Thursday, 7 January 2016

Arise: deciding which children and guardians we can support in 2016

Being home for Christmas gave me many opportunities to share some of the highlights and challenges of my past year in Zambia with my friends and family. As I look back on 2015, I think one of the most difficult tasks I undertook was selecting the new families to be supported by Arise. At the end of each academic year (which runs from January to December here) most of the Grade 12 students supported by Arise finish their schooling and so we look at who we will be able to accept as Grade 1 pupils for the following year at Kapumpe Christian Primary School. Guardians can apply for their child(ren) to be supported by Arise - this means we will provide school fees, uniform and books for them as well as visiting the family and helping out with any particular needs that might arise (e.g. food, transport to hospital).

One of the girls in our Arise project with her guardian
We advertised the application process via posters and word of mouth so that potential recipients would come to the Arise office during the interview week. I wasn't expecting quite as many people to show up! Usually there are about 20 applications for ten places. This year, we had over 70 applications for the ten Grade 1 places, as well as lots of others from people who weren't actually eligible because their children were not within the age range. As most of the Arise recipients are illiterate, applications are not as simple here as asking someone to fill out a form. Instead, Rosie, Naomi (the other UK teachers) and I each paired up with one of our Zambian volunteers who could translate. We then interviewed each guardian in person, to find out more about their family situation and history.

Some of the people who came for interview

One of our Zambian Arise volunteers
One thing I've noticed here in Zambia is that it's really important to ask the right questions. People don't seem to naturally share as much information as we do in the UK, so they will answer a specific question without elaboration. For example, "Are you married?" would generate a simple "yes" or "no" answer, so further questioning would be needed to determine whether the person had been married before, whether they were separated or widowed, and any additional information that could be relevant.

By UK standards, I'm pretty sure that all the people we interviewed would be considered 'vulnerable'. Yet we had to try and identify the most vulnerable, the people who we felt we could best support; for example, those who are too sick or elderly to work. We asked each applicant to provide a letter from a reputable member of their local community who could confirm their story, such as their pastor. Death certificates or medical notes were requested from relevant people. Some of our decisions as to whether to accept someone into the project were even based on whether they made the effort to bring the necessary information back. As you can probably imagine, it was not an easy task interviewing so many needy people whilst knowing we would not be able to accept them all.

Just a few of the many letters to read and consider
Another difficult part of the process was identifying which children were of an appropriate age. Birthdays aren't really 'a thing' for most people in Zambia and many people here don't know their real date of birth. One example is a brother and sister who I met. I'd say they looked to be about 4 and 8 years old, yet we were told they were born 3 months apart! The date of birth that another mother gave for her son meant he was 12 years old, but she'd already told me that she was only 21 herself!

Children in Kaniki
We tried to identify guardians who we think will be proactive and best use the help they are given. For example, some of our guardians expressed interest in being part of a farming project which will help them learn skills for more sustainable living. However, some of the children we decided to accept, are considered particularly vulnerable because of their guardians. One of the 4 year old boys who recently started in our pre-school is a classic example; he lives with his alcoholic mother and siblings. He had been attending pre-school for two whole days before she even realised that he had gone anywhere.

After narrowing down the list of applicants, we spent several afternoons visiting the families in their homes to help us build a better picture of their situation, and equip us for making the decisions. We prayed and trusted that God would use our discussions to identify the people we could best help.

Visiting homes in the community
One of the most heart breaking things was meeting so many children who had stopped attending school because their families could no longer afford it, and some children who had never been to school at all. This included several 11 year olds - the age at which children complete primary education in the UK - and a number of older children who would no longer be eligible to start at the local school. The terrible thing is knowing that for every story we hear, there are many, many more of them.

Many children don't go to school because they cannot afford the fees

In contrast, it was such a delight to visit the people we invited to join the project. Thanks to generous donations from people who have supported Arise, we were able to accept 11 children to start in Grade 1 at Kapumpe, and seven children to start at our recently opened Pre-School. These children and their guardians were absolutely thrilled to hear that we could support them and that the child would have the opportunity to attend school. 

Two children who are sponsored through Arise to attend Kapumpe Christian Primary School

This year my role here includes overseeing the work of Arise, so I plan to post more stories about how any money we raise really is making a huge difference in the life of so many vulnerable children and guardians here in Zambia. My hope is that any fundraising we do this year will enable us to accept even more children to be supported by Arise next year.

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