who runs the "refugee camp"., now more like a permanent settlement, for children sent me an e-mail this morning. She can do this about once a month when she makes a regular trip "into town". It keeps me up to date with what is going on there, how she and the several hundred children in her care are getting on.
They share a teacher with the local village. There are three classes, all of which have around one hundred students in each. There is no room for misbehaviour. The children know they have to help one another and this is their big chance. If they can learn to read and write and pass from one level to the next there is at least a remote chance of secondary school and something beyond that if they are well enough to continue.
This morning my friend was letting me know that the money we had deposited in her bank account had arrived safely - and that it would be paying for three of the children to finish secondary school. They are expected to do well. Two of them plan to go nursing - on scholarships provided by a church organisation. The other is going to support himself as a housemaster in a school while he trains as a teacher. All three of them will return the support given to them by giving a year of their time after training. This has happened several times over the years I have worked with my friend.
Many of the children in her care do not survive. They have AIDS or malaria or other conditions. Those that do survive often train locally. Going on to even the secondary level of education is rare. Finances just do not allow it. There have been only eleven children out of more than three thousand over the years who have reached successfully for tertiary education.
Here our media is raising questions about how the national testing procedures and the national website of school by school results is affecting education. There are concerns that children are being trained to pass the test rather than taught and that schools are trying to pick and choose students.
No such concerns reach my friend or the children in her care. They wonder if there will be enough money to pay the one teacher his limited salary and how long he will be prepared to work under the difficult conditions. They wonder if there will be enough money for everyone to have one exercise book into which the very best of their work, drawn on the ground, can be copied. They share reading books, one between ten or twelve. There are no computers and the sports equipment consists of some old soccer balls and home made rope. Everyone knows there are things they need much more than this - like food and a change of clothes, medicine and the litres of disinfectant that are used to try and keep infections from spreading.
I wonder about the priorities in our education system and the waste of money that has occurred in the Building Education Revolution programme. It seems 1% of that money alone could have educated many thousands of Zambian primary students for a year. I feel it might have been better spent there.