Interview: Cyril Pemba Phiri and Mannix Chiwone
We speak with Cyril Pemba Phiri in his office at the site of the Sishemo Education Trust in Lusaka. Meanwhile, the Trust has a significant school with dozens of rooms where students can go from the crèche until 7th grade. Phiri knows from how far Sishemo came. On this same place they started with one schoolclass of some pillars with a tarp over it, and the great desire to offer vulnerable children from Lusaka education. Meanwhil, Sishemo has grown into an organization with strong roots in the areas of Lusaka where she does her work. The organization not only provides education but tries to educate strong people with a lot of confidence. Moreover, Sishemo does not stop when the kids walk out of the gate. It also addressed the home situation of the students. In Lusaka, we speak with Cyril about the long road that has made Sishemo, the students of today and the goals of the future. Sishemo’s project-manager Mannix Chiwone sits in on the interview.
An interview with Cyril Pemba Phiri and Mannix Chiwone
I. General Information
a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Sishemo-project?
We started very small and modest in the beginning. We (Mr. and Mrs. Phiri) started in our church '86, called Restoration Ministries. Through our church we united a number of women, who helped each other with a number of problems within the community. Through this women's group 'Children helping Children' was later founded to make young boys and girls as Mannix be able to help their less fortunate peers. After a while we figured that we had to go to something more structural to be able to really offer these kids a better future. Then we started a school, on a very modest scale in 1998 (almost 15 years ago now) for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC’s). Exactly on the spot where the big school is now, but then there was only one tent with a cloth over it. At that moment Sishemo (which means empathy) was constituted as a social development arm of the church. The purpose of Sishemo was to offer children education, in the broadest sense of the word. Holistic education, that’s how we call it. This means that we not only work on reading, writing and arithmetic, but the children get lessons about self-esteem, values, ideals, etc. Real luggage for the rest of your life. In the beginning, the church paid for almost everything, but this was not a sustainable model. Then we decided to let the school be bigger and also to allow students who could indeed pay school fees. This was only possible because we already had a high educational standard, so many parents wanted their children to go to our school. Because we adhere to this holistic education, we cannot stop with the formation of the lives of our students when they leave school after hours. Their home situations are often difficult, and can, despite their training here in Sishemo, still have much negative impact on their lives. Therefore, we chose to also empower the home situations, by offering the families of the children all sorts of things: learning skills and crafts, or working within Sishemo. And all this in order to also improve the background of the kids, all from our holistic philosophy.
b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?
Most importantly, we see that children confidently face the rest of their school career and the rest of their lives! Confidence is very important for the group of particularly vulnerable children, and we see our kids really grow. This confidence stimulates not only their own lives but also those of their family and surroundings! At our school you cannot see the difference between OVC’s and the other kids.
c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?
Cyriol: "empathy and a love for children, those are the two main things. Those little people are all so good. Give them a chance, and they can do all good things."
Mannix: "Everything we do is based on love and compassion, the idea of 'could have been me." In other words, realizing that your fate could have been that of the children in the slums. You need to be aware of this, and love for others is something I get up with in the morning and out of which I get the energy to work for Sishemo. I would like to dedicate my life to give all my attention to the development of these lives."
d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?
"The people, the staff make Sishemo extremely strong. We are very blessed with the fact that we have people around us like Mannix etc., who are willing to sacrifice so much time and energy purely for the common goal we have in mind. The organization is supported by a huge group of volunteers and the small group of permanent employees will not even always get paid. Sometimes I hear their stomachs growl of hunger, but they still go as hard, every day. "
e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?
C: "We always try to focus and push for excellence; we must never sit back and always see if we are on the right path to our goals. Our biggest challenge for the future is to expand Sishemo to a secondary school' and eventually even a university! The inspiration is there, but we need to collect the resources step by step. This we have learned in the past: how should we plan to haveenough resources on a long-term, both personally and financially. "
M: "There are also small things from the past that we have learned: How can we best teach, what is the best educational system, how to select the right OVC students. We do not regret our mistakes, but we do try to learn from them. "
II. Development (aid) - north / south relations
a. What is your idea on development?
"Enhancement. That is the core. The definition of development is to take something from a specific starting point and bring it in a better position, whether that is a human or a community. But it is developing people which really works for me. A man can develop in many different ways: intellectually, emotionally, physically. That to me is development. You can help people as much if you want in a material way, but it is important to change them intrinsically. "
b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?
"Development aid is a vague term. You can do a lot, you can offer people hope: building a new hospital, beat a well. Most importantly however, although you can give people a lot, you have to change the people intrinsically. Otherwise it makes no sense, what you give them. The biggest risk that comes with development-aid is dependency. When you give people everything but they do not teach them how to be independent, you have achieved nothing. Another thing is that, from a Western perspective, sometimes keeping people consciously dependent on different parts of the world to help her, is also a tactics, a way to sustain yourself. That is very wrong! "
c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?
"First. Western organizations should of course be sincere focus on development, not on the conscious creation of dependency.
Secondly, it is not necessarily the task of the Western countries in order to solve the problems in other parts of the world. The development areas should not take help from other places and other people 'for granted. " They should (albeit aided by the West) be able to handle their own affairs.
Then it is also important that you need some sort of "adapter" to transform the assistance of the west into useful local matter that can bring real development. I call this a prism: we need people who can transfer Western aid into something people can independently bring forward in non-Western areas. "
d. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for African's that want to develop their own communities?
"First and foremost, there is the problem of sincerity. Many Africans do not really develop their society, but only go for the money that's in the 'development business. They have a foundation, but eventually the money will end up in their own pockets.
In addition, there is also a group that wants to sincerely see change, but that has no good philosophy to bring about real practical changes. Good intentions are not enough. "
e. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our starting point?
"Major NGOs are often very heavy and use a lot of their resources for overheads that are not needed. If you look at this, small-scale work is much more effective. Moreover, local influence is indeed important, precisely because of the idea of the prism: you need local knowledge that transforms to support into tailored solutions for the needs of the local population.
III. Image of Africa
a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?
C: "I believe that the image and idea of Africa in the West essentially did not change much since the 16th century, when" the dark continent "was mentioned. At that time, little was known about Africa, whites went there and did not come back and had the people who returned reported on the underdevelopment of Africa. Five centuries later, we have concrete jungles instead of real jungles, but we are still seen as 'dark', but for other reasons: Africa is seen as the continent of war, disease and corruption. "
M: "There really is a lot of ignorance about Africa. It's really an issue of a lack of proper knowledge and interpretation, and a lack of real-life interaction with Africa and what it really stands for. "
b. What's your opinion on these images?
"Mostly our continent has itself to blame for this image. Africa has not really helped itslef. The Xenophobia-attacks now given in South Africa is not exactly good for the image of Africa. On the other hand it is particularly limited and one-sided picturing of the continent. "
c. How should this image be changed?
"What we need is a constitution of the new Africa," a new generation of Africans that shows what their continent can do.
At the same time a good, proper coverage of Africa is important. Stereotyping is a real limitation: not everywhere in Africa has Ebola. Moreover, it is important to not let your opinion be guided by the bad people. For every bad Africans we have twenty good Africans! "
d. What does the Sishemo-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?
"Our primary goal is to change the mentality of our own students. If we produce good, decent people, they can represent our continent, the new Africans. They will go on to be the exponent of the Africa of the future, who come into contact with people from all over the world. Africa's image will then automatically change. But changing that image is no one way street: Africa needs to change, and Europe must also change its perception and representation of Africa. We need each other! "