This story first appeared in Comboni Missions magazine Winter 2018/19

This Comboni school in Chama, Zambia, is breathing new life into its community
By: Fr. Jesto Bwalya, mccj

At the end of a worn-down dirt road near the border with Malawi lies Chama, a small town in Zambia.

Like much of Africa, Zambia’s weather fluctuates between a dry season and rainy season. From December to January, heavy rains transform Zambia’s arid land into a flood zone. Chama, like many other small villages, becomes inaccessible for months.

But, for the people of Chama this is nothing to worry about. The average daily temperature reaches the 80s, with comfortable overnight lows in the 60s. The change from rainy to dry season is just part of life. And even lacking paved roads, infrastructure, and other social institutions is just a way of life for the people of Chama.

Due to the town’s isolation, many of the people living here still practice traditional beliefs and values such as polygamy, child marriage, and witchcraft. Despite these challenges, the Catholic Church is doing wonderful things in this small, forgotten part of the world.

St. Daniel Comboni School

In 2001 the St. Daniel Comboni School opened, bringing the first preschool to the district. The idea was to instill in young children a love of school. Education is often overlooked and undervalued in Chama. For most families, it’s more important that children learn to fish and farm to support the family.

Before the Catholic teachers of Chama opened St. Daniel Comboni School, most girls didn’t even receive an education and instead were forced into child marriages as young teenagers. Any child that did attend school usually did so for just a few years. So, after the success of our preschool, the teachers at St. Daniel Comboni School decided to open a primary school for grades 1 through 3.

Many people in Chama send their kids to both the preschool and primary school sections of St. Daniel Comboni School. It has a good reputation for provid­ing a serious, high-quality education. The school has support from the local community, the local ministry of general education, and the local government.

There are 124 children at the preschool (for ages two through six) and 148 pupils at the primary school. We are even expanding the facilities at the primary school so we can offer classes through grade 7.

Even though the government-run schools are free to attend, families happily pay tuition to send their children to the St. Daniel Comboni School. Government run schools are often overcrowded and understaffed. The tuition paid to our school supports teacher salaries, janitorial staff, building maintenance, and school supplies.

Plans for the Future

In the past decade, the St. Daniel Comboni School has grown tremendously. It is recognized by the Zambian Ministry of General Education as a private Catholic school.

While we have plenty of space for students at our current enrollment, we recognize the need to expand our buildings and offerings. In order to accommodate 80 more preschoolers, we need a few things:

  • a new classroom building, with chairs and tables
  • more teaching materials
  • more playground equipment
  • larger bathroom facilities

We also have plans to expand our primary school. Enrollment is at 150, but with the addition of grades 4 through 7 we anticipate needing space for 600 students. This will require a lot of work and resources:

  • a new classroom block
  • larger bathroom facilities
  • a water tank
  • more teaching materials
  • computers
  • a school library and cafeteria
  • a school bus

Right now, the primary school doesn’t receive financial support from the government. We rely on the generos­ity of donors to help us educate the children of Chama. Tuition payments are not enough to help us expand the school so even more young children can receive the education they deserve.

Auxiliary Services

The young children of Chama aren’t the only ones enjoying an education thanks to the St. Daniel Comboni School. We also offer lit­eracy classes for adults, especially women who want to learn how to read and write. There are also evening classes for teenagers and young adults to learn computer skills.

The school of­fers tutoring and classes for stu­dents who still need to pass their grade 9 and grade 12 secondary school examinations. We also provide space for students who have no electricity at home, and for students who need a quiet place to study. The dreams of most people, especially the young ones, are realized at St. Daniel Comboni School. We really want to help the students who want to excel in life.

Many of the students who attended our school for extra lessons or to study have gone to university or college, or have done well in life. We are also glad that through literacy lessons many women and girls are able to read and write, and to account for their business transactions at market.