Sunday, September 24, 2006

The successes of ZAW

ZAW has a proud record of being involved in the on going task of advocacy for women's rights as human rights, gender sensitisation and in raising awareness in Zambia of CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.) Mrs Lubinda Tafira of ZAW addressed the World Summit for Sustainable Development speaking on the theme of Partnerships with the Rural Poor.

Despite struggling for funding ZAW did receive the gift of a bus during its early years. The bus was donated the University Teaching Hospital's Maternity Ward in Lusaka to provide transport for discharged mothers. The vehicle served UHT for over 10 years!

ZAW has done much work in improving the educational chances of young rural Zambians. Pre-Schools in Chongwe, Chibombo and Suziman have been developed so that children are now educated at Primary level as well.

ZAW has developed agro-forestry programmes in Chongwe and Chibombo. This has led to the planting of trees to be used as wind breaks, as well as providing fuel, shade and fruit. The nursery tree projects are also an income generating activity for member groups.

Furthermore, ZAW has spearheaded the SADC regional rural industries study to promote rural industries such as pottery, basketry, beer brewing, baking, fish processing and the production of energy saving stoves.

ZAW has also promoted household fuel security through the establishment of seed multiplication and crop diversification projects and sustainable agricultural farming methods at village level.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

ZAW's Past Activities

To date more than 600 groups have become affiliated to ZAW. ZAW now boasts of membership of 5000 registered individuals.

ZAW is well known and well regarded in Zambia. Unfortuantely, too many NGO's are 'all talk and no action.' It is tragic to hear that well funded executives of NGO's are driving around in 4x4's and living in plush houses whilst their organisations are neglected. These people tragically are the ones who know how to 'play the game' - they are the ones who effectively access funding. I am aware that ZAW has made a tremendous impact in Zambia but when Mrs Lubinda Tafira, the co-ordinator of ZAW, sort support from UK charities, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD (three of my favourite charities incidently) she was turned down!!!

Fortuantely, ZAW has had some funding, all be it sporadic, and has been able to work effectively with many Zambia women in rural areas as this story illustrates.

Women are left out

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Activities of ZAW

Gender and Civic

* ZAW promotes the enhancement of the postion of women (women's rights, women and inheritence, women and education, women and development etc.)

* ZAW advocates for good governence and the promotion of peace.

* ZAW works in conjunction with other NGO's on other vital issues such as the promotion of CEDAW - The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Environmental and Sustainable Development

* ZAW conducts sensitisation and training workshops in the areas of environment and health, educating communities about waste management and the disposal of urban and peri-urban waste.

Social and Economic

* ZAW promotes poverty eradication through food security programmes and other potentially income generating activities.

* ZAW carries out and supports research into gender issues.

* ZAW promotes Zambian culture and family values that positively enhance the position of women and girls.

Training Seminars and Workshops

* ZAW holds community based training workshops and seminars in the pursuance of the organisations objectives.

For a heart warming story about ZAW's work with 'Bus Boys' in Lusaka.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Objectives of the Zambain Alliance of Women

The Zambian Alliance of Women exists to improve the welfare of women and children in Zambia through the following:

1. To secure all such reforms as are necessary to establish real equalities of liberties, status and opportunities between men and women.

2. To urge women to accept their responsibilities and use their rights to secure influence in public lifeto ensure the status of every individual, without distinction of gender, race, colour or creed. This shall be based upon respect for the human person as this is the only guarantee of individual freedom.

3. To instill in women a sense of self reliance through constructive work for the welfare of the nation and human kind.

4. To increase awareness of environmental issues, through the sharing of knowledge and skills to ensure that traditional and scientific practices are deployed to conserve the environment.

5. To teach women sustainable income generating ventures such as sustainable small scale agriculture, basketry, pottery, sewing and other cottage sustainable industries.

For more information check out my earlier posts about ZAW.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Zambian Alliance of Women - ZAW

The Mission Statement of the Zambian Alliance of Women is:

'To empower women to take charge of their lives through gender, environmental and social justice so that the right to a healthy life is enjoyed by the now and future generations.'

The Background of the Zambian Alliance of Women

The Zambian Alliance of Women (ZAW) is an affiliate of the International Alliance of Women. It started operation in 1978 after a visit to Lusaka by Grete Borgemann, then Chairperson of the International Alliance of Women's education commission. Grete was sent by the IAW Board to Zambia to familiarise Zambian women in NGO's with aspects of law and development and to see if Zambian women would be interested in forming links with the international organisation.

As the visit took place during the UN decade for Women (1976-85) many women in Zambia were already deliberating on the important themes of the decade; equality, development and peace. Women identified that effective development could not take place without true gender equality and that peace would only be an illusion in a state of poverty and want.

ZAW is a non government, non profit making, non partisan organisation that was first registered in 1982. It is now formally registered as a corporate body under the name Zambian Alliance of Women and has registered trustees according to the Land Perpetual Succession Act (CAP 288 March 1993.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sunset on the Zambezi

The natural beauty of Zambia is incredible. This picture was taken from a boat upon the mighty river. The boats in the distance are full of tourists admiring one of the world's most beautiful sunsets.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A river without water!!!

One of the amazing sights one can see in Botswana is a river with no water. This is a picture of the Shashe River just outside Francistown. In the rainy season it is full of water but in the dry season one would not even know that it's a river! When the rain starts to fall one finds 4x4 vehicles off-roading in the river. Great fun!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

An experience of wonder and awe!!!

Here I am at the Falls! The picture is taken in August so the Falls are relatively dry! In the rainy season November-April the water fills to such an extent that needs to where a rain coat to avoid leaving the area soaked to skin.

From our vantage pointon the Zambian side of the Falls we could see a handful of tourists on the Zimbabwean side. When I first visited the Falls in 2002 the Zimbabwean side was packed and relatively few people viewed the Falls from Zambia. Times have changed. Livingstone has now firmly placed itself on the tourist map. This is fantastic for Zambia as tourism can bring much needed Forex in the country. (Whether the ordinary Zambian benefits from this is an argument for another day!) Livingstone has changed so much in the five years I have known her. The town is now full of lodges. Most of these are owned and run by Zambians. The large hotels and lodges, which are in closer proximity to the Falls area, are primarily owned by foreigners though. One cannot deny though that the Royal Livingstone Hotel and the Zambezi Sun are two of the finest hotels anywhere in the world.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Betty and Bongani at Victoria Falls

My son Bongani with my wife Betty at the Victoria Falls. Bongani had visited the Falls before but when he was only three years old and thus he could not remember the occasion. This time he enjoyed the experience but his appreciation of wonder and awe is still in its development stage - afterall he is only six!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Only tourists ever see the Falls!

Livingstone is a town of enormous contrast. On the one hand one has the mighty Falls whilst a few kilometres away people are living in the shanty compound 'Maramba.' Most of the people in the compound will never have seen the Falls and they are never likely to do so. The handful of kwacha it costs to enter the National Park is beyond the means of most of the Zambian people.

It's tragic - it really is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Zambian Election and HIV/AIDS

28th September is a big date for Zambians. It is the date of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections that will shape Zambian politics for the next for the foreseeable future. The issue of HIV/AIDS is one that many NGO's are fighting to put on the agenda.

"All election candidates should make clear their personal commitment to tackling HIV and AIDS because we want Zambian politicians to take a leading role in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We want them to tell us what they will do about the pandemic if we elect them to office, because they should recognise that HIV is as much an election issue as a better economy or improved education," said Felix Mwanza, project manager of Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC), a civic organisation.

About one in five sexually active Zambian adults are infected, or 1.6 million of a population of 10 million, but only 60,000 people have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication.

Zambians living with HIV/AIDS have distributed 10,000 questionnaires among the electorate and to all the roughly 1,200 candidates standing for presidential, parliamentary and local government seats in the September 28 election.

"We shall ensure that all candidates, starting from the presidential ones right down to the ward councillors, complete these questionnaires. Then we shall use their own comments and commitments to make the electorate decide who to vote for, and we are confident it will work out because we are represented in every community, and all our partner organisations and support groups are already on the ground," Mwanza said.

Candidates are asked how many people are infected with the disease in the communities they hope to represent, and about their contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The questionnaire campaign has borrowed from an initiative started last month by the Citizens Forum, which demands that all candidates sign social contracts with their communities, outlining priority areas for development.

Critics said the questionnaires and social contracts were not legally enforceable and for all their good intentions might have little or no influence on winning candidates once they assumed office.
"It will not be a case of waiting until after the election - we are able to tell someone's commitment easily from their answers in these questionnaires," said Mwanza. "Candidates who don't complete them will not even stand any chance of making it, as HIV is a national issue and every voter either has someone with HIV or has been affected by it in some way."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mosi O Tunya - The Thunder that Roars!

This is the first view one has of the mighty Victoria Falls upon walking through the Mosi O Tunya National Park. One exactly hears the falls before they are seen and then suddenly they are there...words cannot fully describe. David Livingstone who 'discovered' the Falls was awestruck and t'is no wonder why. The Falls are one of the Seven Wonders of the World and they have to be seen, felt and heard to be believed. My father said on the first occasion he visited the falls that if he didn't believe in God already then the falls would have convinced him of God's existance. They are so utterly awe inspiring!

Monday, September 11, 2006

How free is education in Zambia?

I rememer recently watching Question Time on BBC1. One member of the Government waxed lyrically about the fact that education in Zambia is now free but how free is free education in Zambia I asked myself? Ironically that's the provocative title of a report released last week looking at the cost of education in Lusaka.

Looking at the results of this report prepared by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), the Director Peter Henriot declared that he was saddened by the apparent absence from current political debates of intelligent discussion of serious questions like those raised about the quality and quantity of education for the youth of Zambia.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia made an important decision in 2002 to remove the so-called user fees in primary schools throughout the country.
The return of free education meant a noteworthy reversal of the IMF/World Bank designed cost sharing plans that were part of the overall Structural Adjustment Programme that Zambia was obliged to accept as a condition for debt relief.
Many people - parents, educationists and development advocates - hailed the move as a step in the right direction.
The introduction of school fees had brought a marked decline in the quantity of education and had not brought a significant increase in the quality of education.
The State House website says very clearly: The development of any nation depends on the quality of education that is provided for the children and the youths in the country.
It therefore promises that the government has realised the need to continue to invest in the education sector. President Mwanawasa has even indicated the desire to extend free education through Grade 12, assuring that no child is hindered from obtaining an education because of fees.

But the findings of the JCTR report point to issues that must be addressed before acclaiming that education in primary schools is truly free and is accomplishing the greatly desired steps toward development.

These issues definitely affect the availability of education for children from poorer families.
Although the report focused mainly on primary schools in Lusaka, it presents insights that point to a prevailing situation across the nation, across all types and levels of schools.
Any woman or man campaigning for the office of President, member of parliament or local councilor could get a sense of what the JCTR report concludes by simply walking around the compounds of Lusaka or other major cities or into rural areas.
Just talk with parents, teachers, and headmasters about the cost, accessibility and quality of education in Zambia, as did the two JCTR researchers, Chris Petrauskis and Sheila Nkunika.
Peter Henriot claims that if these candidates come up with different findings, they must be interviewing on a different planet! When we talk about costs of education, we must distinguish direct costs and indirect costs.
Direct costs are those administered by the schools, such as user fees, PTA charges or project fees. Indirect costs include school uniforms and shoes, books and supplies, transportation, private tuition, packed lunches, etc.
The JCTR report finds that the government policy of free education has led to the removal of nearly all direct fees for grades 1 to 7. But it is true that some schools continue, contrary to guidelines from the Ministry of Education, to administer modest (K10,000 to K30,000/year) PTA charges or project fees.
But it is indirect costs (mostly uniforms and shoes, books and supplies) that can add up to an average annual amount of K440,000 for one child.
What that can mean for poorer households of four to six children is, obviously, prohibitive of access to ìfree education. And to speak of extending free education up through Grade 12 without seriously addressing this problem is neither economically realistic nor politically responsible.

It is true that with the abolition of school fees the net attendance rate at primary levels increased from 71% in 2000 to 85% in 2004 - a commendable achievement.
But approximately 15% of Zambian children, almost 300,000 girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 13 - are simply out of the educational system, missing training in the basic literacy, numeracy and reasoning that is essential for their own and the nation's full human development.
The JCTR report found that in households located in high-density areas in Lusaka, many children simply were not in school. Some parents reported as many as 5 school age children out of school.

The majority of parents attributed the absence of their children from education to a lack of school fees.

Many sad stories told the human side of these statistics, especially for the girl-child for whom education in a school is considered by many as a luxury.

Zambia has signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Education for All action plan and the Millennium Development Goals all of which call for the realisation of universal primary education.

Petrauskis and Nkunika make the necessary recommendation, therefore, that some very positive action must be taken to deal with the indirect costs of education that are so burdensome to poor families, even as direct costs may have been eliminated or lessened.

An expansion by the Ministry of Education of its bursary programme is called for to ensure that poor or vulnerable households have access to sufficient resources to provide uniforms, transportation, lunches, etc.

Another recommendation of the report is that the Ministry of Education should assure that the guidelines are strictly enforced so that no child is sent away from primary education on account of being unable to pay any fee (whether Project or PTA) or not having a school uniform.
But this will also require that the Ministry of Education should allocate proportionately higher grants to schools serving poorer communities, so that the necessary funds can be available for recurring operation expenses and rehabilitative projects.

An obvious need to be met in order to advance both the accessibility and quality of education in Zambia is the improvement of conditions of service of teachers.
Surely teachers should be able to meet the demands of the JCTR Basic Needs Basket if we are to expect them to give their best in educating children.

Yes, education is costly, even free education! And so donors should be called upon for greater assistance to Zambia and the government should be expected to have better priorities in its expenditures and in its Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP)

Without well educated Zambians, foreign investors are not going to come to Zambia, whether or not they are welcomed by aspiring presidential candidates. HIV/AIDS rates are not going to decline significantly.

Local industry is not going to flourish and employment rates are not going to go up.
And Zambia's most important resource, our people will continue to be underutilised, underdeveloped and undervalued. Let's hear the political campaigners talk about that!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The often neglected positive images of Africa

I'd hate to think that my writngs about Southern Africa would perpetuate the negative stereotypes held by many in the Northen hemisphere. For that reason I have decided that I will publish positve images and stories from Southern Africa to compliment the stories of poverty, sickness and death that I often write about or comment on.

I have fallen in love with Africa and I want to share my love with others!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Botswana: Miss Stigma Free 2006

This article from Mmegi in Botswana about the Miss Stigma Free 2006 pageant gladden my heart. I know beauty pageants are frowned upon these days in the liberalised northern hemisphere but they're big business all over sub-saharan Africa.

"I am very happy to have won this crown. I feel that I have achieved what I wanted. This will give me a chance to pursue my mission of sensitising the public about HIV/AIDS," said the jubilant Regina Lesole after she was crowned Miss Stigma Free 2006.

Lesole, former teacher and counsellor at Mahalapye Tebelopele Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre scooped the crown during a colourful event held at Orapa and Letlhakane mines Sports hall. The annual pageant is designed to encourage people to eradicate HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination and to accept People Living with HIV and AIDS in the work place.
The new HIV/AIDS queen displayed breathtaking cat walking skills in front of a full hall that was beautifully decorated, and to the amazement of visitors who could not believe it was a sports hall. Seemingly enjoying every moment of the competition, Lesole eloquently explained her experience of living positively with the virus, and she was the only contestant who answered questions in English. The pageant had attracted different contestants living with the virus from all over the country.

Lesole who hails from Mahalapye told Showbiz that she was diagnosed with the deadly virus in 2000. She said that she had observed that some professionals link the disease with the poor and illiterates hence her decision to go public about her status. "Highly educated people do not want to accept that the pandemic can infect them also. Being a former teacher, I wanted to show that HIV is not for the poor only," she said.

She lamented that support groups are comprised of people with little management knowledge and they tend to fail. She suggested that highly qualified people should join the support groups saying that would lead to a step ahead in the battle against the scourge, which is overwhelming the country.

The theme of the pageant was, "Eradicate stigma and increase production." The 39-year-old Lesole pointed out in an interview that, though it is not for the first time, she is going to sensitise people in the workplace about the stigma related with HIV/AIDS. She feels that her encouragement as Miss Stigma Free would have an impact on people's minds.

The HIV activist advised that HIV positive people should not feel sidelined. They should take advantage of free anti-retrovirals provided by government and other such kind of assistance. She strongly advised infected people to take Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) as prescribed.
Failure to follow instructions is like sentencing yourself to death, she warned. The healthy mother of three was proud to announce that she is on ARVs and she does not feel any social pressure from anybody. She told a full hall that her family, especially her children, encourage or always remind her to take ARVs when it is time. She said people should test for HIV and know their status early in life. She emphasised this would help them in making decisions for the future.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Zambian children and HIV

Zambia has a population of about 11 million people. More than one million of Zambians are living with HIV. Estimates put the prevelance rate at around 20%. 290 000 Zambians are in need of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and this is the official figure that only takes account of those who know their status. As at March 2006, an estimated 76000 people were on ART in Zambia.

That 76000 Zambians are currently on ARV treatment as of now is not a mean achievement at all one when considers the circumstances. In fact it is quite a phenomenal feat. Especially when we consider that less than three years ago in 2003, during the pilot phase of ART in the Zambian public health sector, there were only 2,000 people on treatment in two centres at Lusaka’s UTH and Ndola Central Hospital. In the second phase in 2004, 10 centres with 15,000 people on treatment. By the end of 2005, it had expanded to over 50,000 people in 62 centres. By now, at the end of August 2006, there are 126 centres and 76,000 people on ART, the vast majority of who are receiving this treatment for free.

(It is sometimes argued that this treatment is not entirely free to the patient as they incur costs in traveling to the clinics to access it. The point is that the patients themselves do no have to pay any of the nearly US $150 per patient per year that it costs to have a person on first line ARVs alone, without even considering the costs of all the laboratory costs that go with the practice of HIV medicine.)

While credit, commendation and praise must be given where they are due because as a country Zambia has made very good progress in this area, we must also acknowledge that Zambia has failed her children. Experts tell us that there are about 85000 children infected with HIV in Zambia, but only less than 3000 of them are on ARV treatment.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Non adherence to ARV's a huge problem in Botswana

This editorial from The Voice in Botswana caught my eye. It points to a very worrying trend facing those living with HIV in sub-saharan Africa. As I've alluded to in previous posts non-adherence to treatment is a big issue in Bots!

'There were two related reports that emerged at the recently ended 16th International AIDS conference in Toronto that caught our attention and hopefully the attention of every responsible citizen who don't want to see this country's human resources decimated by HIV /AIDS.

These are the reports that TB strains resistant to first and second line drugs have been found among HIV-Positive people in our neighbour, South Africa and another one which states that first line drugs are no longer working for a growing number of people living with HIV who are now in need of far more expensive drugs that are out of reach for the general majority of Africans.

In light of the above discoveries we sought a comment from a local HIV/AIDS expert who to our horror confirmed our suspicions that we are in the same boat with South Africa concerning the above worrying developments in the fight against AIDS.

In brief the expert explained that apart from the natural progression of people living with HIV towards resistance to ARVs ,the process is often speeded up by certain factors such as non- adherence and reckless living, which in many cases results in re-infection.

"We already have a growing number of people who are now on the much more expensive third line drugs mainly because of non-adherence. Many have also turned up with signs of new infections. If these drugs become resistant too all we can do is help such people manage the disease, avoid catching opportunistic diseases and hope for the best," he said

Suddenly it dawned on us that our modest achievement of having reduced Botswana HIV/AIDS infection rate to 17% fade into oblivion when placed next to the mountain we face ahead of us.

We applaud the government efforts to keep the sick alive by spending huge sums of money on providing individuals with ARVS.

We condemn those whose attitudes(and they seem to be many) have been undermining the government efforts by mistaking ARVs for a cure for AIDS.

We hope that the reports from the AIDS conference will be an eye opener and a strong urgent warning to many people, especially the 35% of our population which is already living with HIV some of who have clearly been lulled into a false sense of security by the abundance of ARVs dished out by government for free to wake up and take control of their lives before its too late.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR)

I had the honour of meeting Fr Peter Henriot whilst in Zambia this summer. He was staffing the stall of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) at the annual Agricultural and Industry Show in Lusaka. He is a a wonderfully humble man but he and his institute do phenomenal work in Zambia.

One of the most prominent pieces of work produced by the centre is its Basket for Basic Needs. The centre publishes its work on a monthly basis in the form of a itemised list of the basic needs a Zambian family has to survive. It costs of the essentials of everyday life and measures them against the incomes of the average person in Zambia.

The Basket demonstrates every month that even Zambians in the comparatively well paid professionals such as teachers and nurses cannot afford to live much beyond a basic existence in their own country. For police officers the situation is even worth (no wonder there is so much corruption in the Zambian police force!)

When one considers that according to official figures 85% of Zambians exist on less than US$1 a day one realises the extent of the probles facing Zambia!