By Catherine Kabalashi, Sponsorship and Communications Officer, Kafue Area, Zambia
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| ||Racheal uses a game to educate her peers about HIV/AIDS.|
At 23, Rachael faces each day head-on, beginning at 5 a.m. The sole breadwinner for her household in rural Zambia, she supports her six siblings herself.
Her memories of better times, when they all lived with her parents and grandmother, are precious to her. “Every evening when Dad knocked off from work, we would have dinner together, and then we would sit down and he would tell us stories of how things were in the past," she says.
Her father died in 1994, when Rachael was 7. Her mother, unemployed, was soon unable to afford the rent on their house, so the family moved to Mtengo, a rural area. Even then, the family could afford only one meal a day, and Rachael and her brothers and sisters became undernourished.
Some relief came when Rachael was enrolled in ChildFund’s Mtengo programs and was assigned a sponsor right away. She was able to start school. Meanwhile, her mother found a job, and there was food and school for all Rachael’s siblings.
A few years later, though, her mother lost her job. Then in 11th grade, Rachael quit school and helped her mother put food on the table by finding and working odd jobs after school.
Things became stable enough that Rachael could return to school, repeating grade 11. “It was at this time that my mother started getting sick," Rachael says. “I would knock off from school and do some part-jobs such as washing for people so that I could go home with something for mum and my siblings. I was often too tired to study when I got home, as I had to tend to my sick mother and make sure my siblings had eaten something."
In 2008, in her final year of school, Rachael herself fell ill with acute malaria. The stress of overwork and her mother’s illness compounded matters. She was still feverish when she sat for her final examinations, and she hadn’t studied. The results were what you would expect.
And then Rachael’s mother died.
None of the family’s relatives offered to take the children in, as Rachael had hoped. The young woman understood that the responsibility for her brothers and sisters was now hers. “I had no one else to look up to, and my siblings needed someone to look after them," she says. “I decided to be strong and start looking for ways of raising money to look after all of us.” Rachael worked odd jobs, but it wasn’t enough.
At this point, though, ChildFund identified her as one of the youth who could benefit from the income-generating activities that the agency was implementing in the area through its affiliate, the Kafue Child Development Agency. Rachael received training and a start-up package to open a hair salon, which she’s still running today. Between this income and her continuing sponsorship, which has been invaluable through the years, Rachael is able to support her siblings.
She has also taken full advantage of many other educational opportunities available to her through ChildFund — including malaria prevention. Rachael has become an active peer educator, sharing what she has learned about the dangers of early marriage, HIV/AIDS and drug and alcohol abuse, among other things. “I want the youth in my community to grow up healthy and strong, so I share the information I have received from ChildFund with them,” she says.