Catholic radio in Zambia turns words into action

by Elvis Milambo

Source: CathNews,
Issue: 31 October 2006


Working together - community members building a new school for their children

Picture the scene on a hot and blazing October afternoon under the Zambian sun. The rocky dry ground is so hot but a young girl has to walk bare-feet for 25 kilometers to the nearest school in Monze District. The nearest Rural health centre is about the same distance away. And during the times of drought, the distance can seem and feel longer because of walking such a long distance on an empty stomach.

When the rains are good, the rivers get flooded, making the major streams dangerous to cross due to strong currents which even crocodiles would dare not enter. With persistent droughts in the southern African country, parents who are mostly peasant farmers have to make a choice: either buy school uniforms for the children or buy them food to eat and pay the medical bills. The latter is normally the inevitable choice.

Although the Catholic Church had managed to set up mission schools around the district by the 1950s, not every child could get an education then for the mentioned factors. In 1999, the Jesuit priests set up a radio station - Radio Chikuni - to address the problems and challenges facing the rural population within Chikuni Parish in Monze Diocese in the Southern Province of Zambia.

The desire to fight illiteracy gave birth to Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI). This means that lessons for pupils are broadcast on Radio Chikuni while children gather around a Radio set right in their village without walking long distance to a formal school. The broadcast lessons are prepared by the ministry of education in accordance with the school syllabus.

Radio Chikuni is currently running 19 learning centres called Taonga Market Centres consisting of 1133 pupils who are in grades 1, 3, 5, 6, and grade 7 and are mentored by 57 mentors.

The mentors are normally community members who give their time to educate these children and guide them while the lessons are being broadcast live every week day.

Mr. Vincent Nchimunya who is in Charge of the IRI project with Radio Chikuni says "We don't believe in doing things for others. Our philosophy is to create an environment which would enable people to discover their gifts and fully utilize them for their own development. This is why the project is run by the communities and is coordinated by Taonga Team from Radio Chikuni. Without the full involvement of the community we can't expect success."

Each centre has a Centre Support Committee chosen by the community. Their task is to facilitate the running of the IRI in their centre. All the mentors are volunteers chosen and supported by the communities.

"We provide ongoing training for the mentors (three workshops a year) and organize monthly evaluation meetings. Two trained teachers regularly monitor the teaching in the centres.


Learning under the tree - lessons are in progress. One of these kids will become a useful citizen in Zambia

Besides the lessons, Radio Chikuni broadcasts two 30 minutes programmes which enable the community and the learners to share their experiences and information. One programme allows the Centre Support Committee to share their success and the other gives the voice to the learners on their personal experience in Taonga Market. As a contribution and easy communication between the radio station and the learners out there, Radio Chikuni distributed 140 solar radios to the best learners and 57 solar radios to the mentors. This should enable both children and the mentors to benefit from the various radio programmes", said Mr. Nchimunya.

The project which started with a few pupils now has over a thousand pupils on the lessons. It is amazing how children can learn without having to wear school shoes, uniforms or fancy clothes but in their own humble clothes and ways that they can afford.

The beauty of this Radio project is that it saves money on the side of parents who can't afford uniforms and other fees – it also saves the pupil from walking long distances to other formal schools.

People living with HIV from Chikuni Home Based Care regularly visit the learning Centres to sensitize learners about the HIV.

Mr. Vincent Nchimunya said, "We have just started film shows on HIV at the communities that bring the whole community together to learner about HIV, offer an opportunity for VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing), and develop a community response that includes Taonga Market, to fight HIV pandemic. The first centre where film shows was shown was KALISOWE centre, some 26 km from Radio Chikuni. At least half of the mentors have gone for VCT.

"The Radio Station also runs a Pilot project on Agro-forestry gardens which started in 5 centres. Last year in August Radio Chikuni sent 10 mentors to Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre to train them in Organic Vegetable Production and Agro-forestry in Lusaka. Both the learners and the community in those five centres have already benefited immensely from the project. Agro-forestry helps people in sustainable agriculture where people do not need to buy fertilizer but rather use plants to make the soil fertile. People do not need to use some pesticides to kill some pests in their gardens. They only need to use some plants they grow in their agro-forestry gardens. To make agro-forestry a successful venture, 4 boreholes were drilled and 1 well was dug. It helped us to reduce the walking distance to the nearest water source.

"The life of the girls has been made a bit easier. Girls used to walk long distances to fetch water for domestic use and the animals which they keep. This meant that girls had no chance of going to school since they were busy with work at home. More to that formal schools are a distance from where these people stay. People has really benefited from Taonga schools not only for education but also some essentials such as clean water. Some of the plants which are grown in the gardens will be used in the extraction of engine oil. This will be a source of income for the local people."

He says one of the centres known as Kalisowe was equipped with a submersible solar pump to pump the water to the school for drinking as well as for the gardens. Kalisowe may be directly translated as 'the lost place'. Though 26km from Chikuni Radio, this community is isolated; therefore lost.

From learning under a tree to a better classroom

Some of these centres are now building permanent structures such as classrooms so that children can learn in a better environment instead of under a tree lest rain pours in the rainy season. Another success story where Taonga project has made a different in people's lives is Cheelo centre. The community with the help of Radio Chikuni built a permanent structure consisting of two classes and teachers room. Radio Chikuni is working with the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) office to open a regular school there which would use IRI methodology.

At the moment Nakabwe and Kalisowe are in the process of building some permanent structures with the help of Chikuni Radio. They are now busy molding bricks, collecting sand and crushed stones.

The Catholic radio station is also involved in ensuring sustainable livelihoods and food security and recently signed a contract with World Food Programme in May 2006 to provide food to the poor learners. This feeding programme is in all the 19 centres to help learners concentrate on school lessons rather than thinking of where to find food to eat.

This Catholic radio station is making things happen, turning word into action to achieve desire results. This is what our media should be today. To help put up a well with clean water where there was none, to bring education where there was no school. This is more practical than just preaching without changing people's lives.