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By Joyce Kasosa
The story of a third year Engineering student at Copperbelt University (CBU) who is working as a bus conductor to raise money for his education caught my eye.
I was very inspired and really we need more such stories to inspire others who may have failed to continue with their education and some may be indulging in bad behaviour saying they have nothing else to do.
This reminds me of my time at the University of Zambia 1992~1995 when I had to do all kinds of odd activities to support my university education or should I just say my whole story about my growing up.
My father died when I was still young.
Yes growing up in the village, in poverty and as an orphan is not an easy thing but the experience taught me to work extremely hard and value every support that I received.
There are so many people who supported me and may have thought of their gesture as insignificant but to me it meant the whole world.
I attended school at Mutemba Primary in Mungwi District which was many kilometers away from our village called Kabula and reporting time at school was 06.30hrs. With no watch or clock to tell the time, it was very tricky as we had to depend on nature to estimate the time to start off.
On bare foot, we normally ran all the way to school. Occasionally arriving late at school, but our teachers were very strict and late coming attracted severe punishment.
I lacked everything from a mere pencil to school shoes. I was however very creative and resourceful. I remember for a school bag, I would make one for myself. All I needed was to get an old used sac, like one used for mealie meal and undo the mesh to get the threads out. Then cut a wire of a sizable length and sharpen it on one end using some stone then on the sharpened end make a half cut like shape to make a hook. With these materials, I made my school bag by weaving or knitting.
With my siblings, we often performed piece works in exchange for books, pencils and pens and some goods which we then sold and later bought other school requirements.
Sometimes we also worked for food. I knew all nature’s seasonal foods in my locality and very much depended on the same for survival like wild fruits such as amasuku, infungo, insafwa, imfinsa, amakome, insongwa among others as delicacies.
The various types of caterpillars…mumpa, chipumi, ifikoso, kayonga and different kinds of vegetables kalebwe, chibwabwa, bondwe, umulembwe also in variation of kalembwe katali, kafulu, pupwe.
Oh yes also the wild birds were quite a delicacy on the menu and I learnt the skill of trapping birds using ubulimbo and inkose. Sometimes we also sold some of these wild foods to raise money to buy other needs.
God blessed me with the ability to perform very well at school. I was always coming out number one in class and on very few occasions, I passed number two at primary school and the reasons would be because I had missed class for long periods due to sickness.
Sometimes teachers from the higher classes in a bid to demonstrate that what they were teaching a person from the lower grade is able to read or solve the problem, took me to their classes and would punish those that failed to do any works that I was able to do.
That was quite motivating to manage to do works from higher grades. My teachers liked me a lot and would even pass comments that I was a university material though at the time I did not even know what they meant. Passing grade 7 exams was obvious and the teachers had a lot of confidence in me.
When I made it to grade eight, God opened a very big door of opportunity for me. My father’s elder brother got me into his home in Kasama town and provided full sponsorship and support.
I attended boarding school at Luwingu Secondary school. All was well until just after passing my grade 9 exam and made it to grade 10. Just before the beginning of term two in grade 10, I again became an orphan, my father who was my father’s elder brother, the one who had provided for me and sponsored my education died early in May on 5 in 1988. I was so devastated because this time I was relatively grown up.
My older brother, a young man who had just completed his secondary school took over the responsibility of all of us including mom. I thank God that he still managed to maintain me in a boarding school.
I could see the struggle in my brother but he was determined and very committed and ensured that he paid the school fees and boarding funds. Sometimes however, I would go to school without other glossaries and would depend on my friends.
For instance, I would just go to the ablution block and ask to apply a friend’s bath soap and that day would pass where bathing is concerned.
I sat for my grade 12 exams and I passed with good grades that saw me be admitted to the University of Zambia. So my primary school teachers were right when they kept saying that I was a university material.
From Luwingu Secondary School to the University of Zambia, what an achievement. Of the four grade 12 classes, only three of us made it to UNZA that particular year of 1990 intake. All of us from 12 Green and I was the only girl.
My older brother was very excited. Although this was a very huge challenge for him, he did everything within his powers to raise money for my university education. Seeing what my brother had gone through and the huge responsibility he had, when I went to the University of Zambia, I promised myself that from then on, I will work hard not only academically but also otherwise raise money for my education.
End of first year came, I worked for one week in an industry, packaging various material but had to stop because the money I was getting per day was only enough for transport, meaning I was not going to save any money for school fees.
I continued searching. One lecturer in the school of education offered me a job to take up the care of his children and I was ready to take the job but before I could start, he came back to tell me that the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union was looking for a clerk to do the filing and mail running between the UNZA campuses for the Union’s correspondences.
I accepted that offer and that is the work I did during that vacation. I managed to rent a room on campus during the vacation, I raised the tuition fees for my second year. In second year, I managed to get my own bed space because in my first year, I was squatting.
When UNZA opened, I conceived another idea to raise money to pay for my third year. I had to think of something to do during the academic year because at the end of the second year, the course I was doing required me to do practical as part of the course requisites.
I thought of selling bread rolls and eggs in my room for breakfast or kambilombilo for the students. I could workup very early and head to town around 05.00hrs and by 06.30hrs, I would be back with fresh eggs from Soweto market and bread rolls from one of the only two bakeries in Lusaka at the time.
By the time I was going for a lecture at 08.00hrs, my merchandise would be almost finished if not completely finished.
I opened my first bank account with the then Finance Bank UNZA branch and by the end of that academic year, I had saved enough money to pay for my third year with enough surplus.
I thought of investing that money into buying a sewing machine. I bought my first sewing machine a manual domestic butterfly. I was very proud to have achieved that. When I got into 3rd year, I changed my line of business.
I started sewing and was making bed spreads curtains and duvet cover sets with matching curtains. In my free time, I would go to Kamwala to buy the materials. After library hours around 23.00hrs, I could sit on the machine to sew until 02 or 03.00hrs in the morning depending on the demands. I had so many orders and my products were selling like hot cakes.
In that particular year, my young brother had come as a fresher with financial support from our older brother. However, he joined me and we would do the sewing together at times. At the end of the year, I saved enough money for school fees for both of us and I managed to buy an electrical sewing machine to improve efficiency.
Great tragedy befell us again. Our older brother who had become like our father died on 17 November 1994, just a week before we started our end of year examinations. This was so painful and we were so devastated. However, God being on our side, my brother and I managed to pass the exams and proceed to second and fourth year respectively.
The sewing continued in 1995. At the end of the year, I had bought a radio cassette player, a two plates stove, a double bed and mattress and a fridge all goods meant for home start up.
I also saved enough money for my brother’s school fees and had surplus for the eventualities after leaving the university. Acquiring these goods was such a huge achievement considering my background. I left the university with money in my bank account for my upkeep.
God on my side, I spent only one month that was in December 1995 without a job. In December itself, I received two job offers, teaching and police. I opted to join police and reported myself for training in January 1996, a decision I’ve never regretted.
Following my police training and subsequent deployment, I continued sewing. I also not only continued sponsoring my brother but added more people on the list of my support the task I do to date.
My brother graduated as an engineer and what a joy it was for us to have an engineer in the family. Eventually he also started working for government as an engineer in the then roads department. In 2006, our engineer, my beloved young brother died. This was a very very painful experience and to date I have failed to fully recover.
Even just the mere mention of the word engineer sets me with painful emotions. However, he left us with a son. I took up the responsibility to sponsor him during his secondary school. He has done us proud by passing his grade 12 exams with flying colours.
Like his father, he wants to study engineering. He was accepted to study at the Copperbelt University. He reported and begun schooling in the current academic year. However, because he did not manage to get a government scholarship he had to withdraw from the university.
I feel for him his agony partly especially that he is passionate about school and but also that I can fully relate owing to my background. However, I’ve assured him and will continue to assure him that he will become an engineer one day and that it’s just a matter of time.
I’m sad that I’m unable to manage to sponsor him on self-sponsorship basis currently because of my other school commitments for the other children. Every year, I’ve several children that I’m sponsoring for example at the moment, I have four, (two in grade 12, one in grade 7 and one in reception class).
Currently I’m also taking care of my aging mom. Among other activities, I’m engaged in are agriculture and I’m still in the investment phase.
Enough for now but in future, I will also share about how I managed to study for my Master’s degree in the UK and many others just to show many Zambians that your hardships should not limit your future and potential.
Editor’s note: the writer rose to the position of Commission of Police and served in Peace keeping missions. At the moment she is full time into agriculture.