Blog Details

ZOA’s Mission Amidst Zambia’s Cholera Outbreak and School Closures

Zambia is facing a severe cholera outbreak, with 518 lives lost and 13,686 cases recorded. The outbreak, initially reported in October 2023, has worsened since mid-December, putting over 10 million people at risk. (1) Heavy rains have contaminated drinking water. (2) The outbreak originated from Lusaka and has rapidly spread, affecting people across multiple geographical areas. (2) The reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays has been delayed as part of a series of preventative measures. The disease has so far spread to eight of Zambia’s 10 provinces.

As the country deals with the outbreak, another problem arises: the effect on vulnerable children, made worse by widespread school closures during the ongoing pandemic. The closures are essential, but they also pose significant challenges. At the schools ZOA works with, where no online learning is taking place, the only children who are attending lessons are those whose parents can afford tutors. 

Schools are also being asked to meet certain hygiene standards before they can reopen, including providing soap in bathrooms, and sanitary gloves and suits for support staff; these may seem like basic items, but many teachers are concerned their school may not be able to afford them. Today the Zambian Government announced schools would remain closed until 12 February, but there remains a question mark over how long schools will actually be required to stay closed – and how many weeks of school children will miss.

The sole toilet block at a Zambian school, which will need to prove it is fit to open again

Vulnerable children, meanwhile, face more than just missing out on their education. They might be trapped in abusive households, affecting both their physical and mental well being. When Zambian schools were last closed like this, during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers reported that many young learners experienced sexual abuse and gender based violence. In some cases, pregnancies resulted. 

ZOA has been actively addressing mental health challenges, providing psychosocial support training to teachers and students, so that children with anxiety can thrive in a supportive environment. However, under the current circumstances, the support network of school is just not available to children who need it. 

“For many years, I’ve worked with children for whom school is a safe and peaceful place to be – away from the chaos, need, and sometimes violence, of home. Others face anxiety around schoolwork; this is a common reason for school absenteeism, especially amongst girls, in Zambia. I worry for both groups of children at this time. For anxious children, I can’t imagine a worse scenario.” – Pritchardy Bwalya, Headmaster at Hope and Faith Christian Community School, which is a partner of ZOA’s.

At ZOA, we are dedicated to breaking down barriers hindering children’s access to education. Through targeted programmes, ZOA provides essential resources like uniforms, books, tuition fees, nutritious meals, mental health support, and sanitary pads for girls. Teaming up with Zambian community-based partners, ZOA provides essentials so vulnerable pupils can attend primary and secondary schools. In 2023, ZOA facilitated the enrollment of 174 children in primary school and 238 in secondary school.

The last time Zambian schools were closed due to cholera in January 2018, local health authorities implemented strict measures. Schools were not allowed to reopen until they met upgraded hygiene standards. Currently, schools have been closed since early December. In response to the current outbreak, a vaccination programme has been initiated. The oral cholera vaccine is being administered in the shanty compounds of Lusaka, particularly affected by the outbreak.

Children at Hope and Faith Christian Community School, before the outbreak

How can you help?

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the outbreak. Especially the children. Sadly, while school closures are necessary to protect people, there will be consequences that will be felt for years to come. The head teachers we work with in Zambia are already expressing concern about vulnerable children missing out on their education and the support network provided by school.” – Dr Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula, Chair of ZOA Zambia

In response to the outbreak, ZOA has launched a crucial initiative to raise £6,500. The aim is simple — to supply schools with soap, disinfectant and other items needed to ensure a safer environment for children upon their return to school. The success of this initiative relies on collective action.

ZOA-Zambia and our community school partners aim to protect health and reduce the transmission of cholera by: 

1) Urgently distributing bars of soap to 1,000 vulnerable children and young people attending four community schools in Lusaka and Southern Provinces who are without access to soap and clean water; 

2) Deliver disinfectant, chlorine, buckets gloves and hand-washing buckets to four community schools to enable them to maintain good hygiene and disseminate key health messages by conducting hand-washing demonstrations for students.

Give £5.75 – the cost of 5 very large bars of soap

Give £11.50 – the cost of a 5 litre bottle of disinfectant

Give £57.50 – the cost of 150 disposable gloves

During these difficult times, your support can make a big difference. By contributing to the fundraising effort, you actively participate in the mission to establish a secure learning environment for vulnerable children in Zambia. Your generosity will not only provide essential resources like soap and disinfectant to schools but also contribute to the overall well-being and safety of these children. Join us in this collective effort to ensure that, even in the face of adversity, every child has the opportunity for a better and healthier future.