Access to education is a major challenge in Zambia, especially in rural areas where the majority live below the poverty line. An estimated 500,000 children of primary and secondary school age that should be in school are out of school. Rural children, especially girls, are more likely to drop out of the school system or not be enrolled at all.

Traditional attitudes towards women, poverty, early marriage, gender-based violence, lack of sanitation facilities, and a choice to use scarce resources to educate boys rather than girls can all stand in the way of women and girls fully participating in education.

Women for Change is a group in Zambia which builds capacities of rural communities, especially for women and girls, to achieve sustainable human development and the eradication of all forms of poverty. They understand it takes more than money, books, and shoes to motivate girls to remain in school. Particularly in rural areas there are few role models of women with higher education to inspire girls and show them the difference education can make. Supported in part by United Church Women, Women for Change wants to focus on programming that will create opportunities to give girls and young women living in rural areas an extra push and some extra support to remain in school.

Meet Bertha Mukonda, who is 26 years old. Bertha had done well in school and just graduated from grade 8 when her parents divorced. This pushed her family of six into extreme poverty and it became a challenge to continue to pay school fees. Having managed fees for Grade 9 and 10 it seemed likely Bertha would have to leave school in Grade 11. At that point Women for Change was able to offer a sponsorship to Bertha to complete her secondary school education and to support her dream of attending university.

Bertha says, “Though the spiral of fate seemed not to end, God's hand extended into our family and the sun's rays penetrated the dark cloud. From this time ‘light begun to gleam,’ where there was hopelessness, there was hope.” Bertha is now in her fourth and final year of university, pursing a degree in education at the University of Zambia.

Twenty-five-year-old Chiyeza Ndhlovu. Chiyeza is one of 10 children. Her parents are small-hold farmers who have worked hard to ensure all 10 of their children graduate from high school. Chiyeza is the first in her family to go to university and will graduate this year with a degree in natural sciences. The path has not been easy.

Chiyeza describes her situation, “I grew up in a family full of economic hardships. During my primary years of education it was never easy for me. Sometimes I had leave school due to non-payment of school fees. Because of the household chores I was expected to do as a girl I had less time to study. Despite the hardships I graduated to grade 10 and went to Sanje Boarding school. In my first term, I was chased out of class because my parents were unable to pay for my school fees and I stayed out of school for some time.”

A sponsorship by Women for Change meant Chiyeza could finish her secondary school education and pursue her dream of a university education. Chiyeza says, “I would like to express my gratitude to Women for Change and its donors for their great and mighty works of helping people like me. I hope they will continue helping more vulnerable children in the communities of Zambia.”

To find out more about Women for Change, see their website.