Trainee Solicitor Gemma J shares her African Impact Project in Zambia
In September this year, I was lucky enough to be given a month off work, to travel out to Livingstone in Zambia to work with the charity African Impact, on their Girl Impact project. Throughout my undergraduate law degree, I always had a keen interest in human rights law and gender equality. I also love to travel. So, when I heard about this project, I signed up straight away and it was the best decision I have ever made.
African Impact have been working throughout Africa since 2004. They run various different projects such as medical, teaching, conservation, environmental sustainability and sports coaching. They also run a very successful sponsor a child programme, as well as many other great initiatives.
The Girls Impact project was launched in 2016, with the aim of improving education for Zambian girls and to give them the freedom to make their own choices in life. This project began by carrying out grass-root assessments within each community in order to understand the individual needs and challenges facing girls and boys in that specific region. It is the norm in Zambia that females are expected to be mothers and wives, who look after the home and their families. Statistics for Zambia show that only 31% of females have completed primary school and only 8% have completed secondary school.
The effects of poor education are far-reaching and can have consequences that will impact the rest of their life. Women are unaware of their rights regarding topics such as gender-based violence and health issues, such as HIV, are also a big problem as they do not always have the education or understanding to protect themselves.
For all young people in Zambia, there is another big hurdle to cross when trying to gain an education, in that education is not free and school fees must be paid. Many families simply cannot afford to put their children to school, and so these children are being denied an education. After I left Zambia in October, a new school fee structure was rolled out in some of the community schools, and this meant that the classrooms that were full of 80+ children, dropped to just 5 pupils in some cases.
The Girls Impact project runs extra-curricular life skill classes for both boys and girls, and there is no cost to attend. It gives an opportunity to both children who are in education and those who aren’t, to learn. I can’t put into words how special I think this project is. It differs from other volunteer teaching programmes, as it focuses on teaching girls, boys and women real life issues that they would otherwise be unlikely to learn about. The project focuses on the social-emotional development of young children and women in Zambia, with the goal of uplifting communities and preparing them for real-life challenges.
While I was in Zambia, I worked alongside other volunteers to teach 3 groups of girls, two groups of women and one boys club. The girls and boys are between the ages of 10-16 and the women’s groups are made up of a mixture of all ages.
The curriculum that is used to teach focuses on topics like HIV awareness, sex education, gender-based violence, and consent amongst many other things. Whilst I was out in Zambia, the focus for the girl’s groups was on confidence, self-esteem and body positivity. We also ran workshops on public speaking and communication skills. The girls respond so well to the lessons and it was great to watch them all speak openly about these sorts of issues. They are all gaining confidence within the project and they all have such big ambitions.
The Girls Impact also run a boy’s club, which is attended by a dedicated group of boys every week and they are all so eager to learn. The Boys Club is special and teaches young boys about issues such as bullying, anger management, teamwork, communication, and gender issues. While I was there we focused on mental health with the boys, which of course has a lot of stigma in this country still, but it is even worse in Zambia. It was so rewarding to hear them all openly talk about mental health and not feeling okay, and I hope that this is something they will continue to do.
The Girls Impact currently has two women’s groups running. One has been established for a few years now and the other is relatively new. The women are taught about health issues such as cervical cancer and HIV and other important issues such as gender-based violence, consent, and sexual health.
The focus for the older women’s group now is on business skills and financial literacy, as they have their own scrunchie and bag business which is run through African Impact to generate an income for themselves. However, whilst I was there, the group held elections for a management committee so their business could be run independently by themselves, with less dependency on African Impact. The women are so enthusiastic about their business and we spent time running workshops on how they can grow and expand their business to generate more of an income. They all had loads of ideas for their business going forward, so I know that they will do really well running it under their own management.
As well as their bag and scrunchie business, the women also run Village Tours for the African Impact Volunteers to earn some additional money. This is a great experience and they take you round their village so you can learn what life is actually like for them. They also cook you a massive meal to end the tour. The local delicacy in Zambia is Nshima, which is a kind of cornmeal porridge type food. You use it to scoop up the other food on the plate, and it is so filling! Nshima is a staple food in Zambia, and most families will eat it for all three meals a day.
A second women’s group has recently started, following the success of the first one. This group were focusing on a child-development workshop whilst I was there, as most of the women at this group have or have had young children. As we were teaching these workshops, many of the questions were centred around traditional African beliefs. For example, if a baby cries for too long it means that an evil spirit is inside them, and they may need traditional treatments to cure them. It is important to respect their views and not just overwhelm them with western ideas, but it was quite eye opening to hear that a lot of these views still exist.
They use a lot of their own traditional ideas to treat medical patients too. African Impact run a medical project, where the volunteers go round more remote villages and offer assistance to anyone who has been unable to get to a clinic. One mother had treated her baby’s burns with talcum powder which just stuck to all the burnt skin and another had asked if he should use petrol to treat his burns.
As a volunteer, you work Monday-Friday but you have evenings and weekends off to do what you want. Livingstone is surrounded by all sorts of amazing experiences. I went to Victoria Falls and sat on the edge of the falls at the ‘Devil’s Pool’, we went white water rafting down the Zambezi River (something I will never do again!) and we spent a weekend on safari and camping at Chobe National Park in Botswana, as well as doing a walking safari to see the last ten Rhino left in Zambia.
All in all, I can hands down say, I had the best time of my life and I am already planning my return. Zambia and the people I met there will always hold a special place in my heart! African Impact have done amazing work across Africa and there is no doubt that this will continue to happen.