Growing up in rural Zambia, every day in education was a challenge to me. Today I am an advocate for girls’ education, working with stakeholders to improve the lives of others and achieve my dream that all girls in Zambia have access to quality education and become independent leaders.
I come from a family of 11 children, nine boys and two girls. I am the seventh child. My family lives in Mpika district, Zambia. When I was growing up my father worked as a government teacher and my mother as a homemaker and small-scale farmer. Despite my parents’ belief in education, they struggled to provide the financial support that my siblings and I needed during our school time. Every day in education was a challenge to me.
I had to walk a very long distance because nearby schools were costly and my parents were not able to pay. Instead we had to look for a primary school where the fees were within reach. However, as there are many of us in the family and I was among the younger ones, I had little chance of getting the requisite support. I thought I was not going to make it.
I felt very excited when I was selected for CAMFED support. It was after I wrote my primary exams — I was able to continue my studies in a boarding school. It was a marvellous feeling to know that I could access the education that is every child’s right.
After graduating from school I joined the CAMFED Association, the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. The network means a lot to me — as a group of young women we support one another, we find job opportunities and we learn new skills. It’s all with the aim of alleviating poverty in our families because we share similar backgrounds. We’re also determined to show the value and importance of educating girls, so they can rise up as leaders of change. I’m proud to have served as the Vice Chairperson for Mpika District, and following that I was elected as Chairperson of Lavushimanda District in 2021.
Stepping up as a peer mentor and role model
In 2020, I chose to train as a CAMFED Association Learner Guide. I wanted to interact with girls in my community and help them overcome their challenges. When I looked around me I saw many young people who were vulnerable — to early marriages, to being trapped in the cycle of poverty, and to having no voice in community matters. By becoming a peer mentor and role model, I have the chance to speak about the importance of education, to pass on my knowledge and skills. I particularly wanted to help girls to understand the dangers of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.
As CAMFED Association members and Guides we call community meetings about once a month to talk about child marriages. We will also go into schools to talk to both girls and boys about the issue. We follow the protocol by seeking permission from the Village Headmen and Headwomen, and then we work hand-in-hand with CAMFED Mother Support Groups and adolescent groups. The whole community is in support because they see that poverty hinders so many — stopping them from accessing education and pushing families to resort to marrying off children. From the time we started, we are seeing a change.
Demonstrating my active participation in the school community, here I am distributing bursary entitlements to CAMFED supported students. Photo credit: CAMFED
A while ago I heard about a girl in my district who was married but wanted to return to school. It was after we had visited the community — her parents called me to say the girl was longing to see me and would love to join the CAMFED Association. She was willing to start learning again, but had two young children and felt that would prevent her. I encouraged her, telling her she was still young and could get there, as long as she kept a positive mindset.
After that she talked to her husband, who was willing to pay school fees, and she also gained the support of the school community. By 2021 she had made it to Grade 12 and was preparing to write her final exams. I’m happy for her because I know she will become a woman of change and a leader. She will be the testimony for others — they will know that they too can achieve what they want in life.
In my role as a Learner Guide, I run regular life-skills and wellbeing sessions at my local secondary school. The students enjoy attending my sessions because of the My Better World curriculum — they want to learn it each and every time. My Better World helps students to discover their powers and their inner strengths, as well as understanding their rights and basic needs. After using their My Better World workbooks, my students are able to think about the consequences of their actions now and in future, so they are better able to have a vision and build their career aspirations. Many learners, particularly girls, have low self-esteem or have even lost their belief in education, so I work to develop their self-esteem and self-respect. This helps learners understand how to support each other through difficult times and focus on doing their best in school.
On the left, delivering a My Better World session to learners in school in May 2023, and on the right, distributing hand sanitizer at an outdoor study session during COVID-19 related school closures. Learner Guide outreach in remote rural communities was deemed an “essential service” by governments. CAMFED’s life skills and wellbeing curriculum helped children remain motivated in their studies.
We are glad to see children back in school after the pandemic closures — that time presented so many challenges for them and for all of us. I started a study group to meet with students twice in a week and help them with science, math and English. Then we would have a third session to go through the My Better World workbook. I’d share the progress we were making with the CAMFED office in Lusaka. I aimed to visit the learners frequently and also encouraged some who had had to get married that a return to school would be possible.
Earning an income and respect through my business
I also enjoy being a Learner Guide because I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned leadership skills, I’ve learned education skills, and I’ve also become a role model. I feel humbled and excited to be one of the first women in Zambia to take a vocational qualification known as BTEC. Learning is always my focus. It helps me to understand the world we live in and helps me to overcome barriers to achieving my career ambitions. I have worked hard to complete the BTEC assessments for all my units alongside volunteering as a Learner Guide, and I have used the skills developed through the BTEC in my sessions.
I would say that the area I’ve developed most is in business. I started by looking at the area where I am, and coming up with a business development plan. I decided to start a farming business, growing soya beans and sunflowers — because I found out that cooking oil is in demand in my community — as well as having a small fish pond. When my harvest is ready, I make oil from the sunflower seeds. I store the soya beans and use them later to make milk, fritters or other foods. Then I can also use the sunflower husks and some soya to make food for the fish.
Previously I earned qualifications in Early Childhood Education and in Electrical Power Installation. I have put my knowledge of both these areas into practice, but there are challenges — particularly with Electrical Power installation, as there is not the demand or the materials to pursue this full time in my community. I have completed the wiring of one house though! I’m proud to have that qualification because I wanted to stop that culture of discrimination — the belief that certain jobs can only be done by men.
Here I am demonstrating my skills in Electrical Power Installation at a showcase of business leadership hosted by CAMFED Zambia in March 2020. I exhibited to National Director Dorothy Kasanda as well as representatives from CAMFED partner organizations, government departments, the private sector and the media.
For now, I’m focusing on my farming business. I’ve got ambitious plans for my sunflower oil business. I’m aiming to invest in irrigation machinery to allow me to harvest three times a year, boosting production and profits.
My profits help me to sustain my family, particularly my younger brother. They also mean that I can support others in my community. I concentrate on those who lack their basic needs. I help the aged by buying them soap, lotion and food items. I share with others when I buy things like clothes. I will pay someone’s school fees, buy books, and so on.
I have been able to help many pupils in my community. For example, I have supported 10 children who were at risk of dropping out of school because they didn’t have books. I would buy books, pencils and pens to take to the school where I delivered my Learner Guide sessions.
I also heard of a situation where twin girls were on the verge of early marriage, as their parents could not afford their school fees. I visited their parents, who couldn’t see a way forward due to their financial situation. So I said: “Let me resolve this issue by taking the girls to school.” I paid for them in Grade 8 — helping them with school fees, uniforms, books, paper, everything — so they could succeed and progress to Grade 9.
Supporting climate resilience and expertise in my community
In 2021, I received training as a Climate-smart Agriculture Guide through CAMFED, focusing on sustainable agriculture practices. I was motivated to become a climate activist after witnessing how droughts and floods affect not just my own community, but the communities and businesses of CAMFED Association members across Zambia. Now I’m equipped with knowledge to educate others on the causes of climate change and help them to build resilience to changing weather patterns. I share climate-smart farming techniques — like crop rotation, drip irrigation, intercropping and agroforestry —with community members to help mitigate the impact of climate change and ensure they can produce enough food to sustain themselves and their families.
I’m also working to address hunger and food insecurity—a major cause of school drop-out and early marriage in poor communities like mine—by teaching food conservation practices to avoid food spoilage and mitigate seasonal shortages. Moreover, I am collaborating with other Agriculture and Learner Guides on CAMFED’s new climate education curriculum.
Here I am standing in my sunflower seed farm. Like all CAMFED Learner Guides, my business underpins my ability to support other children to learn and thrive.
Looking to the future, I hope that girls in my community and across Zambia receive the best possible education and become independent leaders. I would like to see girls becoming aware of decision-making, knowing about their wellbeing, choosing the right career paths and learning to manage finances. As young women they will become entrepreneurs and self thinkers who are aware of their rights and choices.
I’m Naomi, a game changer in the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support in Zambia. I am respected in my community and beyond for my activism on big issues like girls’ exclusion from education and climate change.
I’m currently working as a climate-smart Agriculture Officer. I work to train Agriculture Guides who will take the climate-smart techniques they learn and share them with female agriculture entrepreneurs in their own communities.