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Harriet

CAMFED Association leader, trained teacher, Learner Guide and entrepreneur, Zambia

Estimated reading time: 7.30 minutes

My life changed completely when I was four years old. That’s when I lost my mother, and moved from the city of Chingola to a rural village in Northern Zambia, so that my aunt could look after me. Life in this new setting was challenging. My aunt relied on subsistence farming to sustain her large family — she had five children of her own and four dependents like me, meaning nine of us in total. There was no money, and little time to study, because I had a lot of household chores. I lacked school shoes and a proper uniform, but that did not stop me from studying hard. I dreamed of going to a boarding school at secondary level, where I would have enough time to study.

Things became really tough when I qualified for secondary school, which was a boarding school because it was too far away from home. I arrived there in 2008, but when the school authorities nearly sent me home because I couldn’t pay my school fees, I started losing all hope. Then our class teacher asked for a list of students who no longer had parents, and requested that our class monitor identify those that were struggling a lot. That’s how I was picked to receive CAMFED support.

A lot changed for me at that point. CAMFED covered my school fees, but also provided me with a proper school uniform, quality shoes, and the blankets I needed for the dormitory. I had a new look, which made me feel happy because I realized that I was just as pretty as the other girls; and my friends admired my good quality shoes and nice bedding. My school journey became smooth; I was doing great in English and Environmental Science; bookkeeping remained tough. I had the support and friendship from my Teacher Mentor and fellow CAMFED clients. My class teacher always gave me a hand too, helping me with the transport money to go back home when he saw me crying because my family couldn’t afford it.

I completed my secondary education in 2012, and when I graduated I joined the CAMFED Association — the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support.

Joining the CAMFED Association was a really exciting and motivating moment for me because I had seen role models in the network and what they were achieving at the top.

Through the Association, I entered CAMFED’s Transition program, called Shaping My Future at that time. It was designed to help young women navigate the transition from school to safe and fulfilling livelihoods. This support comes at a critical time when school leavers like me remain vulnerable to early marriage and exploitation, as we seek ways to help provide for our families. I took part in business and financial literacy training, and learned about reproductive health and women’s rights. I was also supported to develop a business plan and received a seed grant to launch a new enterprise.

Importantly, I received peer support from other young women in the CAMFED Association, who were further along their life journey, including business mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs. The program really helped me grow in confidence, start my first business (a ladieswear business) and explore other opportunities.

The sisterhood network is so important to me because we all share the same background, values and have that solidarity. We are working together. I don’t feel alone. I’m always supported by my fellow sisters.

As a result, people in my community started looking up to me, and praising my entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to education. Because as an active member of the CAMFED Association, I became a champion for other girls and young women in my communities, and committed to making quality education a reality for more girls.

A trained teacher and a Learner Guide

My passion for education led me to earn a Secondary Teachers’ Diploma in English and Religious Education from St Mary’s College of Education in 2019, thanks to a Zambian scholarship fund. While waiting to be deployed as a teacher, I trained as a CAMFED Learner Guide, a role I took up in September 2022.

Learner Guides deliver a life skills and wellbeing program called ‘My Better World,’ and we act as a bridge between home and school, supporting vulnerable children as ‘Big Sisters.’ We pay home visits and connect students to services when they face challenges. I love engaging with learners, both in group settings and on an individual basis. They place their trust in me, confiding their concerns. I often counsel individuals, and encourage them academically. Witnessing my students’ progress towards a brighter outlook on life brings me profound joy.

Standing student Theresa, in uniform, holds a book and presents to seated Zambian woman Harriet and a group of uniformed students on the grass outdoors in Zambia.

Here I am facilitating a My Better World session on navigating the world we live in. Students love these sessions because they learn how to deal with their challenges and improve their lives. (Photo: Mildred Nachilima)

Facilitating the My Better World program has been a particularly enriching experience for me. It allows me to guide learners on a journey of self-discovery, providing them with tools to enhance their lives. Through the structured approach of the My Better World guide book, learners delve into understanding not only the external world and its essentials for survival, but also uncover their inner strengths and learn to leverage them for personal growth and the betterment of their communities.

As a Learner Guide, I can apply the knowledge and skills I gained through my teaching diploma. I ensure that the learning space is tranquil and conducive for the students. I love being a positive role model to the girls, and the noticeable positive shifts in my learners affirm the value of the guidance and support I provide.

Spreading the word on the radio

I have also been invited to share my insights on the radio, where we talk about the My Better World program, as well as delivering My Better World sessions. The two sessions I have presented talked about individual powers (or inner strengths – there are 37 of them!) and being in control of your emotions. I have received a lot of praise from callers who recognize the power of Learner Guides and the program. They express a desire for more frequent initiatives of this nature, as they witness the tangible benefits it brings to their children and households. I truly believe that we are positively influencing young lives and fortifying communities.

On the left, I am at Kasama Radio Station ready to deliver a My Better World session. On the right, I am holding the My Better World guide book. (Photo: Innocent Chapewa)

 

Helping the local economy and nourishing my community

Girls in my community not only see me in the classroom. Now I run several businesses, so they also see how education can lead to influence and success after school. Alongside my ladieswear business, I also run an agribusiness, supplying my community with tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables. I want to help provide food security to my community, and the nation at large, as well as providing job opportunities for young women and men in this country.

On the left is me with my orange and lemon seedlings. On the right is me with my successful harvest of onions and tomatoes.

An elected leader, committed to paying it forward

As members of the CAMFED Association, we’re committed to paying it forward. I’ve already supported three girls in school. I helped one girl retake her grade nine exams, supporting her with reading materials and making sure she proceeded to grade 10. I supported two other girls by buying them the books and pens they needed to learn in school.

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Leading the charge to support more girls to learn and thrive

Because of my dedication to community service and leadership, I was elected as Chairperson for the CAMFED Association in Kasama District in June 2022, and then as the National Chairperson for the CAMFED Association in Zambia in November 2023. Through review meetings and collaborative efforts, I advise and learn from my sisters in the CAMFED Association. Together, we support each other, enhance the lives of others, and send more girls to school.

It’s all about Ubuntu

In Zambia we say ‘it’s all about ubuntu.’ Ubuntu means thriving together; ubuntu means togetherness; ubuntu means humanity for others. This is exactly what CAMFED’s sisterhood is all about. We meet together, and then we go out in the community; we plow back; we do philanthropy work; we make sure that our community is happy and is in a good and healthy environment.

Six women wearing green and yellow t-shirts pose joyfully for a group photo outside.

Me (third from left) with my fellow CAMFED Association sisters! (Photo: Mildred Nachilima)

In 10 years’ time, I see myself empowering at least 10 young women, supporting at least 50 pupils from primary schools, and creating jobs for at least 5 young women in my community. I plan to play an important part in turning the tide of poverty in my community and my country at large.

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