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Making progress on girls' education in Zambia

An interview with Natasha Lwanda, Association Chairperson, CAMFED, Zambia

October 04, 2021

Natasha Lwanda

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Many girls worldwide struggle to complete their education, and the pressure to drop out of school hits them from many sides. With the COVID-19 pandemic adding an extra obstacle, FHI 360 and its partners recognize that it is more important than ever to support girls so they can remain in school.

Natasha Lwanda, Association Chairperson for the Zambia office of CAMFED, understands these challenges intimately. Her pathway to her current position with CAMFED, an organization that focuses on supporting girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa, started in a small village in Zambia. Natasha walked barefoot nearly 10 miles a day to and from school. Although she was a standout student, she was in danger of dropping out because her family could not afford the fees that Zambia schools require for grades eight and above.

Fortunately, her teachers brought her to the attention of CAMFED, which covered Natasha’s school costs. Natasha continued to thrive at secondary school, where she held several leadership positions. Eventually, she attended the University of Zambia, earning a bachelor's degree in education in environmental management.

Now, Natasha is giving back to her community through helping rural girls like herself overcome obstacles to their education. FHI 360 recently talked to Natasha about the challenges of girls’ education in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are some of the activities you are involved in at CAMFED?

One of our programs is the Learner’s Guide Program, which was introduced in schools in rural areas and helps learners develop critical thinking, leadership and survival skills. We also offer the Transition Guide Program, which helps former CAMFED participants. It prepares them for life after school, so they are able to take leadership roles in society and activities that will bring them a source of income.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

COVID-19 has been a setback. When schools closed, girls were at home. It’s not an environment that allows them to study, because on a normal day in a village in Africa, a girl is expected to do farm labor and house chores and to take care of young children. Schools are a safe environment that keeps girls away from early marriage, teenage pregnancy and abuse.

How did you overcome these challenges?

We used smaller gatherings, following pandemic guidelines. We also used digital platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and WhatsApp to get in touch and continue delivering program sessions.

Why did you choose to study environmental management and how does it relate to women?

In the village, we were affected by climate change. We come from families of subsistence farmers. I wanted to share the information I learned at the university with people in my village so we can adopt practices that will fight climate change and boost sustainable agriculture.

Gender and environmental management are linked in a lot of ways. Women in rural areas are responsible for providing clean water and firewood for cooking and lighting. They are in charge of what the family is going to eat. They give birth and impart manners, knowledge and skills to their children. So, they think the most about the future of children. A woman needs to be educated to understand how the environment works and how various systems are interlinked.

What do you think policymakers need to know?

We have so many policies on paper that are not implemented. [The government] should always follow up to ensure that the policies they are creating are carried out and producing positive results.

We would like men to understand that the fight for gender equality is to benefit everyone. It’s not a fight against each other — it’s a fight against the inequalities that exist between men and women. I would love for men to see us as fellow human beings, to coexist with us and to support us.

What is your message for young girls?

Poverty does not define us, and it’s okay for girls to dream big. When they get a chance to get an education, they should grab it with both hands, because there is no greater equalizer than education. You can become whatever you want to be if you put your mind to it. I believe it doesn’t matter where you come from or how you look. What matters is what you are supposed to do, and the world should allow you to do that.

Natasha will share more of her perspective on October 6, 2021, at FHI 360's Fostering Systemic Change for Adolescent Girls’ Education: A Roundtable with FCDO and USAID. This virtual roundtable will be the first in a series led by FHI 360 to provide a platform for partners to explore ways to make adolescent girls' education equitable and accessible.

Photo credit: Natasha Lwanda/CAMFED