Q and A with Garnet Mulomo, our new chair of trustees.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood in Zambia and your education?
I was born in Chingola, a small mining town up on the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. My dad was a miner and my mum was a primary school teacher. I went to Sacred Heart Convent School for my primary education. My education was initially by nuns so I was one of the privileged ones to be taught by very strict disciplinarians so I benefitted from that. For my junior secondary education I went to Chikola Secondary School and then to Mpelembe Secondary School which was a mines-sponsored boarding school where I did my A levels. From there I went to Sheffield University in 1988 where I studied Mechanical Engineering. That was a big culture shock for me going from Zambia to Yorkshire! I graduated in 1991 just when the mines were disbanded. The mines were our sponsors so when the mines were disbanded we got told to look out for ourselves. I was lucky enough to find a job in York. My first job was in the water industry. I got married and started a family but a few years later I got laid off in the recession so I went back to school and studied a Masters in Construction Management at Leeds University I’ve been in the UK for just under 33 years and I’ve got children and grandchildren now.
Do you still have strong links with Zambia?
My mum is still in Zambia, my dad passed away some time back. I’ve got three sisters and a brother and loads of extended family in Zambia. I try to go back every year, except last year when COVID got in the way. I try to maintain my links with Zambia. I’m always on social media talking to my family and friends in Zambia trying to stay in touch with what’s going on in Zambia. In the UK we’ve been trying to expand our Zambian network and reaching out to the Zambian community here. It’s really good to see that as ZOA we’re increasing our reach into the Zambian diaspora.
Why did you become involved with Zambia Orphans Aid?
I was initially involved with another small charity working with orphaned children in Zambia but our objectives didn’t quite align, so I left. I was introduced to ZOA through Shimwaayi, our founder, by my wife Tinta and I liked what ZOA was doing. They were going directly to where the need is. Almost all of ZOAs projects are related to educating the orphans and I think that is probably one of the most sustainable ways we can support an orphaned child. By giving them an education they can stand on their own two feet and drag their contribute to extending their extended families out of poverty too. That resonated with me, so I joined ZOA. With my construction experience I’ve worked on some of ZOA’s infrastructure projects since I was made a trustee three years ago.
What is the situation like for orphans in Zambia today?
Zambian Orphans Aid started off as support for orphans when the HIV illness took over the world. Zambia was hit hard and there was a huge number of children orphaned. Over the years HIV has become treatable and that has reduced the numbers of children who are orphaned by the disease but because of the state of the economy in Zambia, coupled with successive seasons of drought the most vulnerable in Zambia are still facing a really hard time, and that’s usually the children.
The status of the country in Zambia is that it’s still very, very poor, with many families living on less than US$1 a day. If you scour the rural and the peri-urban areas you can see that schools don’t have roofs and teachers haven’t been paid for a long time. Work needs to be done with the government to change this but in the meantime it’s the children who can’t do anything about it who are suffering.
A story that touched me came from our partner, Twavwane School. The kids are supposed to come to the school for education but they also they come to be fed. A little girl, of about six always kept her egg that she was given as part of her breakfast at school in the morning. The teachers noticed this and tried to get to the bottom of it. They found that the girl was taking the egg home for her little brother because he didn’t have anything to eat at home and was too young to go to school. Hearing this story really tugs at my heart strings and shows how far reaching we can be. The impact isn’t just directly on the ones at school but the help is reaching into their homes.
What has the effect of COVID 19 been on Zambia and ZOA’s work?
It was reported in the news the other day that Zambia reported zero deaths. Whether you believe that or not it’s very difficult to know what the real situation is. But COVID has had huge disruption. Schools being closed means that the children not only have had their education disrupted but those who come to school and for their daily meal couldn’t get it. What we did as ZOA is distributed the meals to the homes. We’d buy a sack of mealie meal and beans and give to the homes of the vulnerable children. Of course, COVID hasn’t just impacted the children we work with in Zambia but is also hitting the pockets of our donors, squeezing the funds we have available for the most vulnerable children.
What are your plans for the future with ZOA?
Andrew has steered ZOA to a point where we helped over 2000 children in our last reporting year. That’s a big thanks to all our supporters. We will continue to try and reach the hardest to reach children, for example orphaned children who are also living with a disability. One of our initiatives is making sure school buildings are accessible. We also support these pupils by giving them specially adaptive equipment so they can access school.
In Twavwane, we’ve got 100 children squeezed in a classroom which is about 5m by 6m, all crammed around desks, four pupils per desk. So, we’re expanding the school by building two new classrooms. They’re nearly finished but now we’re asking donors to help with providing desks.
Although our focus will always be on education, because this has the biggest long-term impact, the way we approach giving access to education is diverse. 18 months ago we ran a successful menstrual hygiene initiative. In Zambia it’s taboo to mention that in public or at school. Girls, from poor families often won’t go to school at that time of the month. The programme that ZOA initiated educating, not just the girls, but the boys and community leaders to increase understanding that it’s not taboo, that it’s just natural. And the message got through. There’s evidence that the girls who were staying at home at that time of the month are now coming to school and improving their academic attainment.
It’s all about helping in a sustained way and supporting the children in the long-term until they can stand on their own two feet. When they get to 13-14 we help them stay at school by paying secondary school fees. Then we support them through tertiary education too. We’re become like their mum and dad. What we’ve seen as well is when these guys graduate, they don’t gravitate away, there’s this affinity for them to want to give back.
Whatever we’re doing we try and make it as sustainable as possible. In Chibolya, Kafue, we support a community school with a food programme so the most vulnerable children have a substantial meal each day. To make it sustainable they have built a vegetable plot and they’ve also started fish farming We’re helping them with that because it helps them sell the surplus produce to the public, they use some for the school which means they can begin to support themselves and they don’t have to rely 100% on us.
Long may I keep steering ZOA in this direction and keep making a difference.