While most elderly people expect to enjoy the rest and relaxation that long life is expected to bring, this is a luxury the Nkashi couple who are both in their seventies cannot afford. Their six school-going grandchildren depend on them.
“Working at our age is not easy, but we have no option. My husband is 75 and I am 73 years old but we have to keep working as we have grandchildren who are still in school,” said Rosaria Nkashi.
Residing in Chisona village in Chinsali, Muchinga province the tale of the Nkashi is one of sickness, poverty and early marriages.
Tears stream from Rosaria’s eyes as she describes how difficult it has been to send her six grandchildren to school, let alone put food on the table.
The eldest of the grandchildren are in grade eight and the youngest in grade two. The youngest who are in primary school are expected to pay 20 Kwacha every term which is part of the school project funds. The eldest grandchildren have to pay 270 Kwacha for their school fees.
“My three daughters fell pregnant when they were in primary school, now I am bearing the burden of having to look after their children. I have no choice but I just have to provide for them in the absence of their mothers. What has been really difficult is paying the school fees, the money is just beyond our reach. Lack of money has really disturbed the learning progress for my grandchildren as they do not always go to school,” she added.
The grandfather, Geoffrey Nkashi, joins the conversation adding, “the little that l have been receiving from the social money transfer is what l have been saving to ensure that my grandchildren stay in school. However, the social transfer is not always available, at times we go for months without receiving it,” said Mr Nkashi.
The elderly couple expressed frustration at the Free Education policy, saying that they did not understand how it worked as they were expected to pay money by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) which goes towards the running of the school.
This is however not an isolated case as many children in the area have been affected by the school project fund. Children who have dropped out of school have either sought for employment or have gotten married.
A beneficiary of ZGF’s ‘Imbuto’ seed fund support, Maluba Home Based Care (MHBC) explained that they have been engaging the school headmasters in the area trying to ensure that children are not chased away from school.
“Government’s policy to provide free education in Zambia, especially at primary school level is clashing with Parent Teacher Association (PTA) who call for project funds as government grants are minimal. What we have been discussing with the school heads is that children must not be sent away from school because of project funds,” said Maluba director.
While the government gives grants to schools to support their operation, but the money is often not enough to meet the school’s requirements. Thus, public school administrators and parents work together to form Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) and School Boards which are mandated with the running of the affairs of schools.
Laura Miti, facilitator of the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) training for community based organisations in Muchinga with the support of ZGF said, “we cannot have children failing to attend school over a ream of bond paper or a tin of cobra. Government should ensure that more resources are channeled towards education sector to sustain the free education policy. This is not an issue of inadequate resources but misplaced priorities,” Miti said.
[Zambian Governance Foundation]