“I love the children. I have a passionate heart for them,” says Priscilla. This is why she continues, after five years, to voluntarily teach the children of Roan community in Luanshya, Zambia. Priscilla is the head teacher at Shalom Community School, where 120 orphaned and vulnerable children receive a free education. Priscilla, along with seven other teachers, conducts grades 1 to 6, using the Zambian government school curriculum.
Most of the students at Shalom are orphans living with family members who have taken them in after the deaths of their parents, usually grandmothers, sometimes aunts and uncles. In cases such as this, when family members take in the children after their parents have passed, the strain added to the family is felt. Many people in Roan are unemployed, and so gain income by piece work and small-scale business, such as gathering and selling firewood. This form of income is inconsistent, to say the least. Often not enough to purchase food regularly, much less pay for government school fees.
In this way, Shalom is a refuge to many who have been caught by this double burden—the loss of parents followed by the loss of most support. There are many students at Shalom who have been out of school for years because they have no money, and when the community school takes them in, they enter in lower grades and work hard to catch up.
This is the situation for Charles, a sixteen-year-old boy who entered Shalom this year in grade six. Charles was born in Luanshya, but after the death of his father, his mother decided to join Charles’ grandmother, Catherine, in a village 900 km away. After struggling with illness, Charles’ mother decided to return with her mother and Charles to Roan, where Catherine is now responsible for his care. A widow herself, Catherine tries to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables at the market. Back in school after many years away, Charles struggled the most with writing, but his determination to do well given this new opportunity paid off and now his skills are improving and he really likes school, according to Priscilla.
Priscilla can understand the hardship that children like Charles face. She is a widow herself, bringing up three school-aged children of her own—Peter, 14, Charity, 10, and Brian, 6. Receiving only a small salary during months when funding allows, Priscilla can relate to not knowing where she will get money from month to month for her family. But she often receives help from the family of volunteers at Mutende Home-Based Care, which operates Shalom Community School. She knows she can rely on this family for help when she needs, just as the children of Shalom can rely on her as their teacher.
Perhaps it is this ability to relate that makes Priscilla such a dedicated teacher and role model to the students. Priscilla admits there have been times when she has thought of finding a paying job to improve her own situation. But, she says, the thoughts never last long; as soon as she thinks about the students she has come to know so well and how much joy she receives from teaching them, she can’t think of doing anything else.