A Day in the Life of Beth’s GirlsLibrary Dedication

By Eleanor Ellis and Rosemary Dorman


When the sun rises in Zambia’s Northwestern province, Jessica Sweia is already up. Jessica, 16, wakes up at 4:00 A. M., more than an hour before most of her classmates in the village of Lumwana West, so that she’ll have time to study before completing her usual chores. By 7 A. M., 71 other girls will wake up with the knowledge that they will be attending school that morning. Jessica and her peers enjoy breakfast with their families, a bowl of nshima (a cornmeal paste), porridge, boiled cassava or sweet potatoes. After the meal, the girls assist their families by doing household chores such as sweeping, washing up, and collecting firewood and water for the day. Classes at Lumwana West Basic School begin at 7:30 A. M., which leaves the girls with little time to get to school.


GirlsAlthough most girls live in Lumwana West, a majority live 2-3 kilometers away from the Lumwana West Basic School, about a 30-45 minute walk. A few live up to 8 kilometers from the school and must walk 3 hours for their education. “Every day I rush to reach [school] in time,” says Betty Chilumbu, age 8, who walks 45 minutes on foot where she sees her “fellow school pupils running.” The difficulty of making it to school is compounded by the weather. “In the rainy season the roads become very bad and most of the children do not go to school,” says Muyamba Kasongu, age 14. “So you find that you are the only one going and this is discouraging, but I always tell myself that one day this will be over.”

The girls, dressed in matching navy blue and white uniforms, will attend 8 classes in a day: English, history, civics, math, environmental science, religious education, Lunda (the local language), and geography. In the course of the day, Mary Moloshi, 13, enjoys two breaks, one at 10:30 A. M. and another at 1:00 P. M. “During the first one, I just converse with my friends,” she says, “but [during] the second one I go home for lunch.” Other girls use their first break to play games; Anita Kasongu, 13, takes advantage of the opportunity to “go through past papers.”

Beth’s Girls as Role Models

Girls who live close enough head home during their second break to enjoy the time with their families. Many will eat nshima again, a staple of their diet, this time with vegetables or beans. A typical family in Lumwana West is large and includes 4-8 children as well as the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles. A number of the girls are orphaned, so the village relies on this network of relatives to raise the children. But in a village with few role models for women’s education, the girls look to each other. “I do admire my friends who are Beth’s Girls,” says Stella Masanyinga, 15.

Younger girls hope to emulate their older peers who are currently studying through EBZEF scholarships. Betty Chitumbu, age 8, says the EBZEF scholarship program “has motivated me . . . I wish to be one of Beth’s Girls when I reach grade eight.” After grade 7 school becomes an impossibility for the girls without a scholarship: there are tuition fees, books and supplies, and uniforms to be bought plus boarding fees for grades 10-12. Students must pass national exams at the end of grades 9 and 12; for this reason EBZEF also pays for tutoring and exam fees for the girls. Older girls hope that educational opportunities will continue to be available to the village. Muyamba Kasongo, 14, who has four siblings, says “I want each family member to go to school and achieve their goals in life.” She further insists, “and [in] the community I want each child to go to school so that we can build a better village.”

After School

After school is over, around 4:00 P. M., Beth’s Girls return home to do chores. Betty Chitumbu “rushes home and helps grandma grind maize and cassava for food.” Other girls help fetch water and firewood, sweep, and bathe their siblings. After a supper of nshima, the girls take time to study for 1-3 hours, a task made more difficult by the lack of electricity in the village. “I use three candles every night,” says Melba Chitala, 13, “which is expensive.” Grace Mutambila, 15, says the “lack of power” is the biggest challenge to getting her education. “I am now happy,” Mutambila says, "because I will be using the library.” EBZEF hopes soon to install solar power in the library to facilitate evening study.

For now, the girls’ evenings are illuminated by oral history, when they tell stories around the fire with their families. Betty Chitumbu describes how “our grandma always tells us about the past and when she was young and also the importance of school.” Girls lie down to sleep on their mats between 8 and 10 P. M.

Weekends and Holidays

The routine changes considerably on Saturdays and holidays. Mary Moloshi tells us “I go to the fields with my parents early in the morning to cultivate, plant, or weed depending on the season. We usually come in in the evening and during such times we only have one meal per day. When we come back from the fields, we carry heavy loads like bundles of firewood, sacks of maize, cassava, or vegetables. During this time I study very little because I become very tired.”

Dreams for the Future

Girls in SchoolRather than continuing with traditional subsistence farming, Beth’s Girls envision a variety of careers in their futures: teacher, lawyer, nurse, reporter, engineer, police offer, social worker, agriculturist, doctor. Many express a desire to give back to the village through educating others. Other girls are drawn to health professions, having recently been made aware of social and health issues through the Peace Corps’ Life Skills Workshop. The five-day workshop, held for the first time in March 2009, was an opportunity for girls to discuss issues such as HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, assertiveness, and the importance of education. Angela Lombanya, 24, who is attending nursing school, says she hopes to establish a health center in the village.

Girls in SchoolIt is clear that EBZEF has not only improved the daily lives of Beth’s Girls, but has changed the way they envision the future. Anita Kasongu, 13, who hopes to help the village by “educating them about the importance of farming” and “producing different kinds of food,” says her scholarship has helped her towards realizing her goals. “Now,” she says, “I have confidence that my dream will come true.”