Monday morning would be the defining moment where all the early nights finally played into my favour. The alarm briskly awoke me at 04:45 and I gathered my things together, which I had packed the previous evening. Breakfast would have been much too early, so I risked it in favour of a bottle of water, despite knowing the journey to Natemwa would be a long one.
Natemwa Learning Centre, a school located deep in the Zambian bush, teaches around 230 students from pre-school to grade 7 (Ages 6-14). Being in the middle of nowhere, it provides education for students from a number of local villages. The area itself, Chishamba, is primarily a farming district, so often student will walk long distances to the school. The school day typically starts at 7:30, meaning some students leave home before 6:00 to be in attendance.
From what I was told at the time the current vehicle we were riding would struggle with the roads nearer the school. Fortunately, we were stopping off to pick up Kathy, the administrator at Natemwa, who had the necessary vehicle as well. We transferred vehicles, and to my surprise, Kathy’s truck only had two seats, which meant myself and Martha were going to be sprawled out in the back of the truck with the luggage. The small child in me thought this was both hilarious and was extremely excited at the same time.
The first segment of the journey was completely fine, normal tarmac roads, with either buzzing Lusaka life, or African plains as the backdrop. Then we turned off towards Kachele Village. Fortunately, my entire body only left the rough metallic ground of the truck twice, but I certainly got the sense of feeling like a ragdoll. Regardless, one shouldn’t complain, as the scenery along the roads towards the school was beautiful. Traditional African mud huts with thatched roofs were consistently placed along the sides of the roads. Intermittently there were also entire small villages, with tall grass walls surrounding, giving off the appearance of an iron age settlement. After a rough hour, we arrived at Natemwa.
Breakfast was underway for the children upon arrival. The great Kachele tree, the ancient tree by which the village is named, overlooked the process, like a bird protecting its young within its wing. The feeding programme uses a WHO product ‘Stop the Hunger Now’, providing vital nutrients for growing children, assisting productivity in the classroom, and taking some burden from parents at home.
We then progressed, to the head office, where we briefly spoke with Kwabe, the Head teacher, before receiving the opportunity to chat with parents. Time and time again, each parent raised both the same delights at the progress of the school, but the same desires at the same time. The main desire being the implementation of grades 8 & 9. In Zambia, primary school goes up to grade 7 (most similar to year 9 in England), therefore secondary school starts at grade 8. The nearest school to Natemwa which offers grades 8&9, is a further 40 minutes walk, and in the rainy season in Zambia, rivers form along the only accessible route. By offering grades 8&9 at Natmewa we would be providing an important educational leap (GCSE equivalent) for the student. Obviously, this is impossible without money. The new space for classrooms would cost £15,000 and then teachers’ salaries on top of that. This is something Bana Tandizo wishes to raise funds for in the near future.
Lunchtime had arrived, and we walked over to Kathy’s mini base of operations when she stayed at the school. After some delightful sandwiches, the discussions continued, this time with the children. Over lunch we had discussed the possibility of myself taking a football lesson with the children. Midway through the interviews I was invited by Kelvin, grade 3 teacher who usually takes the students for football, to head towards the football pitch. On the way to the field, with all the 31 very eager children following quickly behind me, I rattled my memory of all the football drills my father had taught me growing up which only required one ball. The lack of resources provided a difficult challenge, but after a brief warm up I implemented some simple passing drills, with the focus on the basics: keeping the ball on the ground, looking up before you pass and calling for the ball. After a slow start, the team began getting into the swing of things and I could make the drills slowly more challenging, limiting the number of touches and lengthening the passes. It was great fun and certainly brought back a lot of nostalgia. As we moved into the game, I became frustrated how all this enthusiasm was being limited to the use of one ball, and no basic equipment like cones or bibs. The game came to a close as it was the end of the school day. We chatted for a long time around the fire at Kathy’s camp, before tucking into what was left of then night’s dinner, after a wild dog had helped itself to the meat. More discussion was had and stories told, before heading to bed. I read more of my book under candlelight, before slowly drifting off.