the first in a rural area, will also be the largest. We know that the Nabukuyu community (comprising 22 Tonga villages led by 22 headmen and the Matantala Rural Integrated Development Enterprise) which will own the library, has high expectations and many plans for the use of the library by children, teenagers and adults. The community people and Matantala (our hosting organization) believe that the Mumuni Library will become the main centre for the whole community to meet and interact, and will also attract services and other economic activity to the adjacent area.
In our trips to the site and the surrounding area, we noticed that a Tonga homestead usually develops in a linear way: a main building at one end, across from it a group of other important buildings, and some smaller structure (often a kitchen or insaka) in the middle. A large tree is often included in the homestead’s ground. As we have two very nice large indigenous trees on our site and given the anticipated high demand for the library services, we decided to add a fourth building. This building will be designed and equipped to serve the teenage population among the users of the Mumuni Library.
by Eleni Coromvli