This is the story of Mildred Songa, Helen Mulenga and Kangua Mulenga, three students at Hope Community School who receives education, nutrition, medical care and emotional support through the Spark-Hope partnership.
When walking through Kantalombo Cemetery, where the people of Ndola come to bury family, friends and neighbors lost to the various plagues of poverty, it is already clear. At the cemetery, where recently placed headstones are seen for what seems like miles until the wild grasses cover the older mounds, the loss of complete generations is clear. Rare is the headstone that indicates a death at over the age of 40, the cemetery a field of premature tragedies.
What is not already clear in Kantalombo becomes evident in Jane Mwape. With wrinkles deep like graves and a back bent by years of loss and hardship, she does not know exactly how many years have etched her wrinkles. She knows her age only relatively: she is older than the first president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, who is already 85, and when she was a child there were no roads in Ndola. The milestones that have marked these many years have not been the progress of the nation or the development of the town, though, but rather they have been the deaths of her descendants. Jane Mwape is the matriarch of a broken family tree, which has seen almost two entire generations struck down by the diseases and privation of extreme poverty.
As her children and then grandchildren have passed away one by one, Jane has served as mother not only to her own aged daughter who has been chronically sick for years but also to four of her orphaned great-grandchildren. The family, dwindled to the point that it is now comprised solely of the elderly and children, picks wild vegetables to barter for small packets of mielie-meal, ground cornmeal that is the basis of the local staple food, nshima. Jane used to tend a small field to grow vegetables, but her advanced age has now made it impossible to continue the hard labor to which she had become accustomed.
Realizing the tenuousness of the situation for the three youngest great-grandchildren – Mildred, 7 , Helen, 7, and Kangua, 6 – Jane grew increasingly anxious about the future for these children in what seemed to be the increasingly likely event that she would no longer be able to care for them. Having heard of Hope Community School’s mission to serve the poorest children in the community, Jane walked to the school in her slow painful shuffle despite a crooked back, a severe limp in both legs and seemingly deformed ankles to wait outside Headteacher Ng’oma’s office with the other desperate parents and guardians to plead for a place at the school for the children. Already serving over 300 students, Headteacher Ng’oma was forced, with a heavy heart, to turn her and many others away for lack of places in the program. Undeterred, Jane returned every single day for two weeks, walking the painful mile and sitting patiently on the stoop in front of the headteacher’s office every morning by 5, waiting to plead the children’s case one more time.
On the last morning, dark and rainy, after two unsuccessful weeks, Jane spoke words that Headteacher Ng’oma has not forgotten. He describes her, soaked by the long painful walk through the rain, telling him how her only dream for the children was that they be educated, even if she dies, because “that is the only way they have hope.” Overwhelmed by the children’s desperation and Jane’s persistence, Headteacher Ng’oma was finally able to find a place for the three children. Jane is now able to smile when she thinks of a future for Mildred, Helen and Kangua, who are now thriving with daily meals, free education and, most of all, hope.
You can help support Mildred, Kangua and Helen in a variety of ways. See our Make an Investment page for more information.