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Experience #11 - Kasama, Zâmbia

Oh Zambia…

There were so many inspirations and outstanding moments that it’s quite hard to put it all in paper.

In the last two posts Fê shared our experiences in the organic farms and with Kasonde’s family, in the rural area of Kasama. It was intense and valuable! But it didn’t end there.

Arriving in Kasama we met Claire Albrecht, a blue eyes Hawaiian with a tight hug, who was in Zambia for the first time years ago as a volunteer in rural communities. It was when she met Justin Hostetter, from New York, who was also part of the same project. They felt in love and decided to be together from that moment on.

In 2009 when Claire used to live in Nkole Mfumu, a village nearby Kasama, her father, William Albrecht, visited her and got sensitized with the challenges faced by those people. It was when they figured out together a plan to mobilize the reduction of one of the problems that bothered them the most: girls not in school.

They’ve noticed that many children couldn’t go to school as they had to walk long ways, had no money to pay fees or simply because they had to work to complement the familiar income. Among all these obstacles, the girls had to face another one in particular: fight for gender equality. This is because for the majority of the rural families, when there is spare money for school fees, the boys have priority as they believe they have more conditions to have good jobs in the future and girls are also more prepared for the house duties. The result of all this is millions of girls out of school and trapped in a life that doesn’t offer any perspective of improvement.

According to UNICEF, today 65 million girls don’t go to school.

To change this scenario, Claire and her father started to fund the education of a few girls from Nkole Mfumu and noticed that it was possible to contribute significantly for their development. Just then Kasama Micro Grants – KMG was born. A non-profit organization with the main objective of fund raising to maintain girls in school.

After a few years, Claire noticed that only financing the studies wouldn’t be enough to provide new and better opportunities for them. Invariably, when they graduated from school they ended up back home to take care of the duties.

It was when Claire and Justin decided to go back to Zambia to follow closely the educational progress of the girls. Today they are building a house in a village nearby Kasama also to receive people from all around the world who want to learn more about the incredible work they develop there. While their house is not ready, they are hosted by the Chileshe family that have a huge heart and received us for a few nights also. It isn’t for nothing that Christopher Chileshe, the man of the family and Zambian, is the co-founder of KMG and performs the fundamental task of articulating with the community so there is more attention for the matter.

Since then KMG is gaining strength and now, way more than funding studies, it also empowers girls by an emotional monitoring, career planning, handcraft workshops, human rights classes, micro finance, computing, entrepreneurship and contraceptive methods.

Obviously a few topics presented to the girls, like STDs prevention and preservatives usage, still aren’t openly discussed in the region, where the influence of religion and traditional costumes is intimidating. Even thought Claire brings them to the table and proves that this type of information to the girls give them the chance to make decisions make consciously. When we asked her if it’s possible to see any impact from KMG, the answer was: “None of the girls are pregnant until now. This is already a great progress.”

One of the inspirations that motivated Claire to think and create the KMG was the story of a young girl, Christine Chileshe, who has strong eyes and a shy smile. (She isn’t part of Mr. Christopher’s family! This is a very common surname in Zambia.) A few years ago, Christine used to walk thirteen kilometres to school every day. Of course there were thirteen more in the way back. As if it wasn’t enough, she used to wake up at 5am so she could have time to do the washing and prepare lunch for the whole family. All these just before the marathon to school. By the time she got back home she still had to do the dinner. She was the first to wake up and the last to go to bed.

Christine became one of the beneficiaries of KMG to have the chance to conclude her studies disregarding all the challenges. In the conversation we had with her, we asked if she’d like to go to university and we could feel the conviction when she answered us saying that soon she will be an accountant. This proves how valuable is to invest in education. Furthermore, she also contributes to ensure that all the children in the family are enrolled in school.

Another great inspiration we had talking to the young Ceciliah Lesho, who welcomed us shinning in her jeans, necklace and makeup, accessories that are not so common over there. She was telling us with a smooth confidence about the importance of investing in girls’ education when her voice weakened and an indescribable might took over the softness. A few years ago Ceciliah was raped – what happens quite often in African rural areas – and she says that being able to go to school was what gave her the strength to think about other things not related to the suffering she lived.

Millions of girls and women are raped every year and practically there is no punishment ever – neither someone guilty. In a few African and Asian countries, up to 7 out of every 10 girls suffer from violence, such as rape, abuse or mutilation (source: CARE).

Rape is one of the causes that keep girls out of school, as the families are afraid of letting they walk long distances alone and becoming a victim. When it happens they are stigmatized and marginalized by the family and the neighbourhood, as they become inappropriate for marriage.

Then a negative cycle takes place, as without access to information the girls are unaware of their rights and don’t feel confident enough to fight against these absurd. Far from school the only thing left is to passively accept what seems to be their destiny.

In the other side, for the ones more skeptics, there are studies that prove that educating a girl generates a virtuous cycle way more valuable for society. A child whose mother had the chance to go to school has 50% more chance to survive after 5 years old (source: CARE). The reason why is that a literate mother with access to information has much more conditions to invest in hygiene, health and food for the children, preventing premature death by malnutrition, cholera or diarrhea. Besides, most times the women is the one in charge of taking care of the house and the children and when she has enough information and education she becomes capable to invest more consciously in her children’s school and in a small commerce to generate familiar income.

Anyway, I could keep on telling for hours why I believe that girls’ education deserves special attention from everybody, but as we are just in the beginning of the trip I hope I’ll be able to convince about this importance bringing real stories like Tariro, that we met in Zimbabwe, Christine and Ceciliah.

Education is the unique path to prosperity. Go to school, mainly in the regions we’ve been seeing, is the key for a future far from misery and closer to fullness. Even more for girls, as school is the tool that gives them the power to know and desire opportunities that are not just marriage and pregnancy. An educated girl can make choices. For herself, her family and the community.

Finally, I found that next to a great woman there is always a great man, who encourages, supports, inspire and share the same struggle. The effective and assertive participation of men is fundamental in order to conquer the truthful gender equality and walk together towards an inclusive, active and conscious society. It was like that with Claire, who had her father’s and Justin’s support to found and manage KMG. It has been like that with me, with my dad being one of the biggest supporters of all my ideas, mainly regarding Think Twice Brasil, and with Fê who is my best friend, incentive and partner for life and for causes.

Claire, Justin and Kasama Micro Grants, you have ALL my admiration!!! We are together for the same struggle and I hope that more and more open hearts will show up to join us.

The KMG accepts any donation in the website and you can also choose to sponsorship integrally the education of a girl!

What about thinking about a girl that you love and dedicate to her a donation that can definitely transform the life of another girl? As simple as that.

And let’s keep on changing our world. And a bit of others’ also.



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