Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Veteran teacher and headmistress Arube Nalwimba is on a mission to empower and protect her students from violence and exploitation.

It’s a busy day for Mrs Nalwimba at the primary school where she works in rural Zambia.

This morning she met with triplets in Grade 7. She called the girls into her office because, although they are promising students, they were falling asleep in class.

She learnt they had, as usual, woken up at 4am to do their chores before making the 8km journey to school by foot.

They were exhausted before they even got to their desks, and were at risk of being abused as they walked in the dark for hours.

The girls had already been held back a year so they could catch up. Mrs Nalwimba resolved to find a place where they can board closer to school, so they would be safer and would not have to walk so far.

Their education is too important! An educated girl knows her rights and how to exercise them.”

Mrs Nalwimba

“Girls here have no role models. They can’t imagine what it is like beyond the village. So I tell them I’m about to retire and I want them to come here and take over.”

Her passion for protecting children comes from seeing the effects of violence and exploitation on the children in her care.

High rates of child marriage, violence and forced labour are among the main threats to children in Zambia, according to Katongo Mwansa, ChildFund Zambia’s Child Protection Specialist.

“We know that we cannot end child poverty if violence persists,” Mr Mwansa says.

“Children who are subject to abuse are more likely to underachieve at school, drop out and miss out on an education entirely.”

For boys, one of the biggest threats is being forced to drop out of school and work in unsafe jobs.

“In many communities, you’ll find boys out of school and involved in things like sand mining and agriculture – heavy, physical work that is well beyond their age and can be hazardous to their health and wellbeing,” Mr Mwansa says.

Girls in Zambia are forced to marry at a higher rate than almost any country in the world. Almost one in three girls is married before she turns 18.

Lily is a happy two-year-old surrounded by love. She is the youngest of five children, has a healthy appetite and enjoys playing with her friends in her community supported by ChildFund Zambia.

Her mother and father Frida and Costern are adoring parents, but they struggle to make ends meet.

Their only source of income comes from working odd jobs, such as labouring on nearby farms, for which they each earn less than AU$3 a day.

Below we tell their story, about how a lack of a reliable and sufficient income has had devastating effects on the family, and particularly on Lily (pictured above).

What does child malnourishment look like?

‘I was so worried that I might lose her,’ says Frida, Lily’s mother.

When Lily was born, she weighed a healthy 3kg. Frida breastfed her daughter for about six months before she began to produce less and less milk.

“We did not have much to eat during that time,” Frida says. “We were eating the same things – nshima (cornmeal porridge), some vegetables and occasionally small dried fish.”

When she did not have enough milk, Frida would feed Lily some nshima made with a bit of oil and ground nuts. There was little else available to feed her baby, and when Lily began to lose her appetite around eight months old, Frida began to worry.

It was the first time anything like this had happened to any of her children.

“We had little to nothing to eat,” Frida says. “Lily became weak and stopped crawling. I tried to make her eat but she refused.