It was faster than the internet how word got around that we had arrived in Freedom Compound on the Saturday morning. Not long after Arthur, Netsayi and I had begun to make our way through the meandering, narrow and dusty streets of this community “shantytown”, children we are sponsoring began to pop their heads up around the corners looking in a smiling and curious show of recognition, yet still being overpowered by shyness that spoke to the situation as being completely out of context from our usual meeting place – their school, Twitti School.
The purpose of our visit was to meet the children at their homes and meet the families with which they live. Our intent was to put a face and name to the people half a world away that are helping their children and grandchildren to attend school and receive a solid education at Twitti Basic School in Lilayi, Zambia. Further, we wanted to reinforce the importance of attending school each and every day and to show that there are people who care: essentially supporters or partners in the education of their children. Simply speaking, our contribution is to provide for the education costs of their children and grandchildren; their contribution is to ensure that their children and grandchildren attend school each day.
Through two different funding initiatives, we have created a means of sponsoring nine different children attending Twitti School, in Lilayi, Zambia. Carolyn and I gathered our 25 families and friends together (we, as the “25 Club”) to ensure that Elizabeth, Evelyn, Fridah, Matilda and Margaret can attend Twitti School.Through the efforts of my students at École internationale du Village, we raise money each autumn to pay for Regina, Charles, Lois and David to also attend Twitti School.
All of the funds are directed toward Friends for Zambia, the non-profit charitable organization created in Canada by Patricia Ellsworth and Shelley O’Callaghan. The Friends for Zambia then transfers the entire sum of money to Twitti School to pay for the education, transport, and school uniform costs of the children.
All of these children, with the exception of Matilda, are in Grade 1 at Twitti School. Matilda was retained for another year in Pre-Grade as her skills were not yet adequately developed. She will begin Grade 1 in January 2017, which coincides with the beginning of the new school year. The other eight children will begin Grade 2 in January 2017. To date, all of the nine children have been sponsored through our collective initiatives for two complete school years. The third school year of sponsorship will begin in January and coincide with their new school grades.
The community on this Saturday morning was teeming with activity. The housing in Freedom Compound is comprised mainly of very small brick shelters. Some shelters are connected; others are separated either by small passageways, by streets, or by tall vertical dried-grass fence enclosures. Arthur explained that the community is always evolving and changing in that the structures are constructed on a first-come first-served squatter basis, settling on any available space.
The homes that I entered were extremely modest and no larger than the average bedroom in Canada. Esther, Evelyn's mother, kept her living quarters and shaded porch very neat and tidy. She and I warmly greeted each other and I gave Evelyn a big hug. Esther expressed her gratitude for our assistance helping the children attend school. I told her simply that it was a pleasure to help and that we felt strongly about Evelyn attending school each day so that she could develop into a confident and well-educated young woman.
Years ago, a Japanese company drilled a bore hole (well) that provides a source of water for the community. The water is only available between 12 noon and 2pm each day. During this time, families must bring any containers available to collect water from the bore hole to serve their needs for the rest of the day.
Toilet facilities are communal, small brick structures, randomly and sparsely located – essentially outhouses made of brick. Once the toilet is full of human waste, the holes are then covered over and the toilet is relocated elsewhere.
We then continued on our way, street to street, almost like in a living labyrinth of children playing in the streets, people coming and going, small roaming herds of goats, small flocks of chickens, small markets selling tomatoes, dried fish, deep-fried corn-based ‘donuts’, dried grasshoppers and dried caterpillars, rat meat, and small containers of cooking oil sold by the kwacha or two (1 kwacha equals 20 cents), the occasional blare of loud music, and the ever-present pungent smell of so many people living together in such a small space. Almost everywhere you looked was the ever present “Talk-time” available for purchase: scratch coupons that are purchased to put airtime on your cell phone.
Arthur explained that the average wage for residents in Freedom Compound is roughly 2 or 3 dollars (10 or 15 kwachas) per day. For this reason, all of the items in the market are sold in units of 1 or 2 kwachas (5 kwachas equals one Canadian dollar). This way, a woman can buy a little cooking oil, some tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, rice, charcoal for cooking, onions, and prepare a meal for her family. Other items such as a 40 pound bag of mealy meal to make nshima (the ever-present food in their diet), are purchased on a larger scale when money becomes available.