WHEN I look at what God has done in my life, I say if my mother was around today it would be a different story, says Ministry of General Education permanent secretary Dr Jobbicks Kalumba.
Dr Kalumba is unmistakably frank and he was just that on Thursday at the Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) organised breakfast meeting at Hotel InterContinental in Lusaka.
The meeting was discussing the plight of community schools in Zambia and Dr Kalumba, among other dignitaries, was present.
When called upon to speak, Dr Kalumba said: “I have a personal testimony to make.”
He looked at the projector that had a message reading: “every child has a story. Every story needs a hero. You can be that hero.”
Dr Kalumba actually read aloud that message and then started his narration.
“I come from a family of six, the last born in the family. I was born on 24th October, 1964. So, I’ll be celebrating my 55th [birthday]. Honourable minister (David Mabumba), maybe it will be your first time to hear my story. I was going to Luwingu Secondary School for my secondary education,” Dr Kalumba says.
“I had only two trousers, two shorts, one pair of shoes, one pair of stockings, one blanket. In those years, we didn’t have mattresses. We were using bunkers. So that one blanket I had, I was using it in two ways; you spread on the bed and then the other flip of the blanket I covered myself. That was life! One Sunday morning, it was 7th March, as I was waking up from that bunker bed, [I] checked on the bed and saw a louse on the bed. I said okay, that’s how life is.”
He recalls that during the rainy season, water used to sip inside this damaged shoe and that the stockings were producing a bad scent.
Dr Kalumba says he used to sit at the back of the classroom.
“I had no girlfriend because of my status! One tablet of soap – Ebuoy – and then a bottle of Vaseline! Those items kept me going for five years. I wrote my Form V examinations on a borrowed shirt because my uniform had become torn,” he says.
“So my friend helped me with a shirt which I used during the time of my examinations. Whenever school closed, because I had no transport money from home, I used to go to Mr Njobvu who was my geography teacher and that motivated me to train as a geography teacher. I worked in his garden and then he could give me some transport money to take me back home to Mbala where I come from.”
The permanent secretary adds that whenever he reached home, his mother and him used to carry paraffin (kerosene) on their heads to go and sell to the fishermen at Lake Tanganyika.
Dr Kalumba says the distance between his village and the lake is 45 kilometres.
“So, that was really something that was difficult for me. When my mother was somehow tired alone, carrying paraffin to the lake, there was and still there is a very big tree which had a curved shape. So, she would offload her katundu (luggage) and then put it on that log and then she was resting,” Dr Kalumba explains, to a silent audience.
“After resting, she would bend below the log and then the load would fall on her head and she went to sell the merchandise to the lake, just to raise money for me to go to school. That’s why, minister, when you talked about reduction of school fees, to some of us who have gone through that scenario we understand the pain that our children go through – those who are coming from poverty-stricken homes. But education remains their hope for tomorrow.”
He narrates that last year when he went to Mbala, the first thing that he did was to go and check whether the tree where his mother used to rest at is still there.
Dr Kalumba says he “fortunately” found the tree and sat there, remembering his days of suffering.
“Rolling back the curtains of memory to see where God is getting me from, where I was and where I am today, I said let me give glory to God. But again some tears had to flow down from my eyes because when I began my job as a primary school teacher, a month later my mother passed away,” he narrates.
“So, when I look at what God has done in my life, I say if my mother was around today it would be a different story. So, it’s true that every child has a story. Education is the foundation of this country. For us in the Ministry of Education, education is the foundation and the footing of this nation and every institution that is supporting the learning of the children, in whatever form, needs support and recommendation.”
Meanwhile, Dr Kalumba says ZOCS has done a great deal for Zambia.
He adds that those who have worked in rural areas, like him, have seen the footprints of ZOCS.
“In schools where we as government couldn’t build a structure, ZOCS went ahead to establish a community school and out of those children a good number of them today are in very big positions. Well done, ZOCS, for your involvement in partnering with government to provide education to our people,” Dr Kalumba says.
He concludes with an assurance that the government will continue supporting ZOCS’ efforts.
“In terms of examination centre numbers, we have a policy now that the Examinations Council of Zambia ought to provide even provisional examination centre numbers so that as the school is improving on the requirements, our children can still write examinations in those areas,” notes Dr Kalumba.