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‘Mission is passion for Jesus and His people’

Throughout Mission Month, ahead of Mission Sunday on October 18, the SCO will feature insight from MISSIO SCOTLAND in to the essential work of the Pontifical charity and missionaries throughout the world

“He said: ‘What is the Kingdom of God like? To what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches.’”

Luke 13:18-19

Justina Njovu is 15 years old and like most girls of her age in Zambia, she’s hungry for education. She knows that unless she completes Grade 12—the equivalent of Scottish youngsters getting good Higher results—she won’t get even the most basic      of jobs.

This year, Justina will sit the exams that open the door to secondary education, and her teachers all believe she is going to do well. But then, last year there were 40 youngsters at Tubalanje, her elementary school, who passed to go to secondary school and not one of them continued with their education. Not because they didn’t share Justina’s ambition to succeed – but because like Justina, their families just couldn’t afford to pay transport and hostel costs at the schools where the Zambian Government allocated them places.

Now, thanks to the intervention of Missio Scotland, a secondary school is being built within walking distance of four elementary schools, including Justina’s, and the promise of a future for all the area’s bright kids is taking shape.

Justina lives in a challenged district in Lusaka West—a rural fringe of the country’s capital city where pretty scenery can mask the fact that villages like Chikandano have grown up informally, built by migrants from the countryside seeking work in the city.

There are, of course, no streets paved with gold. In Zambia, around two-thirds of the 14 million population is in ‘informal’ employment. Drive into Lusaka from this side of town and you’ll see women and children sitting on the side of the road breaking lumps of limestone into gravel that brings in £1 a load. You’ll also pass dozens of men a women patiently waiting for a foreman to emerge from factory gates to offer a couple of them a day’s work—the rest go home disappointed and their families go hungry.

Justina’s dad has passed away. Her mum tries to make ends meet with intermittent cleaning jobs that are never secure, never bring in a guaranteed income. Her granny is the one who holds the extended family together, looking after up to six of her grandchildren at any given time and struggling to provide one meal a day for them all.

The teenager sometimes gets breakfast at the Longjedzani project, but if she’s sick she has to go and stay with another relative and that means missing school. The national electricity company, Zesco, favours the country’s industries and foreign customers, meaning there are power cuts at least three times a week, making it hard to study outside of school—but then, Justina’s granny doesn’t have electricity anyway.

It would not be surprising to learn that teenagers like Justina just give up on their education (and if girls do quit, prostitution may be an unwelcome ‘solution’), but amazingly, they have a faith that keeps them hoping and studying.

When Justina and her classmates heard that Missio Scotland was supporting the construction of a secondary school on their doorstep, their smiles were immeasurable.

These are girls who want to be doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Their male counterparts want to be pilots, engineers, and doctors. They all know that maths and science and English are the subjects they must succeed in. A visit to the school’s building site elicited the kind of excited reactions Scottish kids reserve for Disneyworld. And the enthusiasm is not limited to the young people hoping to benefit from the new school.

The whole community is buzzing. People have been very aware of a Scottish presence in the area for a long time, but Missio Scotland’s intervention has turned the mustard seed of a dream into the reality of a tree capable of nurturing the educational needs of the area’s children.

Mission is intended even in the planting of a seed, and when a Comboni missionary in Zambia introduced a Scottish journalist to a new project caring for vulnerable wee boys affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic back at the beginning of the 21st century, the only certainties were a passion for Christ and His people—and the idea that the tiny seed might grow a little to help those children overcome their situation.

The Scottish journalist went back to her parish of St Margaret’s in Argyll and the Isles and shared the plight of those children.

They had been rescued from the streets of Lusaka. Their feet had been torn to shreds by jagged stones against young flesh. Their stomachs had shrunk to the size of a walnut—the meagre, maggot-infested pickings from the rubbish dumps never enough to feed growing bodies. They were feral—having survived for months, sometimes years, running in packs for safety against adults who sought to exploit, abuse, or punish.

Who with a passion for Christ could fail to be moved to feel a passion for these children? The seed sown in Zambia began to sprout in Scotland.

First, money for basics was sent to the project—bunk beds were built and dormitories created, instead of the bed mats on which they had lain when the boys first arrived in the Mthunzi refuge (the word ‘mthunzi’ means ‘shade’ or ‘shelter’ in a local language). Then school fees were paid. Children grew and succeeded at secondary schools around the country, displaced once more, this time to grim school hostels.

The seed was beginning grow, but it became clear that it wasn’t going to be able to lodge all the birds of the sky in its branches. For one thing, the Mthunzi Children’s Programme was a boys’ only establishment—culture and economics had allowed just a male environment. Girls were able to come to the centre for a meal, extra tuition and shared leisure time on Saturdays, but only the boys were being supported in their secondary education.

The Mthunzi and Lilanda Initiative, known as MALI—the name of the Scottish charity that grew from the first seed sown—did its best, but wanted to do so much more. It saw that it had to seek help to enable not only the boys rescued from the streets (and every year, more children are delivered to the centre by the Zambian Government social work department) but all the children in the challenged communities in Lusaka West.

However high the success rates were at the local elementary school, scores of children couldn’t take up places at secondary schools allocated by the Government because they were too distant and families couldn’t afford either the transport or the hostel costs. Girls in particular just didn’t stand a chance of making it to secondary school. To show its intention to reach out to the wider community, MALI changed its name and status, registering as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation called ZamScotEd – the ‘Ed’ being, of course, short for ‘education.’

And through Missio Scotland and the network of the Church in Zambia, a new seed was sown and has grown very quickly: that secondary school being built at the Mthunzi Children’s Programme will be administered by Teresian Sisters and will open its doors to girls and boys alike. The birds of the sky will indeed be able to lodge in its branches.

When ZamScotEd brought its plan for a secondary school to Missio Scotland and explained the backdrop against which it hoped to build it, a partnership was brokered between the two Scottish organisations, the Archdiocese of Lusaka, and the Teresian Sisters.

The Zambian Teresian Order has an established record in the field of education. They administer and teach in elementary and secondary schools in Malawi, and they have already made huge improvements to children’s achievements in a secondary school in Zambia’s Eastern Province and an elementary school in Misisi compound in Lusaka.

Misisi is the country’s biggest slum. In this sprawling maze of breezeblock buildings, many half finished but still inhabited, the Sisters have their work cut out to engage with families to encourage them to bring their children to school. After all, child labour must seem much more valuable than child education when even the adults in the family can scarcely rustle up the price of a cabbage and a bag of mealie meal for a skimpy supper.

But engage they do, and St Lawrence’s elementary school is buzzing with creativity. It embraces the skills and talents of children of disability as well as feeding the intellects of the academically able.

Missio Scotland and ZamScotEd couldn’t fail to be excited, therefore, to enable the Sisters to take secondary education to Lusaka West. The school there is to be called St Columba’s because of the links with Argyll, where the Celtic saint established his monastery on the island of Iona in the 6th century, and it will play a role in the life of the Archdiocese of Lusaka, although it will be open to children of all faiths and none. Zambia celebrated its 50th year of independence last year, but it is vulnerable to neo-colonialism because of the rollercoaster fortunes of its mineral industries and the fragility of its food security as climate chaos engenders more droughts and flash flood. The youngsters who celebrated last year say they need better education to combat all their country’s problems.

One girl who goes to the Mthunzi Children’s Programme twice a week for a quiet place to do her homework said: ‘I want to be a businesswoman. I am good at business studies, Maths and English, but if can’t go to a secondary school to complete, I won’t have a chance to reach my goals. Seeing St Columba’s being built makes me think it is possible. Tell the people of Scotland we need their help and we promise to work hard to make it.’

Helen, one of the Chikandano girls, faces typical obstacles. With one term to go in Grade 12, her mum couldn’t find the fees. Family problems were overwhelming her and she was struggling on her own. A sponsor was found at the eleventh hour, and Helen said: “I am lucky, but if the school had been there, my mother would not have had this struggle and we would not have had to find a sponsor to complete.”

The Teresian Sisters intend to seek grant aid status from the Zambian Government so that teachers’ salaries will be paid. That means that once funding has been achieved to complete the buildings, donors in Scotland can concentrate on providing equipment and textbooks for St Columba’s.

Sr Veronica Nyoni, who is working with Missio Scotland and ZamScotEd to get St Columba’s off the ground, said: ‘Three classrooms have gone up. We still have to build a science lab, toilet blocks for the children and staff, and as soon as possible we need to build classrooms for Grades 11 and 12 so that the children are given continuity. And so that the children don’t miss out on their studies, installing solar power instead of making a contract with Zesco would make so much more sense.’

People in Argyll and the Isles Diocese still remember when children had to leave home and stay in hostels in Stornoway, Dunoon or Oban in order to study at secondary level. They say that it is only just that their neighbours in Zambia should move on and have schools for all in their own communities.

“The seed was small, but the passion of so many people in Argyll and the Isles and in parishes around Scotland such as St Mun’s in Dunoon and Our Lady of the Assumption and St Meddan’s in Troon, Ayrshire, has helped us grow that seed,” Marian Pallister, who founded MALI, now ZamScotEd, said. “Now, with Missio Scotland’s support, children like Justina will reach their full potential. Without it, her life and so many others could be thrown away.’

Justina said: “Educating women means educating communities. If girls like me can complete school, we can make a difference to our country, I promise. That is why I am so happy that Missio Scotland wants to support this school for us. Thank you, Scotland!’

— Write to Mission Scotland at 4 Laird St, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire ML5 3LJ01236 449774. Online search for http://missio.scot/

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