In Zambia, the aid organization is more in demand than ever. Chris Merk and the on-site managers report.

Zambia and many other African countries prolonged closure of schools due to Covid 19. The schools closed at the beginning of March and opened again on 1st June for the examination Grades only, meaning Grade 7, 9 and 12. The pandemic puts pupils at high risk of teenage pregnancies, sexual and physical abuse, child marriages and other harmful practices like drugs and alcohol, because most of them are feeling bored while sitting at home in the crowded compounds. Unfortunately, there is no chance for them to do any studies online, as they have no access to computers and internet. E-learning has been introduced through radio, Television, computers and mobile phones. Most of the pupils do not have access to e-learning platforms. The vulnerable and orphaned children are disadvantaged. Hence there is need for the tuitions which we offer. Some of the pupils started doing “piece work” (odd jobs), for other pupils’ parents made plans to marry them off (especially in the villages), as they are afraid that their child will not go back to school anymore.

The students see the benefits

However, FCTrelief has not closed its premises. We continued offering take-away lunches and the showers were also available for those who wanted to use it. Of course, we had to follow strict guidelines given by the Ministry of Health, such as wearing of masks, social distancing and good hand hygiene. We have been offering tuitions and open discussions in small groups to the exam pupils from June onwards. Pupils have profited a lot through the services we offer and see the benefit they have by being sponsored through us.

Students in the new building.

When the pupils come to collect their lunches, they are also given homework and other assignments by the teachers so that they are kept busy and do not have time to engage themselves in bad vices. Teachers ensure that pupils follow Covid 19 Health hygiene guidelines. We have pupils who struggle to eat one meal in a day! Therefore, the take-away lunches and tuitions have been a real success to everyone. As well as our part time staff like cooks and cleaners, the teachers were glad to continue working during these challenging times. Zambia’s economy has not been spared by this pandemic. There has been an increase in prices of all commodities and people have lost their jobs, as business is down.

Two university candidates

We have two pupils who are going to a secondary boarding school, which chooses only those with excellent performances. One who is not in an examination Grade is able to learn online, as we lent him a phone. The other one, who will complete this year is doing A-levels. Hopefully, he will start with university next year. He was also able to report back to school in June.

Alex and Tabea.

When visiting him two months later Alex looked very happy and confirmed that he is so glad to be there, as the circumstances are much better than where he used to live with his sister. He has done well and is now a leader in his class. Thanks to a generous sponsor, it was a pilot project this year to send Alex to do Grade 13 at this excellent boarding school, which prepares him for Uni where he can hopefully start in the second year.

The apprentices are looking forward to return

In May/June, the teachers were equipped with a leadership training which was done online during the closure of all school classes. The training was a success and we had very interesting discussions and learnt how to become a leader by example. The pupils will no doubt benefit from this course, too.

Four of the five "apprentices".

Those who are doing a year’s skills training (dressmaking, bricklaying, metal work and hospitality courses) also had to report back at school, since they are writing their exams by the end of this year. Everyone was excited to go back and continue learning again. This is also a pilot project this year for the 5 young people who will now be better equipped to make their own way in life after they complete their courses. We hope to send more pupils to do such “mini-apprenticeships” in future.

Preparations for starting school

During the first two weeks in September schools will be closing for a break. As FCTrelief we will do various workshops with the pupils, maintaining the social distancing and wearing of masks. We will divide the pupils in two groups of approximately 40 and have one group coming in the morning, the other one in the afternoon. It will be a 5 days-a-week program for these two weeks, meaning they will all receive lunch for the 10 days in total. During this time the teachers can monitor the pupils and help to prepare all to return to their schools as soon as they re-open, which we hope will be by the end of September at the latest.
Those pupils who have been with us since 2019 and passed well into the next Grade, will finally receive their mattress and one fitted sheet as a reward. Those who have been with us longer all have mattresses and we usually hand these out in March.

They sleep on the floor

We will also have two days on which we invite the guardians to come and see us with their pupils, in small groups, so that we can talk to them and they will receive some food. Usually we have 3 meetings in a year in which we distribute food and talk to the guardians and pupils together, but this year we couldn’t do that yet due to the pandemic. Some of our pupils’ parents/guardians have also been affected by losing their jobs and that makes it very difficult to provide food for their children.

Schoolchildren pick up their lunch - there is nothing at home.

One of our teachers prepared and handed out a questionnaire to each pupil to assess the present situation, as he could not do home visits this year – about home, where they sleep, about meals and any problems. Nearly all wrote that they are hungry, the newer pupils sleep on the floor in crowded conditions - none have a mattress, and in the small houses in the compound built close to each other it is often noisy, hence their sleep is disturbed. Everyone is struggling to “make ends meet” and survive as best they can – it is a great challenge for the parents, grandparents and guardians in general but they are extremely grateful for our help at FCT relief and do appreciate the chance their child has with us to continue with their schooling and for a better future. These children will then help support their parents/guardians later – this is how the social system works in Zambia as in many other poorer countries and is admirable.

The search continues

More than ever this year with the unexpected pandemic, the vulnerable and orphan children we support at FCT relief, thanks to generous and regular sponsors, need our help and support, including with health issues, encouragement, sometimes counselling, regular meals and tuitions via homework and projects until schools re-open and things return to the new normal and hopefully the economic situation improves. Many thanks to all of you who donate faithfully to help these very grateful and deserving children and to all the staff in Zambia who are doing a great job to make a difference and improve the lives for all concerned. Well done! Keep up the good work!

Please help us to find more sponsors as the need is tremendous and we would like to help and feed more children.