Updated: Dec 19, 2021
In August 2016, Eloise and Amelie sat down with Pastor Smoke, the founder of Maanu Mbwami School, a community school on the outskirts of Livingstone, and one of the projects Funsani supports in Zambia. This interview explores the background to the school being founded and highlights the school’s many benefits and importance to the local community.
Education in Zambia can be difficult to access and yet plays a vital role in people’s lives. The Maanu Mbwami School is a brilliant example of one man’s hard work and dedication for the benefit of the community, and it is one of the reasons why Funsani shows great pride in contributing to it’s success.
In 2001, Pastor Smoke set out to establish a school to help educate orphans and vulnerable children who had lost their parents or family members to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. His ambition was to create an affordable and accessible learning facility for those most in need. With more than 500 local students attending, it has now become a vital part of the community.
We started the interview by asking Pastor Smoke about the motives behind building a community school in the region. He explained that before Maanu Mbwami existed, the children in the community had to walk for hours every day to reach the nearest school. This meant some of them didn’t attend school more than once a week. For the younger children the walk was too long, while many older children would be expected to help with household chores instead of attending school. Girls would often drop out when they reached puberty as they became too embarrassed to go to school when on their period. He also added that fees for the other schools were too high and therefore out of reach for many families in the community. He therefore wanted to build a school that was both affordable and accessible.
To put things into perspective; 12 Kwacha amounts to £1. The price to send a child to school for ten months is 100 Kwacha (ca. £8.50). We were shocked to hear that this considerably lower fee than other schools in the area was still considered expensive for a lot of families in the local community.
When asked about the children’s feelings towards his school, Pastor Smoke answered smilingly: “The children love the school, they want to be here, they want to work, they know it will help them, they thrive from it and they enjoy learning with and from each other, they want their classmates to achieve as much as themselves”.
Although his plans and wishes are to one day expand the facilities by building new classrooms in order to provide schooling for older children, his primary focus is the quality of the education. A good education means higher chances of getting a job. One of the main issues with the school is that teachers do not have a stable wage and are likely to leave if they are given an opportunity elsewhere. Donations to the school would allow Pastor Smoke to hire more qualified teachers and increase the ratio of teachers to students. Currently, the main subjects taught are English, basic maths, sciences, geography, and some French. He worries about his teachers' ability to continue to stretch and challenge the older students. With the donation of varied schoolbooks, he can expand the children’s spectrum of subjects studied and hopefully their interests.
As well as providing education and shelter for the children, Maanu Mbwami School is also a part of the 'lunch and feeding program' found in many other Zambian schools. This means that each child is given one meal at lunchtime, which is often the only meal they have all day. The dish consists mainly of the Zambian 'national dish' and main staple food: nshima, which is a maize flour based porridge, with an appearance and consistency similar to mashed potato. This is a very cheap and basic ingredient but it provides nutrients essential to get the children through the day.
Pastor Smoke is passionate about the children taking part in physical activity as well as academic subjects and encourages them to dance and play games whenever they are out of class. This not only keeps them fit but also provides a friendly environment for children to grow and communicate.
In future, Pastor Smoke wishes to see every child in his community attend the Maanu Mbwami School. At the moment, there are not enough classes for the increasing number of students, so he takes in the younger ones in the morning and the older ones in the afternoon meaning that they only attend half a day of school. Thanks to donations, the community is able to build new classrooms and facilities allowing more students to join. So far, partnerships like Funsani and the European School in Culham, Oxfordshire, have been crucial in improving the facilities at Maanu Mbwami. The building of new clean toilet facilities, for example, has given the students access to better hygiene conditions.
The interview ended with an exchange where we explained to Pastor Smoke how we raise money in the UK, after telling him about the school cake sales and charity races he congratulated us and implored us to continue, as it is a fundamental part of the success of his project. He is incredibly grateful for the help Funsani has provided so far and is hopeful to see the school develop in the future. Pastor Smoke started this project with the aim of helping the children of his community and neither he nor they can believe how successful it has become. Motivated only by a passion for learning, this man has given hundreds of children access to an education and the ability to improve their futures. We both agreed that we need more people like him in the world and realised the importance in donating to organisations like Funsani, which help people like Pastor Smoke make their dreams a reality.