Education and Community Support Promote Health Outcomes

February 20, 2013


Supporting learners as “whole children” cultivates sustainable life skills.

In Zambia, Creative is addressing the need for a comprehensive, inclusive approach to education by implementing components that address learners’ needs for support in health and psychosocial areas. The USAID-funded Read to Succeed (RTS) Program strives to improve student performance in schools by focusing on early grade reading and holistically integrates issues affecting girls’ education, such as prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, knowledge of life skills, and community engagement and support.

Recently, Mary Lyn Field-Nguer, Creative’s Senior Associate for Health, visited with Creative’s RTS staff in Zambia to provide technical assistance and learn about the program. A visit to a local school shed light on the challenges that teachers and learners face. It is difficult to expect teachers to go beyond the day to day teaching to support learners as “whole children,” a concept that guides Creative’s work, when they face a 1:60 teacher to student ratio at a school in a rural community affected widely by HIV and AIDS.

In one school visited, for example, a head teacher and sixth grade student both cited recent incidences of girls in their class getting pregnant. Creative’s work in Zambia centers around life skills education and guidance counseling services and aims to address problems affecting girls in particular, such as early pregnancy or dropping out to care for family members. One to one and group sessions and engaging parents and community members are strategies applied to provide information and support to girls as they enter a time when they must learn more about sexual and reproductive health and make good choices that will affect their education and their futures.

“I have been working in the remote parts of Zambia, so I have seen girl children drop out of school because their parents died of AIDS,” shared Dongo Yezi, RTS Zambia Project Coordinator for Community Mobilization. “I want to help the lives of girl children. I have seen young girls married off early, so they do not go far with their education. They say their parents feel it is a waste of money to educate a girl child, and if they marry them off early, they will get the dowry – and the girl can’t make the decision. More often than not, the men they marry are much older and already have other partners, raising a girl’s risk of [contracting] HIV.”

“The rural communities are heavily affected by HIV,” explained Peter Sampa, RTS Zambia Community Mobilization and Grants Advisor. “I have seen how HIV and AIDS contribute to school drop-out rates because the older children have lost their parents and have to take up full responsibility for their siblings as caregivers. This limits their ability to attend school and makes them grow up fast.” RTS is working to address these issues both at the root cause and the subsequent effects. By helping children stay in school, they will learn to read and will then be empowered to stay HIV-free, finish school, understand health messages, and help their future children.”

The RTS staff is knowledgeable about the challenges and results to be achieved under the program, and they are dedicated to mitigating the impact of HIV on learners, communities, and educational outcomes.

“I am working on Creative’s Read To Succeed project because I have lost some family members to HIV, and I am caring for a nephew who lost the mother a couple of years ago,” shared Audrey Mwansa, RTS Zambia Deputy Chief of Party. “If he had no one to support him in his education and with no emotional support, his life would have been bleak. For me, I live with this issue every day. It’s not about the job and the salary, but about sharing what I have learned in life with someone else.”

Peter, Audrey, and Dongo are examples of how an individual can have a lasting impact on a child’s life and within the greater community. Staff with personal commitment, competence, and an understanding of the local context, are critical to programs such as RTS. By working in close collaboration with national and local partners, the RTS team is prepared to make a difference for learners in Zambia.

— Mary Lyn Field-Nguer, Education for Development Division

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