I want to encourage all my fellow young women out there, that no matter the challenges we may face, we should not give up in life. I urge you all to nurture your talents and show the world your true potential.
My name is Abigail and I come from Mpika District in Zambia. My parents were poor subsistence farmers, growing enough crops to provide food for the family, but unable to raise much money in addition. They supported me to attend secondary school up to Grade 9 (the last year of lower secondary school), and I did well. But when the time came to transition to Grade 10, my parents could no longer afford the increased costs for the things I needed such as school fees*, books, and stationery. In spite of their efforts working hard on their farm, my parents could no longer afford to support my education.
Fortunately, soon after that I was referred by the school-based committee for CAMFED support so I could continue my education. I received school uniforms, books, menstrual products, and fees. From that point, I never lacked anything I needed to do well in school.
After graduating secondary school, I was moved to join the CAMFED Association — the network of young women educated with CAMFED support — because I heard about the good works they do and I wanted to be part of a sisterhood that helps others. Together we do charity work and help vulnerable members of our community. We support and learn from one another, meeting regularly to talk and share ideas. Without the support and encouragement of my CAMFED Association sisters, I would not have completed school.
Becoming a trailblazer in women's soccer
Outside of school I have always been interested in sports, particularly soccer (football). It’s a sociable sport to play and popular here in Zambia. In 2021, I was inspired by a friend who is a referee to join her and train as a referee. I am now a professional referee, coaching both the men’s and women’s teams in Mpika District. I am responsible for managing the game kick-off and ensuring the teams play fairly. Becoming a referee has boosted my confidence and leadership skills. I like being involved in the action of the game, being focused, and making decisions under pressure.
Even though I really enjoy refereeing, I’ve faced discrimination as a young woman entering a male- dominated field. Sometimes I am not respected by the players, I hear abusive comments, or even violence directed towards me just because I am a woman in this job. I always stand up for myself and I refuse to give up on my passion.
I’ve had the support and advice of a CAMFED Association member, also named Abigail who has been a referee for more than 3 years. We met at a CAMFED Association meeting and she has encouraged me along the way. In future I hope to gain more qualifications and experience to be able to officiate international games.
I believe that women can do everything that men can, so I advocate for gender equality and tell myself to forge ahead so other young women may follow my path. I can see that attitudes are changing as more women like me become referees.
Since school, my journey with CAMFED has continued. I went through its Transition Program, which really contributed a lot to my life as a young woman. I learned about many important things like business, leadership and financial education which has made me progress in life. Through the Transition Program I was given two small grants of 500 kwacha ($27 USD) and then 1000 kwacha ($54 USD) to start up my own business and help me support myself.
The program really contributed a lot to my life. I’ve learned how to make good life decisions, how to save and manage money, gained entrepreneurial skills, received mentoring and much more. I continue to benefit from the program today, as I am still running my business, selling clothes, blankets, duvets and other soft furnishings. With my profits I am able to feed myself and my family, and I buy books, pens, pencils and school essentials for vulnerable children in my community.
After experiencing the benefits of mentorship, I decided to volunteer my own time and train as a CAMFED Learner Guide, to mentor vulnerable students and deliver a self-development and life-skills program to children at my local primary school. Using a bespoke workbook called My Better World, I support students to build confidence, unlock their talents, and thrive in and out of school.
I urge a sister who wants to enter into a male-dominated field like mine, to stay focused, to work hard and don’t listen to criticism. It may be difficult, but if your passion is to be a female referee, don’t give up and never stop dreaming.
In the future, I hope to continue doing charity work, helping my brothers and sisters in the community. I want to support more children through school and push further in my own education. It is very important that we young women do not forget where we come from, because tomorrow I can help another girl who is struggling, by buying her books, pens, and more so she can succeed.
I encourage all young women, that no matter the challenges we may face, we should not give up in life. We will each contribute in little ways to make a bigger change, together.
*Secondary school fees were only recently abolished in Zambia, in 2022.
I’m Memory, a soccer (football) referee in Zambia. By reaching for my dreams of becoming a professional soccer referee, I’m inspiring more girls in my community to follow in my footsteps and pursue their passion for sports.
Mildred’s essay about the role of sports in bringing peace to troubled communities is all about breaking down barriers, mobilizing communities, and working together in respectful partnerships to create lasting change.