Every day I wake up, I choose to challenge girl child exclusion from education. That is because I have been a rural girl before, I know what it means to face challenges that keep you away from school, but I have overcome them. I know why it is important to educate a girl child, because when you educate a girl child, everything changes.
I was born in Luanshya, a small town in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, and I am the fifth child in a family of six. After my father lost his job, our family could no longer afford the high cost of living in an urban area. We relocated to Shiwangandu, a rural district in Muchinga province. There, I enrolled in primary school and took on the arduous 8 kilometer (almost 5 mile) walk to school each day, often on an empty stomach.
When I reached Grade 4, I fell seriously ill. Accessing medical care posed a significant challenge as the hospital was located 20 kilometers away from home. My aunt, who lived in Mansa, Luapula province, invited me to live with her so that I could receive proper healthcare. I recovered and persevered with my studies, getting exceptional results in my Grade 7 examinations.
Those results meant that I qualified to progress to Grade 8 at a prestigious secondary school, but my family lacked the means to afford it. For over a month, I stayed at home while my family searched for an affordable alternative. Eventually, I started attending a school in Milenge district.
It was here that I was first identified and selected for CAMFED support. With the burden of school fees and supplies lifted, I could focus on my studies and take up various leadership roles, including secretary for the school council, debate and science clubs, as well as chairperson for the Anti-AIDS club. I was chosen as the Head Girl.
In 2014, I graduated school and joined the CAMFED Association, the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. I seized the opportunity to participate in training on entrepreneurship, business, and life skills. I started a small grocery business, which enabled me to not only support myself but also contribute to my family’s well-being.
I decided to pursue my higher education at the University of Zambia and graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Education in Environmental Management. Ever since, I have been a youth advocate for education and environmental protection. I have featured on a regular radio talk show, reaching a large national audience through a local language program that is broadcast by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. On the show I speak about climate change, environmental protection, and girls’ education. It’s a great way to reach a big audience as the station has up to 20 million listeners, so I can talk to the whole nation!
The desire to share my knowledge came from seeing the impact of the climate crisis on my community, affecting crop and livestock production. We are increasingly experiencing extreme drought and floods, stress on water resources and produce loss from the incidence of pests and diseases. I want to use my powers as an educated woman to address this challenge.
I’m driven by my personal experience, the difference education made in my life, and the amazing sisters I work with. In 2020, they decided to elect me as the CAMFED Association National Chairperson, to lead a network of nearly 17,000 young women in Zambia (that has kept growing since).
Here I am (on the left) at a leadership meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, with sisters from across the network.
How we coped with the COVID-19 pandemic
Being a leader during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic was not easy. We faced so many challenges as a sisterhood—one being that we could not conduct physical meetings. However, we utilized online platforms to check up on each other, to share business ideas, to market each others’ businesses, and also just to encourage each other. Unfortunately there were some sisters we could not reach online, because there are rural areas with no network, so we had to wait until restrictions were lifted to come together again.
There were also significant challenges to girls during the pandemic, especially when schools were closed. Most of them were not in an environment that allowed them to study, because of other responsibilities they had to take on at home, including laboring in the fields, house chores and looking after younger children. Without the safety of school and with intensified financial struggles caused by the restrictions, girls were at increasing risk of early marriage, teenage pregnancy and exploitation.
That’s where we, their older sisters, have committed to step in—most of all in times of crisis.
Currently, I work for CAMFED Zambia, managing activities across two districts in Muchinga Province—Lavushimanda and Kanchibiya. This position helps me to continue working closely with girls and young women who have similar backgrounds to mine. As a university graduate and a successful entrepreneur, I am proud to serve as a role model. My profits help me support two girls and a boy to go to school, by providing them with materials including uniforms and stationery, as well as mentoring them. I also support other children with one-off items whenever I can.
An important step on my leadership journey came in 2023, when I traveled with my CAMFED Association sister Eliza to a leadership symposium convened by the Obama Foundation in Athens, Greece. There we were able to meet other leaders from across continents, to share ideas and learn from each other.
I learned from him that leadership is a relay race. Each of us is running and we have to know that there is someone to pass the baton to. We cannot do this single-handedly.
I reach out to my CAMFED Association sisters with words of encouragement, reminding them to never forget their backgrounds and to always remember those in rural areas who are forgotten by others. I take every opportunity to celebrate our collective efforts to share what we have, put smiles on others’ faces, and show care and compassion in everything we do.
President Obama engages with CAMFED Association members on leadership and driving change
Eliza Chikoti from Malawi and Natasha Lwanda from Zambia traveled to represent our movement at a leadership symposium for a select group convened by the Obama Foundation. President Obama was in attendance to learn about the challenges leaders face, and opportunities to advance their work.
Hear from CAMFED Association member and Agriculture Expert Natasha Lwanda and other experts at this online event “Women leading climate action through health, education, and agriculture” as part of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women NGO Forum. The conversation centers on women’s rights, climate justice, and action by and for those most impacted by climate change.
Ahead of joining FHI 360’s Fostering Systemic Change for Adolescent Girls’ Education: A Roundtable with FCDO and USAID, Natasha Lwanda shared her expertise in this Q&A. She talks about how lived experience enables her and other members of our CAMFED Association to break down the barriers to girls’ education, especially in crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.