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.
I was born and raised in Zambia’s Serenje district, the first in a family of two children. For most of my childhood my family struggled to make ends meet. Despite our financial difficulties and my mother’s lack of formal education, she always believed in me to reach greater heights and encouraged me to pursue education. With her unwavering support, and my own sheer determination, I graduated from secondary school in 2016.
I decided to train as a Primary School Teacher. Having faced struggles myself, I am passionate about educating the next generation. As a teacher I hope to be able to earn a living, share my knowledge, and make an impact in my community.
I first heard about the CAMFED Association – a network of young women dedicated to lifting others and supporting more girls through school – in 2018. I was fascinated by their philanthropic activities and support for girls’ education, so I was very keen to join!
Through CAMFED I’ve received mentorship and skills training such as poultry farming. We work together as a team and support each other in life.
I look up to other CAMFED Association members like Angela Chanda, who are proactive and passionate philanthropists. My CAMFED Association sisters are always there for me, supporting me and checking up on my welfare during tough times.
Another thing that has always helped me get through difficult periods, is my love for soccer. I’ve played all the way from primary school to college level on a team called the ‘Serenje Queens’. Soccer keeps me fit and healthy (both mentally and physically) and it’s very sociable. Through soccer I’ve connected with many different kinds of people, all with a shared love of the game. While I was growing up, soccer helped me to discover myself – my strengths, talents, and confidence, and it has helped me get through difficult times, particularly when my father passed away in 2020.
There are very few female referees in Zambia, but I am proud to be added to the number!
I first got into coaching and refereeing by completing a short course with the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ). The Coach Coordinator for referees, Mr. Chishimba, let me train for an additional month as a referee. Soon after, I was proud to officiate my first game for the mens’ team in Kabwe District. Since then I’ve continued to pursue professional development, taking tests and qualifications to improve my skills. Sometimes I’ve been the only woman taking the tests! In March 2022 I was very proud to pass a fitness test and I have just one more test to pass before I can officiate Premier League, National League and Soccer League games.
Through my work as a referee and community soccer coach, I encourage girls pursuing their passion for sports to remain focused and never stop believing in themselves.
Entering this male-dominated field has been challenging at times. I’ve had occasions when players do not respect my opinion or decision due to my gender, but I stand firm by my decisions, knowing I am protected by the laws of the game.
I am inspired by other female referees in Zambia, there are not many, but their existence gives me strength. I’m an inspiration and role model in my community. So far, three girls have seen what I am capable of, and now they want to study the Coaching course too. I will most definitely mentor them.
My love of learning does not only include soccer. As a CAMFED Association member, I had the opportunity to train as a Learner Guide and volunteer in my local secondary school to mentor students. Training as a Learner Guide taught me how to be self-reliant and a leader. In my role I help students build confidence and learn life-skills using My Better World – a bespoke program that helps children realize their inner strengths. The program has helped my students become more assertive and ready to transition to independence.
I also act as a ‘big sister’ for vulnerable learners, checking up on them if they are absent from school. One of the girls I supported was absent from school a lot so I counseled her and visited her at home. She was struggling to attend class due to responsibilities at home. I discussed with her guardians to emphasize the importance of education and help her prioritize lessons, and now her attendance has improved.
I want to continue making a difference in the world by supporting more children in my community – especially marginalized girls – to fulfill their potential in education and lead independent, influential lives. I’m using the profits from my fruit and vegetable business to support my brother through school, and I aim to use my experience as a Learner Guide and my teaching diploma to open my own school and provide the best education to children in my community.
I understand first-hand how important it is to involve girls in sport from an early age. Through sports, girls develop a range of skills, such as communication, team-work and leadership – which build their self-esteem. I will continue to champion girls’ education and their participation in sports, so they can fulfill their potential as leaders of change and make decisions that benefit themselves, their families, and their communities.
I am Abigail, a CAMFED Association member and professional soccer (football) referee, from Mpika District in Zambia. Working in this male-dominated field has its challenges, but I want to encourage all my fellow young women out there, that no matter how hard things are, don't give up. I urge you all to nurture your talents and show the world your true potential.
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.