Meckly Chomba’s Story
The problem of girl-child education in Zambia
By Dr. Richard Bail
Meckly was always first in her class from grade 1 to grade 11, but nowdespite the fact that she wants to study to become a nurse, she has had todrop out of school and sell vegetables in Choma town to support her family.
The teachers and head-mistress of the Simukanka Basic School that Meckly attended were unanimous: Meckly was a gifted child. She worked hard and performed at the very top of her class. They want very much for Meckly to be able to continue her studies, and they feel it is tragic that she has had to drop out.
Meckly was born on May 17, 1988 by home birth attended by a traditional birth attendant. Meckly is the second born child of Roda Siananuntu. In all Roda has 8 living children. She lost a son, Joseph, who was 3 and died at Choma Hospital of malnutrition. She also lost a son, Chuminya, who was just a month short of his first birthday when he died of uncertain cause at Choma Hospital.
Meckly’s father took a second wife, Jerina Siamazingo, and had 6 children with her. Then he left for Koloma and took a third wife, but has little
contact now and provides no support to the family. Roda, the senior wife and Jerina the junior wife live together with the 14 children in a
grass-thatched house with brick walls. The family’s only income is generated by a small vegetable garden where they raise cabbage, sweet potatoes, rape and tomatoes.
In 2008-2009 particularly heavy rains and flooding destroyed much of their crop, and the two women have had to ask their neighbors for the staple, mealie meal, in order to be able to feed the children. Two of Meckly’s brothers, Ginda and Luyando, have also performed near the top of their class, but have had to drop out to help support the family. Luyando is now making and selling charcoal to try and earn enough money to take the qualifying exam for secondary school which costs about $7.
For a number of years Meckly has held the dream of becoming a nurse. She simply says that she hopes to serve others because others had helped her along the way. In particular Meckly’s aunt paid about $12 per term to support Meckly in school for an extended period. Now all of her mother’s relatives have passed away, and there is no one to help. Her teacher, Mr. Davies Mubita, paid a part of the exam fee for Meckly out of his own pocket. When I commented, “You are a very generous man!”, he responded, “That is the way life should be.”
Today in 2008 Meckly lives in a very small hut in Choma town beside a sewage treatment facility. She goes to the market every day to sell a few vegetables earning but a few pennies, which she contributes to the support of her brothers and sisters, back at home. She still dreams of becoming a nurse….
One Year Later - 2009
We sought out Meckly again one year later and visited her in Choma accompanied by her mother and her brother Luyando. Meckly now has a 2-month-old baby girl, named Chiepo, who is as cute as a button. What happened?
Last year we had promised to support the cost for Meckly to go back and finish high school. A nurse who was traveling with us had raised $400 and wanted to use it for this purpose, but despite the fact that we had made this known to her teachers in Simukanka, she never was enrolled.
It seems she is now involved with a man, whom she refers to as her husband, but there has never been a marriage. She shares a tiny house with another woman for the rent of 25,000 kwachas per month or about $5. She says that it is her husband who gives her money for the rent and food. The husband was not to be found when we visited, and we learned that he has another “first wife” somewhere else. So, Meckly appears to be recapitulating the experience of her own mother.
As we spoke, Meckly declared that she still would like to return to school and become a nurse. The mother declared that she would be willing to care for Chiepo so that Meckly could go back to school. At this point in the conversation, Aunty Jane Ndulo, our CWB envoy in Zambia and herself a native of this Tonga culture, intervened. She insisted that if Meckly were really serious, she should leave Choma and return home to Simukanka and that Meckly and the mother should take the responsibility to enroll Meckly, which would involve getting certain papers stamped verifying her admission to school.
Meckly would get health care at the new Simukanka Health Center from the nurse there, Mrs. Matongo, and the mother would care for the infant. Meckly’s housemate emphatically agreed with this, and Meckly herself after some consideration, said that she would like to do this. We have again communicated with the head-mistress in Simukanka, Mrs. Happiness Kapombe about the agreement and she is authorized to disburse the money for school as soon as Meckly and her mother keep their end of the bargain.
I had wanted to ask Meckly whether she had access to family planning methods, but Aunty Jane told me that this was not appropriate in the presence of her mother in the Tonga culture because of the belief that birth control contributes to promiscuity. So, this is the next step in our effort to help this very gifted student realize her dream of becoming a nurse, and we shall see what happens as time passes.
2010 Report on Meckly
We visited Simukanka again on July 4, 2010, and we were pleased to learn that Meckly is enrolled in high school in Choma. We are expecting a report of her performance and receipts for her enrolment soon from our friend, Mr. Chikuba.