Eighty bright little eyes patiently wait for instructions from their teachers in a small dark room that can only fit ten desks for all its students. This is Saikolo Community School in Kasama, Zambia. Located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the area, the school provides free education to the vulnerable. Despite challenges at home and lack of resources, the students are very positive about learning. Their smiles shine brightly through the darkness along with their bright yellow uniforms.
Around 3,000 people live in Saikolo Village, Kasama, the capital city of the Northern Province in Zambia. Many people from remote villages move to Kasama in hope of a better future, but are unable to fulfil their dreams. They end up in Saikolo with no work and no land to farm. With limited education many can’t find jobs. Some girls, by the age of 14, end up in the sex industry or marry early to survive. HIV has also become very wide-spread, and drunkenness is a common coping mechanism.
Children growing up in Saikolo do not have an easy childhood. Most of them stay with grandparents who have little ability to provide for their needs and so the children become the ones who go to remote farms and the streets to earn small amounts of money for their family. Some go around the neighbourhoods drawing water for people and earn less than 1 ZMK (0.1 USD) a day. For many, school has become a dream they’ve given up on.
Seeing the great need in Saikolo, the community itself initiated Saikolo Community School in 2008. Currently, they have 601 students from grades 1 to 5. The five teachers are all volunteers who are dedicated to seeing breakthroughs in the lives of these vulnerable children.
From 07:00 to 17:00, the classes divide into groups in order to rotate the massive amount of children through the three small classrooms. There is no electricity, no running water and not enough desks in the school. The children simply pile on the desks or on the floor and the teachers have little space to move around them.
Despite these conditions, the students are eager to learn. They understand that this might be their only chance to get an education. Without a salary, the teachers are willing to teach their students with the uttermost love. “I love to be around the children. Through education, I want to see them have a good future and have the ability to support others,” said Mercy Mutale who has been teaching in Saikolo Community School for seven years.
Mercy shared about two brothers who used to go to a government school until a driver accidently ran off the road and into their father’s shop killing him. The boys had to drop out of school due to lack of finances. Upon hearing their story, Mercy started helping the family. “We were able to help them come to our school and now four years have passed by and the biggest boy is in grade 5,” she said.
In 2014, the OM team in Kasama visited the school. They were moved by the passion of the teachers, but at the same time, challenged by the limited resources and poor conditions. They could also see that the teachers were struggling to keep up the work as the need was so big.
Also having a heart for vulnerable children, the OM team took on the Saikolo Community School as one of their projects. They mobilised youth from different churches to repair the desks and found some funding for the school. In addition to uniforms and stationary, the team raised funds to start a feeding programme as they noticed many students were too hungry to concentrate.
One of the teachers admitted he had wanted to give up before the OM team arrived. “We realised there was little support for these teachers. If we wanted to have deeper impact on the students, we needed to raise the hope of the teachers,” remembered Gabriel Kabela, OM team member. Gabriel began a Bible study with the teachers on Fridays and a children’s programme on Saturdays. The teachers gradually opened up and began to trust God as they worked. Many of them did not know Christ personally, but are now rebuilding their relationships with Him. “Even during the holidays, they want to have Bible study. And when we are not there, they will still have prayer sessions.” Gabriel shared that the changes in the teachers has also brought unity to the team. When they studied forgiveness, he challenged them to forgive others. During that time, one of the teachers was having a conflict with the school and all the other teachers decided to forgive him. He is still part of the school today.
Like the teachers, the students were also not getting enough attention. Most of them come from broken families and carry these traumas to school with them. Growing up, the children are taught not to be loud or active. Compared to other children, the students in Saikolo were very shy. In the beginning, they would make no noise and didn’t know how to play during break times. The OM team trained the teachers to bring positivity into the children’s lives and give them the freedom to be childlike. It was difficult at first for the team to see the impact, but now they see the children growing physically, emotionally and spiritually. The school began to experience laughter and smiles from both the teachers and the students. Gabriel said “Now we can even see light on the faces of the children.”
Please pray with us for more funds and resources, especially for desks. Pray for support and love for the teachers as they volunteer to work in the school. Pray that God will send more people to meet the need in Saikolo, especially trained teachers.