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On the Edge

I have just come back from a tour of the UCZ Mission Schools in Luapula, Northern and Muchinga Provinces. It is a round trip of over 3000km. It was good to meet our staff who are devoting this part of their professional careers to delivering education to children very often living at the “edge”. Our schools are generally found in remote rural areas close to Zambia’s borders with neighbours. The children are often from impoverished subsistence farming families, living on the edge, relying on rain-irrigated harvests and frequently many are underweight, undernourished and underachieving. It was good to hear of the accomplishments as well as the challenges and how working together with all the stakeholders from the community they are attempting to transform these institutional legacies from 20th Century educational management into appropriate, developing, teaching and learning communities for today and beyond.

However, the historian in me made me look back to their foundation as pioneer missions. Their rich history and strengths from the past is something they are aware of and still draw upon.

I had not been to Mbereshi for some 15 years, so I enjoyed the drive North from Kapiri through the miombo woods along the Mwendafye Hills with the TAZARA, passed Mkushi to Serenje. Next we turned onto the Mansa road which we used to call the Chinese Road, now most roads in Zambia would qualify for that title. We passed Kasanka and the Chitambo road-end leading to the Livingstone Memorial.

Chitambo was a former Church of Scotland Mission Station opened in 1907 by Malcolm Moffat and  Dr Hubert Wilson, both relatives of Livingstone and his wife Mary Moffat. It opened a small girls boarding school  in the 1930s and contrary to Colonial Government policy encouraged agricultural training. A teacher tells of the fathers of 3 girls being mocked in 1943 for wasting their money by sending their daughters for teacher training. Plus ca change……. Chitambo Hospital has recently reopened its School of Nursing.

Mbereshi was founded by the London Missionary Society (now Council for World Mission) in 1900.  It became a major educational centre made famous by Mable Shaw who trained at St Colm’s and pioneered girl education by opening in 1915 a school for them there. Education was closely linked with the life skills, needed for running a home and contributing to the community. Lessons took place in the morning, but the rest of school life reflected as closely as possible ordinary village life, drawing water, collecting firewood and cooking meals. The Boarding houses were vertically organised containing around 12 girls, the senior, acting as House Mother. The House Mothers settled minor disputes and looked after the younger ones. All girls learned to sew, knit, crochet and to make clothes. They grew most of their own staples and vegetables. Mothercraft and childcare were also important subjects. However, this basic education also allowed for careers in both teaching and nursing. A consequence was not only a good, trained wife, but even more importantly it meant clean, healthy and better- educated children in the following generation. There was much in the old initiation ceremonies that were useful to keep and encourage and which were integrated into the Christian instruction the girls received. Poor Mable knew all about the glass ceiling as well!

Shaw enjoyed greater autonomy  than many of her married and unmarried peers but she was still marginalised as a woman. She became an ‘honorary man’ for a while in the 1930s when appointed to the IMC Commission on Copper Belt Urbanisation. With her expertise, she was allowed to contribute to the deliberations but not the final written report. She could never become a Head of Station either and her school was eventually brought under male oversight in 1946.

Senga Hill was founded by Rev Govan Robertson  of the LMS in 1923. Its school offered education to Standard VI. It too started an Agricultural Training Centre under Norman Porritt and was well-known  at the time for its goat rearing and cassava production. It tried to meet the needs of the community it served. Another interesting feature was its interdenominational character, encompassing Church of Scotland, Plymouth Brethren, Anglicans and Congregationalists and under the Chairmanship of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, the Laird of Shiwa Ngandu!

The Church of Scotland opened Mwenzo amongst the Winamwanga at the same time (1894) as the Livingstonia Institute at Kondowe by Rev Alexander Dewar and John Banda a Malawian evangelist. The Mission was situated on the Stevenson Road which linked Lake Malawi, Livingstonia and Lake Tanganyika. The modern Mwenzo to Mbala stretch is finally being tarred at last. Rev and Mrs Chisholm, a nurse, were next charged with helping to develop medical, educational and Church work. With new staff on site, Mwenzo Girls opened afresh in 1928. In 1912 the first Welfare Society was founded and in 1923 Rev David Kaunda, the father of the First President Dr Kenneth Kaunda,  was a prominent member. These societies were the first political outlets formed  to struggle for freedom and equality and precursors of the Trade Unions and political parties of a later date.  I met the Rev Solomon Sichalwe in his home. He is now 99 years old who had memories of Rev Fergus Macpherson and other Scottish missionaries. He was the mentor, “my boys’’, he called them to two dear Lozi ministers, the Reverends Mubita and Mulowa, both now in their 80s! It was also good to have an audience with Chieftainess Nawitwika too, another UCZ member.

In 1905 Rev David Kaunda and his wife Hellen Nyirenda were sent as missionaries from Livingstonia to undertake Church and education work in the Chinsali area, bringing into being Lubwa Mission .Rev Kaunda did a good work  developing  a strong teacher training programme , encouraging the establishment of rural middle-schools along with secondary education for the brightest pupils. Lubwa became grant-aided in 1930 and the school while grateful was nonetheless insufficient to meet increased costs and the increasing numbers of primary schools. Former pupils were President Kenneth Kaunda, Vice-President  Simon Kapepwe, UNIP Central Committtee Member Kapasa Makasa and the Speaker, Wesley Nyirenda.  A founding Headteacher Bwenbya Mushindo did much work in preserving Bemba History and Customs in writing and as well as  working with others to translate the Bible in Chi Bemba.

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