The Blesser Breakers' Final Update from Zambia

by MH
Aug 31

Since our last blog post on June 30th, we made tremendous progress in our interactions with community members in Mongu and Limulunga Districts in Western Province, Zambia. In the final three weeks of our pilot phase, our days were characterized by 9 AM to sometimes 9 PM sessions where we met with relevant stakeholders including; the Western Province Provincial Education Officer (PEO), the Permanent Secretary in charge of Education in the province, the District Commissioners, the District Education Board (DEB) officers. Additionally, we also met the District and Provincial Child Protection Committees Chairperson, the Police Commander and Prisoners Superintendent, Town Magistrate and members of the court, and School Heads and faculty in some of the select schools.


We were amazed at excitement and appreciation of our work by community members. At the community level, there was a general consensus that the problem of sexual exploitation of young school going girls is rampant and urgent solutions needed to be introduced. While in Mongu, we attended a trades fair show to further engage with the community and we got the opportunity to speak with various individuals about our organization and received a lot of positive response. 


We consulted with the PEO for Western Province, and the DEBS offices for both Mongu and Limulunga Districts when selecting the five schools to start our pilot. Four of the schools are located in Mongu district and the other school in a nearby Limulunga district where the current King of Barotseland lives. The five schools we selected are St Johns, Kanyonyo, Mandanga and Namushakendi secondary schools in Mongu district; and Limulunga Secondary school in Limulunga district. For the pilot, those schools provided a mix of urban and semi-urban community setting but also enabled us to access the schools easily. Some of the rural schools in this province can take eight hours to reach on the tough sandy terrain, impossible to access without a hard terrain four-wheeled vehicle.


After finally getting the final go ahead from the MoE oin July 11th, we kick-started our program piloting with these first five schools and reached over 500 girls. The sessions were spectacular and the girls we could tell, through a lot of giggling, smiling and laughing, enjoyed the program. This allayed our initial concerns about the UNICEF Sara Communication Initiative video to be outdated and perhaps too cartoony for current generation of grade 8 girls. They were also excited with our icebreaker dance exercise led by Ashira Pelt, indeed most of the girls asked to dance again after our sessions, and Ashira was always too happy to oblige.


The response from the girls to our program from all the schools we visited was tremendously encouraging, and they were always eager to participate and engage in our discussions. They were very well informed about the risks of engaging in sexual relationships at their young age; we even got a response of one of the risks as ‘it would cause cervical cancer’ from one of the girls.


This was and will always be a learning process for us as founders for Blesser Breakers. One thing we can never take for granted is the joy and sense of optimism in the girls faces, the look of determination in their eyes to succeed no matter the obstacles, and how they exude confidence in themselves with that drive to achieve their dreams. Wabei, being from that community and having faced the same challenges most of the girls are facing, was a model of inspiration for the students. A lot of them wanted to know how Wabei got the opportunity to study abroad, something most of them inspire to have in their future. The girls were very appreciative of our program and support. One of the girls mentioned, “I really enjoyed being with you, I had fun with you guys and thank you for encouraging us not to have a blesser and encouraging us to follow our dreams. Thank you so much, I love you guys, you are doing a great job, Thank you.”


To wrap up our stay in Zambia, we invited some of the members from the schools we had piloted in, as well as some of the community stakeholders we had interacted for dinner to celebrate the end of piloting phase for this summer. We had video recording made from some of the Fletcher and Tufts community members with a message to the young girls to emulate the success and accomplishments that Wabei had achieved being a graduate student of their school (See video here). When we came back to Boston, we also got to pitch our work at The Tufts Venture Accelerator summer program (Read more here).


While the future may be uncertain for us; Ashira and Daniel have returned back to Fletcher for their second year of graduate studies, Wabei started pursuing her dreams as an expert in Global Health at Emory in Atlanta; we all see much tremendous value in the impact of this organization in empowering school going boys and girls to achieve their dreams, and not be trapped by the influences of adult-child relationships. Back in Zambia, we were able to hire temporarily Mr Chibba Chumya, an incredibly talented and outspoken English Language and Visual Arts teacher who will assist us as our country program coordinator to continue our sexual awareness education to more girls across Western Zambia. We plan to go back in December to inaugurate our Phase II of the program where we introduce a Peer Educator model training older girls to introduce the program in their schools.


We want to thank you for the tremendous support we received from The Institute for Global Leadership. The funds we obtained from the center really helped offset some of the unexpected costs we incurred even before we even departed for Zambia. Flight regulations concerning Covid-19 forced us to change our initial flights to Zambia and when rescheduling our next flights, we each paid for flight tickets that were almost twice the original price. Due to the bureaucratic nature getting approval from the MoE, we were forced to extend our stay in Lusaka several times and had to use more funding than budgeted for housing. And just to add salt to injury, before our flight back Wabei was denied from leaving the country due to her passport which was still valid for 5 months and 29 days, one day off the required minimum of 6 months required for permitted entry in the United States. This meant she had to cancel her return flight and book an even more expensive one which costed us an additional $2500. Without the funds from IGL, we feasibly would not have been able to make it back and possibly stranded in Zambia.


End of Project Reflections What went well?

  • After going through the correct channel of reaching out to the Ministry of Education and having our sexual programming intervention approved, we received tremendous support and guidance from the Ministry of Education, the provincial department of guidance and counselling and blessing from several stakeholders.
  • Our intervention and curriculum was well received in schools by both the faculty and the students we are targeting. Indeed, they all want to be on board with our organization and have asked for our continued presence and regular programs in their schools.
  • We each utilized our talents and skills in delivering the program. Ashira with her incredible dance skills effectively used dancing as an icebreaker technique to build rapport and connection with the girls in addition to becoming a great facilitator. Wabei intimately used her local knowledge and native language Lozi to interpret and issue instructions to the girls and also answer any questions. Daniel mainly handled set up with equipment and sound making sure the girls got to watch, listen and learn from the video.
  • We built more traction once we got to Mongu, our intended piloting location, interacting with the community members gave us a better understanding and appreciation for the problem we are addressing.
  • We all went through numerous challenge as a team, both professionally and personal, and through each setback, it became a learning point on how to improve and effectively deal with similar crisis in the future.


What could have gone better

  • More adequate preparation on particulars concerning our association with the Ministry of Education. We should have undertaken more research into dealing with the Zambian government and identify key officials and networks to utilize so as to make the authorization process as seamless as possible.
  • Request for more funding support to facilitate our extended stay in Lusaka, the capital city while working with the MoE and cover additional unforeseen expenses incurred through out the trip