Abigail’s Journey

Posted Nov. 13, 2012 in Zambia, Cama

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When Abigail Kaindu goes back to her home village in northern Zambia, she’s considered a bit of a superstar. Pictures of her meeting Michelle Obama are pinned up on the walls, and she says the girls she grew up with tell her, ‘It’s a miracle.’ “But I tell them only reason I am different from them, is that I went to school and they didn’t.”

On her most recent trip back to Luapula Province, Abigail was accompanying the US Ambassador to Zambia, Mark Storella, and a delegation of senior aid officials, translating for them, and acting as a guide to her home region. Yet she is still only 24 years old. Doesn’t she ever feel shy, or nervous?

She laughs. “It’s a normal thing,” she says, “to feel nervous. But it’s only for the first five minutes. Then I say to myself, ‘Oh, I’ve done this before. If I remain in my shell I will never get out of it. So I make myself confident. Even a village girl can do that’.”

Abigail has come a long way from very modest beginnings. Her mother died when she was a child, and her grandmother, a subsistence farmer, couldn’t afford her school fees. But she had a sympathetic headmaster, and with support from Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, she was able to finish school and go on to business college. Now she works for Camfed in its education department, and heads its network of alumnae in the country. The head of Camfed in Zambia, Barbara Chilangwa, describes her as 'a very remarkable young woman.'

Along the way Abigail has been to the United States with a group of young people from all over Africa, and met President Obama as well as the First Lady, and she has received a $5,000 award to run a project of her own in her home village. She was recently appointed to a youth panel to advise the UN Secretary General on global education policy.

The Cama network of Camfed alumnae which she heads is active in Luapula Province, as it is all over Zambia. In the little fishing town of Samfya, an IT resource centre, set up by Camfed, is being run by some of the young women who got their education thanks to Camfed bursaries. It has the only reliable internet access in the district and is extremely popular, not just with the Camfed alumnae, but with teachers and students, medical workers, police officers and many others.

The Samfya project also provides a social centre for young women, something otherwise lacking in rural Zambia. Abigail says, “There is really nowhere for young people to go and nothing for them to do, except for drinking beer in beer halls. At least now girls who want to learn something can be with us in the centre.”

Her one regret is that there wasn’t time to take the Ambassador to see the Resource Centre, or to bring him to her own village of Lubwe, some twenty kilometres away from Samfya. It’s here that Abigail has been running her own project, offering training to young women in budgeting and basic money management. Most of the women in Lubwe are farmers or traders, buying and selling vegetables, fresh and dried fish from the nearby lake, and printed cotton cloth which they bring from the Tanzanian border.

“People are poor,” says Abigail, “but they are not 100% poor. They handle perhaps $50 a month, or every two months, yet they never manage to save. I get them to understand that if they saved just a little every day, how much money they could save in a year.

“They didn’t go to school, but they can all count, and having some training is a big thing for them. I can’t just sit there; I can’t sit on the skills and information I have. If I pass it on even to just ten or twelve others, then I can make a difference.”