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Naomi

CAMFED Association member, Zambia

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. My story could have been very different. After my father died when I was just a few months old, my mother was left to raise me alone. In our daily lives we experienced poverty and hardship.

My mother did her best to support me with food, clothes, and materials to attend school, but things were not easy. By the time I reached secondary school, where families have to raise school fees on top of the other essentials, I feared my education would be over. It was then that CAMFED stepped in with the necessary financial and social support to allow me to complete my education.

When I was in Grade 8, I lost hope, I didn’t think I would finish Grade 12. But through CAMFED I received opportunity. Now CAMFED is helping other people through educating me.

After I had just completed secondary school in 2016, I joined the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. I was so excited to be able to communicate and connect with my fellow sisters, in my district (Chinsali) and beyond. 

Soon after, I began training to become a Learner Guide. CAMFED Learner Guides return to their local schools to deliver a self-development and life skills curriculum (called My Better World), developed with young people in Africa. I led sessions to improve students’ confidence and their knowledge about themselves and the world around them, to help them study, plan for their future, and solve problems. My sessions also encouraged children to become more aware of their rights, responsibilities, and values. 

As a Learner Guide, I acted as a ‘big sister’ and a relatable role model, who could protect children, particularly girls, in my community from being pushed out of school by their circumstances, and having to enter into early marriage and child-bearing.

I would guide pupils socially and academically and sensitize them about early marriage and STIs. We’d discuss the dangers of early marriage, so that girls can be aware, because there are many problems.

CAMFED Association members know what it is like to be vulnerable to child marriage. We share an unwavering commitment to securing every girl’s right to education. With the respect we have garnered in our communities, we as CAMFED Learner Guides have reached children that others – including local authorities and school staff – could not.

During school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I delivered sessions of My Better World life-skills guide to learners via local radio.

Five of the first CAMFED Learner Guides in Zambia

Here I am (right) with some of my fellow CAMFED Association members and Learner Guides. (Photo: CAMFED/Anke Adams)

The teachers in the school were impressed with me and they love the program. The learners love it too!

I am proud of the progress made by my learners, seeing them become more confident and resilient through my mentoring and guidance. With the skills I have learned in my role, I feel better equipped to tackle community issues.

I am the sort of person who does not give up on something I start, especially things that I believe I can achieve.

A girl in my community became pregnant, and, not having family support, she felt there was no option but to drop out of school. My family and I took the girl in and encouraged her to remain in education. Each afternoon, I coached her through her schoolwork, particularly in English and Mathematics, where she had fallen behind. I saved up to buy stationery so that the girl could return to school.

I am passionate about supporting girls and young people to stay in school and reach their potential.

In training as a Learner Guide, I 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 me to achieve my goal of becoming a teacher, by strengthening my application to teacher training college.

I really want to become a teacher because I know a teacher is the start. For someone to become a doctor, a president, a nurse, they all pass through a teacher. A teacher has a very good heart so they can help children to reach their goals.

I 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. My qualities as a leader are coming into their own — in 2019 my peers elected me as the CAMFED Association District Chairperson and in 2022 as the National Chairperson for Zambia.

Through CAMFED’s support, young women can stand on their own as leaders.

 

Stepping up for vulnerable girls in crisis situations

I am 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, I stepped up with other CAMFED Association Guides to reach out to out-of-school children, who, in rural communities like mine, did not have access to online learning. To bridge the gap, I traveled 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.

Parents in the community are happy that they have me as the testimony of education. They see where I am now and they want their children to be educated. They say I am a role model and come to me with their problems.

The radio sessions proved an invaluable link between rural communities when travel restrictions were implemented. After hearing me on the radio, several school graduates phoned in and I connected them with fellow CAMFED Association members so they could access additional resources. Furthermore, as a trusted voice in the community, my 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, I gained access to financial training and an interest-free loan to start a home furnishing business, selling duvets, pillows and curtains. With the profits I am able to sustain both my family and other children in my community, paying forward the benefits of my education and keeping children safe from marriage.  

I am supporting five children with the profits from my business. I provide them with school uniforms, shoes, stationery, books, pens, and pencils. I completed school and I want others to do the same!

It’s not only the financial support that CAMFED Association members like me provide that make a huge difference to girls who are at risk of dropping out or have dropped out already. Our mentoring, advice, and ability to connect vulnerable children with support networks is essential. A girl from a nearby community was pushed out of school due to poverty, had to get married and became pregnant. When the girl saw me delivering My Better World outreach sessions in the community, she was intrigued and asked me about my volunteer work. I befriended her and discussed with her the option of organizing childcare and returning to school. With my advice and encouragement, the girl was able to return to school in her district and now is doing well. We are still in touch today.

I said, ‘You have the right to go back to school,’ and explained the re-entry policy that the Zambian government has introduced. So after a girl delivers her baby, she should go back to school.

 

Building climate change resilience and community food security

I have also enjoyed having a role at the Chinsali farm — CAMFED’s first climate-smart demonstration farm —  where I participated in training to become an Agriculture Guide

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and provides everyone with food, so our work as CAMFED Association members at the farm is crucial to my community. The sustainable methods we are using are very important because they reduce waste and improve productivity.

As a community, we have been deeply affected by climate change, whereby changing rainfall patterns and drought have led to increasing food insecurity.

To reduce the negative impact of unpredictable weather, my fellow CAMFED Association members and I have learned climate-smart farming techniques such as water management. I also now know how and when to plant different types of crops to maximize crop productivity, so if there is a drought I know the suitable seeds to use.

I oversee planning processes and always ensure we document and report our progress on the farm. I am also responsible for ensuring that the farm equipment is kept safe and secure and that the right fertilizers are applied to the crops.

My community benefits from our work on the Chinsali farm as they can buy certain products, such as different fruits, locally rather than having to travel far to Nakonde or Lusaka. It is important that we engage the community to ensure our knowledge and skills that we as CAMFED Association members received through climate-smart agriculture training, gets passed on to others. We do this by working with community leaders to carry out sensitization sessions.

Another reason I was happy to get involved in the Chinsali farm is because I have a passion for philanthropy. On my own, I can support a small number of children, but when we work together as CAMFED Association sisters, we can support many more children with the profits made from cultivating this big portion of land. 

My hope for the farm is to see it become a famous school where people come from outside the country to learn what we are doing, as well as being a major center for trade. I hope that CAMFED Association members who have learned about agriculture will become lecturers and managers there —  and that working together, we will support thousands of children. 

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