CAMFED Association member, Zambia
Naomi is one of the first CAMFED Learner Guides to be trained in Zambia. She is a respected leader in her community, paving the way for younger students to follow. Her story could have been very different. After her father died when she was just a few months old, Naomi’s mother was left to raise her new baby alone. Their daily lives were characterized by poverty and hardship.
Naomi’s mother did her best to support her daughter with food, clothes, and materials to attend school, but things were not easy. By the time Naomi reached secondary school, where families have to raise school fees on top of the other essentials, Naomi feared her education would be over. It was then that CAMFED stepped in with the necessary financial and psycho-social support to allow Naomi to complete her education.
After school, Naomi joined the CAMFED Association (CAMA); the pan-African network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. Soon after, she began training to become a Learner Guide. CAMFED Learner Guides return to their local schools to deliver a life skills and wellbeing curriculum (called My Better World), developed with young people in Africa. Naomi leads sessions that improve students’ confidence, resilience, self-reflection, and autonomy, as well as their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and encourages children to become more aware of their rights, responsibilities, and values. As a Learner Guide, she is a ‘big sister’ and relatable role model, uniquely placed to protect children, particularly girls, in her community from being pushed out of school by their circumstances, and having to enter into early marriage and child-bearing.
CAMFED Association members know what it is like to be vulnerable to child marriage. With their fierce determination, their deep-felt empathy, their unwavering commitment to securing every girl’s right to education, and the respect they have garnered in their communities, CAMFED’s Learner Guides have reached children that others – including local authorities and school staff – could not.
The teachers in the school where I go, they are very good, they are impressed with me and they love the program. The learners love it too!
Naomi is proud of the progress made by her learners, seeing them become more confident and resilient through her mentoring and guidance. With the skills she has learnt in her role, Naomi feels better equipped to tackle community issues.
Naomi shared a story of a girl in her community who became pregnant, and, not having family support, felt there was no option but to drop out of school. Naomi and her parents took the girl in and encouraged her to remain in education. Each afternoon, Naomi coached her through her schoolwork, particularly in English and Mathematics, where she had fallen behind. She saved up to buy stationery so that the girl could return to school.
In training as a Learner Guide, Naomi could work towards a bespoke vocational (BTEC) qualification developed in partnership with leading education company Pearson, designed to support vulnerable children and young people. This will help Naomi to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher, by strengthening her application to teacher training college.
Naomi has also gained further experience of working with young people by training as a CAMFED Transition Guide, to support school graduates progress to employment, entrepreneurship or further education and training. Her qualities as a leader are coming into their own — recently her peers elected her as the CAMFED Association District Chairperson.
Naomi is frequently invited by local traditional leaders and school based committees to speak publicly on issues concerning the wellbeing of youth and girls. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she stepped up with other CAMFED Association Guides to reach out to out-of-school children, who, in rural communities like Naomi’s, did not have access to online learning. To bridge the gap, Naomi travelled by bicycle to visit learners in neighboring villages to help them study, and presented My Better World sessions on local radio. These interactive call and answer sessions reached many more children and teenagers with vital health and wellbeing information.
The radio sessions proved an invaluable link between rural communities when travel restrictions were implemented. After hearing her on the radio, several school graduates phoned in and Naomi connected them with fellow CAMFED Association members so they could access additional resources. Furthermore, as a trusted voice in the community, Naomi’s words and actions were vital to reassure parents and children that schools would reopen and help them stay on track to complete their education.
Through the Learner Guide program, Naomi gained access to financial training and an interest-free loan to start a home furnishing business, selling duvets, pillows and curtains. With the profits she is able to sustain both her family and other children in her community, paying forward the benefits of her education and keeping children safe from marriage.
It’s not only the financial support that CAMFED Association members like Naomi provide that make a huge difference to girls who are at risk of dropping out or have dropped out already. Their mentoring, advice, and ability to connect vulnerable children with support networks is invaluable. Naomi speaks of a girl from a nearby community who was pushed out of school due to poverty, had to get married and became pregnant. When the girl saw Naomi delivering My Better World outreach sessions in the community, she was intrigued and asked Naomi about her volunteer work. Naomi befriended her and discussed with her the option of organizing childcare and returning to school. With Naomi’s advice and encouragement, the girl was able to return to school in her district and now is doing well. They are still in touch today.
Naomi is looking forward to her future and continues to put her energy and passion into keeping more girls in education.
With international donor partners coming behind the Learner Guide Program, this is just the beginning of our efforts to scale it up across sub-Saharan Africa. It has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of students, driving up school attendance and performance, while simultaneously equipping young women like Naomi with invaluable leadership skills.