Wrtten by George Snyman, founder of Hands at Work.
As my bus entered the outskirts of Kabwe town in Zambia, I remember staring out of the window and seeing the terrible slum for the first time. “Why have I never seen it before?” I wondered, and the next day asked Eric, the Hands at Work representative, about it. Eric’s words still ring clear in my mind to this day.He said, “George, not even the Catholics work in that area!” I understood what he meant – if the Catholics don’t work in an area, then nobody will work there. Seeing my yes, Eric knew what was about to happen next! And the next morning we entered Makululu. I wanted to know why Makululu existed and what made it such a difficult place.Eric and other community leaders explained to me that when President Chaluba came into power in the nineties, he launched a huge initiative to privatize the country’s mines and most of the factories. The whole exercise went horribly wrong for a number of reasons, and most of the deals were characterised by huge corruption. Within a year, most of these mines and factories closed down completely. It had a devastating impact on cities like Kabwe, and overnight thousands of people lost their jobs and houses. Adding to this, many rural people left their homes after a series of bad crops and flooded the bigger towns like Kabwe looking for work – all of these events contributed to the mushrooming of people in the informal settlement called Makululu.
The first day we walked the roads of Makululu there was no clinic, no government school, no government services like police or social workers, and no NGO activities. I was overwhelmed by what I saw: children in the streets trying to sell paraffin in small plastic bags; sick people lying under trees; old women struggling to carry wood from miles away to make charcoal for sale. Men were absent as far as the eye could see; I wondered if they were just too ashamed to be seen in this environment. Makululu was known as the biggest shanty town (as the Zambians call an informal settlement) in Zambia, and it had no intervention from outside. But just like we read in the Bible, God had His remnant faithfully pushing ahead. And we met some of that group right in the middle of Makulul that hot first day. We found them in nothing more than a mud hut: no windows, about five meters by three meters. Three women from Makululu had decided enough was enough: their children needed education, and if nobody was going to help then they would do it themselves. So they built a mud hut and invited the children to come. They had no material to use, and no budget to work with. But they called the children, and the children came by the hundreds!
When I met them, they had 350 children filling that dark, hot hut from 7 am until 4pm Monday to Friday. They had no books, no pencils, and the teachers worked for free. The teachers told me the children would not miss a school day for anything. It was the biggest gift they had ever received – the chance to go to school! I stood with the three teachers that day staring as one class packed up to go home and the next crowd of kids began filling the hut for their turn in class, and I asked the teachers to tell me their dreams. One said, “Every child in Makululu should be able to go to school, and they should receive good education. We want to teach them more than maths and English, we want to tell them about Jesus and that there is hope in Him. We want our children to dream of a better future.” That day I asked if I could join them in their dream, and then we sat under a tree and dreamed together. We dreamed of more than a school, we dreamed of a miracle centre, a beam of hope, a strong Church caring for the vulnerable, the dying and widows. We dreamed of happy children that didn’t have to put their bodies on the line for a plate of food.
In faith we started a new chapter in Makululu that day. We trusted God that he would send the right people at the right time. And He did. The dream is not completed yet, but today we have 740 children in three classrooms, with eleven teachers, and every day we start with a plate of food, a song of praise to Jesus and many happy faces carrying books and pencils! All glory to Jesus.