Sunday, 6 March 2016

Our roles as advocates

I believe that one of the most important parts of our role in Arise is being an advocate for the children that we support. Many of these children don’t have an adult who can or will speak up for them. They might live with a widowed parent, an aunt or a grandparent, but often that person doesn’t have the knowledge, skills or capacity to speak up or take action on behalf of the child. I can think of two recent examples of how we have tried to do this within both education and healthcare.

As there is no secondary school in Kaniki, the local government primary school, which usually goes up to Grade 7 (equivalent to Year 6 in the UK), has been allowed to go up to Grade 9. If children meet a certain standard in the Grade 9 exams and have the means to do so, they can go on to continue their schooling at a secondary school in town. We encourage children in Arise who are starting secondary school to find a friend or relative that they can stay with in town, because it is cheaper than daily transport from Kaniki. Although we also rent a couple of rooms in town where some boys stay if they don’t have their own accommodation. It isn’t safe for girls to stay on their own.

Three boys supported by Arise who recently passed Grade 9 were offered places at a school which is located on the opposite side of town to their accommodation. They approached two nearer schools about a transfer but were refused, so they were unsure what to do. I imagine that most parents in the UK in this situation would arrange an appointment with the head teacher and argue their case for a place. That isn’t always possible here in Zambia. The boys are all from vulnerable families. For example, one of them is the eldest of three sons living with their widowed mother who has been ill and bed-bound for years. I would consider her to be suffering perhaps more than any person I know. Despite this, her sons are a real credit to her – they are polite, bright and hard working, and so I believe that her son deserves to be able to continue his education.

The eldest son who definitely deserves a chance to continue his education

In Zambia, people don’t seem to get anywhere by arguing or standing up for what they believe is right. Some people in authority are solely focused on power. There is a lot of bribery and corruption which is interwoven in the culture. It seems that a more effective approach to tackling these types of issues involves being humble, showing you are willing to listen and demonstrating that you are grateful for help.

I went with one of our Zambian volunteers to meet with the head teacher of the school that the boys wanted to attend. On the way, we prayed for God’s help and favour on our conversation. At first the head teacher said all their places were full but then suddenly said “I will do you a favour” and told us that they would offer all three boys a place at their school! Because nothing is simple and straightforward here, it took three trips to the Ministry of Education and another trip to the school before the boys were given written offers. They were all delighted.

Two of the secondary schools in Ndola

Another recent example is when Rosie took two brothers to the local clinic who are supported by Arise and have umbilical hernias. Aged 8 and 11, they have had the hernias since birth but their sick father and alcoholic mother had never taken them to for treatment. The clinic gave them a referral to the children’s hospital, and despite a ridiculous appointment system Rosie managed to make sure that they were seen by two clinical officers. Unfortunately the officers were rude and unhelpful, making it very difficult to find out any information. Rosie asked them questions about the procedure so that she would be able to prepare the boys for what was in store, but the officers said she didn’t need to know! Their behaviour was very unprofessional and they even asked her for talk time (phone credit) as a bribe. Without agreeing to the bribe, Rosie left the hospital not knowing whether the boys would be given a date for surgery or not.

Fortunately, the boys were later given a date for their operations and the younger brother had his last week. I went to visit him at the hospital the following day. There was a very poor standard of healthcare and it was not somewhere I would want to take a child. I was told the boy had been discharged even though he was actually lying on a bed in a lot of pain. He had only been given half a paracetamol tablet all day. I felt like I was making a fuss when I spoke to the nurse. However, she eventually agreed to give him stronger painkillers and keep him in hospital another night. There must be so many similar situations that take place because nobody speaks up for the child who is suffering. 

In the Bible it says “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). I like the way that former teacher Rita Pierson explains it in a TED Talk: ( - “Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power or connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be”.
Every child deserves a champion

No comments:

Post a Comment