this is a blog post that i originally wrote and posted on 28 april 2009.
I feel like I need to share the good, the bad, and the ugly about my service in Zambia. You can decide what category this fits in. And remember, this is MY OPINION!
I’m currently working at a CHANGES2 workshop in Choma. They are an NGO (non-governmental organization) that works with the MOE (Ministry of Education). We are in the middle of the second installment of training community school teachers in child pedagogy. Basically, we are teaching community school teachers how to teach. CHANGES2 is an amazing NGO and they do great work with the MOE. If it wasn’t for CHANGES2, I don’t know what the state of the MOE would be. They are great to work with, and they will be missed. (Their funding finishes in August.)
One of the sessions involved with this workshop is about the re-entry policy for pregnant girls. The MOE has a policy that says if a girl gets pregnant during her schooling, after she has the baby, she can come back to finish school. It’s a great policy and the MOE is trying, but unfortunately, the girls hardly ever actually go back to school. The MOE even has an entire pamphlet dedicated to informing school teachers, parents, and students about this policy. And that’s where I found it.
Now, I should backtrack for a small bit and fill you in on a bit of life in Zambia. It’s no big deal for girls to get pregnant when they are teenagers. It happens all the time. My mother in the village is turning 41 years old this year. Her oldest daughter is turning 25 this year. You do the math. That is how it is here, especially in the village. There is a multitude of reasons as to why this is. Girls don’t have high self-esteem, they don’t have any concept of self-worth, they are submissive, they want to please everyone, they want to be like their friends, etc etc. Another big problem that goes along with teenage pregnancy here is male teachers taking advantage of school girls, most often the grade 9 girls and above. They entice the girls with promises to pay for school fees, new clothes, and so on. The girl may end up pregnant and the male will deny the child. That leaves the girl alone and with only her family to take care of her, if they don’t disown her in the process.
I’ve been thinking a lot about teenage pregnancy ever since I found out that Jacqueline, my own 14 year old sister here in Zambia, is pregnant. She is going to have a baby any day. A child is about to become a mother.
That is why I was really infuriated when I read something in this MOE re-entry pamphlet.
In the back of this pamphlet, is the forms that the school needs to keep for record purposes. On one of the forms, it starts with space for the school information, then goes on to the girl information, then the family information, then the ‘male involved’ information. It asked for the name, then it asked for the occupation of ‘male involved.’ (A) TEACHER/SCHOOL PERSONNEL. I couldn’t believe that ‘teacher’ was the first option. It illustrates how often this is occuring. And how acceptable this is in Zambian society.
I have thought a lot about how to combat teenage pregnancy in Zambia. But how do you teach a girl self-worth? How do you teach self-esteem? Especially when they aren’t getting those same lessons from home? What about the boys? What about the community as a whole?
I don’t know the answers.
There is one thing that I have realized and know to be true. I can’t bring development or big change to Zambia. The only thing that I can do is show Zambians other options. I can be a positive influence to the school girls I know and the Zambians that I am friends with in the village but it is up to them to change things.
upon looking back, i don’t know if the questions i was asking would have helped the situation. i don’t know if these questions were even accurate or correct or the appropriate questions to be asking? reading this 10 years later, they seem like pretty surface level questions.
i think i was missing a big part of the issue, i was assuming that these girls actually had a choice in what was happening to their bodies. and that might not have been the case. as i discuss, teachers were often using school fees and new clothes as incentives to sex. you can have all the confidence in the world, but if you are a girl living in abject poverty in the middle of a zambian village, you will probably choose sex for school fees because there wouldn’t be another way to earn money. yes, technically you have a choice, but you don’t actually have a choice.
it’s a tough world out there for sure. and i still don’t have all the answers. i don’t even have some of the answers. jacqueline did finish grade 9, but only because i was able to help with bottles and baby formula from america. not every girl out there has that luxury. it’s important that we help each other in any way that we can! because the world will get better, even if it’s just 1 girl at a time.