Sishemo Foundation: the report
Tuesday in Lusaka. In2Afrika is enjoying a cold Mosi-beer in Broads backpackers hostel. We're all set for a nice game of ChampionsLeague, a luxury that makes our hearts beat faster! At 20:08 pm the phone rings. "Hey guys, welcome to Lusaka! We would like to walk you through the program we made for you for the coming days, is it okay if we drop by the hostel in a couple of minutes? " The Sishemo-team is on the other side of the line. We are confused for a second. We just settled for a perfect evening watching football ... But that only takes a minute. Non less than four Sishemo- people came down to our hostel, simply to welcome us! In addition to a highly contagious enthusiasm the team takes a folder full of information and a two-day program with them, so we immediately have an incredible amount of excitement for the coming days which we will spend with the Sishemo team. "You better hit the bed early, Because tomorrow we're going to rock!" 35 minutes later they have left the hostel and leave us behind being very curious. What will this project bring to us? In the 70th minute, when Barcelona already secured the victory on PSG, we hit the bed already. We were warned after all. Tomorrow, we will be rocking ...
The Sishemo foundation is a faith-based nonprofit organization founded by a group of women who place themselves among the Restoration Ministries International-church (RMI) in Lusaka. RMI is a church, founded in 1986 by Nawa Phiri and Cyril P. Phiri, a Zambian couple. Inside this church, a community of women developed who campaigned for the empowerment of women within their community. Moreover, there was a project called "Children for Children" in which the church-youth had the opportunity to help their less fortunate peers. The "low-income settlements" within Lusaka were (and still are) heavily affected by the HIV / AIDS epidemic in Zambia. These circumstance makes that youth in these areas was often orphan or at least very vulnerable. Inside the church arose slowly the realization that only a thorough education of the children could free them from their vulnerable position in the long term.
In 2001 Sishemo was founded, as the social development arm of the church. Sishemo stands for "empathy" in local language. Because Sishemo not only has passive sympathy, but has a hands on approach. At that time, teaching really was the priority, the circumstances in which this occurred were not so. The first lessons were conducted in a simple tent, stuffed with the vulnerable youth of Lusaka. But Sishemo grew rapidly. There were schools build and at the same time the number of students grew as well. First class, second class, third class. All funded by the church. Sishemo absolutely wanted to grow, but realized that with only the church as a financier, there would not be a sustainable future for the school. The quality of education within Sishemo had now risen to a level way above average. The decision could therefore be made to open up the school for children without a vulnerable background. The school fees that these students would pay would then also yield the education of their fellow OVCs (Orphans and Children Volnurable) in classes. The right balance was found between the original aim of supporting OVCs and enable them by adopting paying students. Sishemo developed into a school where 700 students now enjoy their education until the 7th grade. Today Sishemo works from what they call their three "prongs": Education, Health and Agriculture.
Wednesdaymorning, Mannix Chiwone and Joseph Chama pick us up. Joseph is a teacher at the Northgate academy, as Sishemo school is called since a few years, and Mannix is a project-manager within the foundation. Both came in contact with Sishemo through the church. We begin our visit right away and make home visits to the parents of some students of the school who live in Misisi, a low-income settlement in central Lusaka. One of the features of Sishemo is that it represents a holistic approach to education. The vulnerable youth within the organization enjoys the education they need. But after school, all children have to go home. The fragile environment where they then come back to, can cancel out any progress that they book at the academy. This insight leads Sishemo to also support the families behind the students, in many different ways. Not only education is provided, but Sishemo also tries to send the rest of the child's life in the right direction. That is the holistic approach. Sishemo does home visits, where they speak with the rest of the family about the student and its home. During these visits home supplies are lso distributed, through which the whole family is provided with toothpaste, soap and other things to live as hygienic as possible.
Another point of interest is that parents are often skeptical about the fact that their child can go to Sishemo to get an education because they will lose part of their family income. The child can not sell stuff on the street during the day or perform light work in the house. That is the reality for these families. Within the holistic approach, Sishemo therefor provides parents and other family members with many opportunities to compensate. It provides the parents (mostly mothers) training in a number of skills, with which they can generate an income for their families. The women learn how to weave, how to do sewing and carpentry and cotton dyeing. With these skills they learn to produce and repair shoes, make jewelry and clothing and wood processing, all for sale. A small portion of the profits goes to Sishemo, but the vast majority of the sales goes to the family. But more important is the skill they learn, allowing them to get to work for themselves. With all this support for the home front Sishemo is thus trying to also form the environment of the vulnerable youth. A holistic approach.
When we leave Misisi we meet a bus which is ready to leave, loaded with Sishemo-kids. This bus will take us to Northgate academy, home of Sishemo, in about 25 minutes. The bus ride is like a musical. After the children meet Mannix's ‘ are you ready? " with a very convincing and loud "YEAH !!!" we move on to singing songs, which never stops until we arrive at school. The atmosphere is incredibly good! At Northgate we get a tour, where once again the boundless ambition of the foundation is made clear. At present, even the church-sapce is used to provide education for over 200 children and there are new premises under construction. We serve lunch to children, which they get every dat at Northgate and we finish the day with what everyone loves doing the most: a good game of football in the schoolyard.
On Thursday we start our day visiting Sunday Mwanza. Sunday can be seen as the embodiment of the Sishemo approach. At the age of 7, Sunday was personally picked from the street by Sishemo-founder Nawa Phiri, while he sold bananas near the school. After much hesitation, Sunday agreed to be adopted in Sishemo-education and became a model student. Not only a good student, but also engaged in the social influence Sishemo tries to have. Working with the holistic approach, Sishemo also included Sundays home in the Sishemo family. Meanwhile Sunday, now 24, hopes to start college, next year here in Lusaka.
With the church as foundation, Sishemo never a lacks motivated, inspiring people who are ready to work for the foundation. The Northgate Academy is being a real home, a familiar, inspiring place where every child feels at home. The holistic approach is characteristic for Sishemo. It is always seeking for what is now the best way to not only provide the children's education, but look after their whole environment and thereby lift the community to a higher level. Only then the children's lives will indeed really change. For the future, the foundation is full of ambition. Sishemo wants to expand the academy to secondary school and prefers to even own a private college in the future. In addition, there are plans for the establishment of a medical school, in which especially the HIV / AIDS problem can be tackled from both the education- and the health-prong.
However, the construction of both the classrooms and the organization have to go step by step, because there literally can only be 'built' when the funds are there. For now it seems that therefore the biggest challenge for Sishemo, will be funding. One will never have abundant resources, so priorities will have to be set. Fortunately, it is often not only the goal, but especially the way to this goal which is very important. In our opinion, Sishemo is walking in the right way.