So, combining vacation and work sabbaticals, which my employer had kindly granted me, I finally was able to be in Ndola for more than just a couple of days, spending 6 weeks in May and June 2022 to work with the team at Mackenzie Community School (MCS) while also writing my final paper.
I arrived at a dynamic time for community schools in Zambia. In a major change to the past decade, the new Zambian government had introduced policies at the end of 2021 which provided limited direct funding for most community schools. At the same time, education was declared free to parents and students, which prohibited schools from raising any fees from students or parents. For schools where external sponsors thankfully provide financial support, especially for necessary teacher stipends, this new policy provided welcome additional funding and flexibility. However, in various talks with other school leaders it became clear that for schools without such sponsors, the new financial support often was much less than previous contributions from parents and students. This left such schools facing significant financial shortfalls, at times putting their continued existence into question. Discussions between community schools and the government are ongoing to continuously address and improve these challenges.
Having iChange as a reliable and committed sponsor proved crucial during the past year for Mackenzie Community School to be able to continue its work without major interruptions. While it briefly looked like the headmaster might be transferred to another school, in the end this did not happen, and we are very thankful for him continuing to guide MCS forward. With MCS now offering full primary education up to grade 7, student numbers continue to increase, reaching more than 400 students in 2022. Thankfully, our long-term plan of building additional capacity on the school's compound has ensured that sufficient classroom space is available. Very unexpectedly, the school also received a generous, large donation from a local donor which allowed it to add two additional rooms as well as teacher offices. With all these additions, space on the school's small compound is now utilized pretty fully and effectively, with the various buildings forming a courtyard for the students in the middle.
Our work in 2022 focused on supporting this continued growth. As needed, we replaced and added to the dedicated and committed staff, which are at the heart of MCS' success. In addition, iChange provided finishing touches to the new classroom building, in particular railings and access gates on the walkway outside the 2nd floor classrooms. Kids are kids, as the saying goes, and we want to provide as safe and secure a space for them. Speaking of security, iChange also helped to restore the school's main entry gate, which over the years had sagged under the weight of its heavy metal doors, thus making it difficult to close it. After straightening out the side posts and improving the welding, the new gate now looks as good as new – and works like a charm.
Probably our biggest step forward in 2022, however, were some necessary preparational steps for one of the next larger upgrades that the school's leadership and iChange have agreed on, which is a major upgrade to the sanitary installations. To ensure suitable hygienic standards for a new toilet tract, it became unavoidable to equip the compound with an additional water borehole. While we had hoped that this could be placed on one of the sides of the compound, the geological surveyor ultimately nixed these plans – deciding that the best (and only) spot for the new borehole was in the middle of the courtyard! Well, this couldn't be helped and so we contracted a company to bring in a heavy drilling rig, maneuvering it carefully through the main gate into the increasingly narrow interior (much to the excitement of the students). Drilling went well and we now have a capped borehole, ready to supply the installation of piping and new toilets at MCS as the next step!
As always, it is a privilege to be able to experience and see the progress that is continuously taking place at MCS in person. While a report and pictures like this never fully conveys the exciting and unique reality that our donors' generous support helps to create at MCS, we hope it nevertheless provides a glimpse into the ongoing improvement, development, and provision of quality education at MCS.