Naomi is one of the first CAMFED Learner Guides to be trained in Zambia. She is a respected leader in her community, paving the way for younger students to follow. Her story could have been very different. After her father died when she was just a few months old, Naomi’s mother was left to raise her new baby alone. Their daily lives were characterized by poverty and hardship.
Naomi’s mother did her best to support her daughter with food, clothes, and materials to attend school, but things were not easy. By the time Naomi reached secondary school, where families have to raise school fees on top of the other essentials, Naomi feared her education would be over. It was then that CAMFED stepped in with the necessary financial and psycho-social support to allow Naomi to complete her education.
“School is important and when you educate [children], everything will change.”
After school, Naomi joined the CAMFED Association (CAMA) - the pan-African network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. Soon after, she began training to become a Learner Guide. These young women volunteer in schools to deliver a contextually relevant life skills and wellbeing curriculum that teaches self-esteem, resilience, problem-solving and other qualities. Acting as role models, they are uniquely placed to protect children, particularly girls, in their communities from dropping out of school and entering into early marriage and child-bearing.
“I guide pupils socially and academically and sensitize them about early marriage and STIs. I teach about early marriage so that the girls can be aware, because there are many problems.”
In Zambia, an average of 31% of girls are married by the age of 18, but in marginalized, rural communities the incidence of child marriage is higher. Fuelled by poverty, early marriage can be viewed as a potential means of achieving financial security. Instead, it exposes a girl to the perils of physical violence, HIV/AIDS, and serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth. It locks down her future and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
CAMFED Association members know what it is like to be vulnerable to child marriage. With their fierce determination, their deep-felt empathy, their unwavering commitment to securing every girl’s right to education, and the respect they have garnered in their communities, CAMFED’s Learner Guides have reached children that others - including local authorities and school staff - could not.
Naomi (right) with some of her fellow CAMFED Association members and Learner Guides. (Photo: CAMFED/Anke Adams)
“The teachers in the school where I go, they are very good, they are impressed with me and they love the program. The learners love it too!”
Naomi shared a story of a girl in her community who became pregnant, and, not having family support, felt there was no option but to drop out of school. Naomi and her parents took the girl in and encouraged her to remain in education. Each afternoon, Naomi coached her through her schoolwork, particularly in English and Mathematics, where she had fallen behind. She saved up to buy stationery so that the girl could return to school.
With international donor partners coming behind the Learner Guide Program, this is just the beginning of our efforts to scale it up across sub-Saharan Africa. It has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of students, driving up school attendance and performance, while simultaneously equipping young women like Naomi with invaluable leadership skills.