SuperBetter Children in Zambia | Progress! | May 2021

Some of you will know that we were awarded a grant from the Astra Zeneca Young Health Programme to develop a programme in a rural community: Samsamwenje in Zambia. We are working with Kelvin Nsekwila, an outstanding young educator, and his two other team members and initially with 30 children aged 1-14 who will be spreading ideas and activities linked to well-being and mental health.

To do this we are building a curriculum together using the ideas of SuperBetter – an ally whose work we have written about on this blog before.

It’s a great partnership and we love to see the ideas that are already flourishing.

As we are not able to travel to Zambia at this time – we are using Zoom, WhatsApp, and email – and it’s working remarkably well; but only because the team is SO responsive. We have set up weekly meetings to check in and last week, Kelvin briefed me about the sessions he has been running to do preliminary activities with the children and to establish a baseline so that we can measure some of the impact of the project at the end of the year.

These notes were made after one of our regular team meetings in which Kelvin was talking about how he and the team felt having done the EPOCH survey activity last Sunday. EPOCH is a validated research tool designed to measure well-being and resilience in children and young adolescents. It has been adapted and translated for the children in this project.

Sansamwenje Primary is the only school in the community, and it has 1000 pupils. The parents pay the equivalent of £1.00 per year to the parent-teacher association plus stationery and uniform. Kelvin emphasized that this is a very poor community. There are significant numbers of children in the community who do not access primary school and there is no secondary school provision although Kelvin is raising money to build one at present.

Kelvin told me that the activity they did last Sunday to complete the EPOCH survey really “opened his eyes” to the dire situation in which some of these children live and these are the lucky ones accessing school! Each child had a one-to-one conversation with one of the three members of the team.

The team became aware that many children came from broken homes, some are double orphans (both parents have died), some live with grandparents, some are in child-headed households. Some of the children who do live with two parents described their parents as ‘full-time drunkards”.

Some children told our team that they “do not feel loved”, that they have “lost hope”. That they live in rural circumstances where they cannot see a way out of a life that they feel they can barely cope with.   

Some told our team that they will only be eating once a day and that they are not cared for.

When I asked him if he felt burdened by the EPOCH activity or if the children felt sad – he reassured me that the opposite was true. The children were very emotional – yes but they also have a sense of belonging to this project – that some hope is being kindled. They told the team that they wish they could work on this project “every day” and not just on Sundays. They are starting to think of ways to generate income as a group to pay for stationery and uniforms in a sustainable way.

Kelvin told me that it has feel good and that previously he had, “Looked upon the children superficially but after listening to them the team was all so touched” – by the stories. “There is more we need to do,” he said. He feels that he can already feel a change and a shift to new ways of thinking.

This is very early days for our project – we are doing preliminary activities and baseline activities and next week, move on to starting the SBCiZ curriculum. To feel that we are reaching such an important group of youngsters is very rewarding.