by Leah Samakayi Kasaji (Zambia National Union of Teachers)
It was a cool Monday morning in March 2017. We were in the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) board room packing shirts for the international women’s day celebrations. It was me, Juliet and Sombo. We were very busy because the shirts had to reach all the 10 provinces the following day since International Women’s Day was just a day after. Linna, the secretary, was helping us with recording the number of shirts packed in each bag.
When all was done, l called Ndundi the Office helper to load all the packs on the ZNUT Gender Vehicle so that he could take them to the intercity bus terminus in Lusaka and put them on buses to various provinces. At this point, the General Secretary of my organization (ZNUT) sent his Office Secretary to call me saying there was a sad development that needed my urgent attention. This worried me and scared me at the same time. I quickly rushed to the Office of the General Secretary who saw me entering in a panic state. The General Secretary then said “Why are you panicking?”, l replied ‘but what is it Boss that has gone wrong?” My boss then told me that, he had received a phone call from Herbert. Herbert is one of the national change team members who resides in the Southern part of Zambia. That scared me even more because he usually travels for SRGBV programs within that province. What came to my mind was that he was involved in a road traffic accident. At that point, my colleagues Juliet and Sombo followed me to the Office of the General Secretary while Linna and Ndundi remained looking after the packed shirts. Sombo then screamed “what is the matter?” Juliet said, “Is everything okay?”
Our boss looked at us and smiled, “Ladies there is no funeral here! Why are you all panicking? He further said “l just wanted to inform Leah the change team lead that l have received a phone call from one of the change team members that there is a case of SRGBV at the school next to where Herbert teaches. The school is called Katondu and the case involves a Primary school girl in a grade 5 class. Then out of curiosity l said, “has she been killed, raped by the teacher or what has happened to her?” Before l could get the answer from the General Secretary, Juliet had already called Herbert using her cell phone. As Herbert started to explain to Juliet, l grabbed the phone from her because l wanted to hear for myself. At this point, The Union President together with other members of the National Executive Committee walked in the general Secretary’s Office for a meeting. My colleagues and l then left the Office and in my mind, l kept hoping that the General Secretary will take that opportunity to brief members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) on the recent cases of SRGBV in the schools across the country where our teacher members are and how such cases are affecting the delivery of quality Education for all. As a matter of fact, this process delayed the dispatching of shirts, making Ndundi also to start panicking because he would miss the buses to provinces. He said to me, “madam, we are running out of time.” This made me panic even more. l allowed him to take the packs to the bus terminus while l continued struggling to redial Juliet’s cell phone to speak to Herbert and get the story of the girl.
Herbert explained that there were several cases of SRGBV involving teachers and learners in schools in the province but that particular case was at the school next to where he was teaching. He said that, the case involved a grade 5 girl by the name of Jane. Jane was a very intelligent grade 5 girl who liked school. She never missed class and always got the top position in her grade beating all the girls and boys. He further said that, there had been other cases of SRGBV affecting learners and Teachers which he was able to handle. This particular case seemed a bit complicated and the school had reported several cases of a similar nature. That’s the reason why he had called for me as the change team lead and other members of the change team to step in and work with him. Herbert requested that l travel to the province so that we can get to the School and deal with the case at hand. Having got that explanation, l called a quick meeting with my fellow change team members so that we could agree on how we could go to Katondu School and work with our colleague.
As members of the change team, we went to the office of the General Secretary to try and get permission, although, we were afraid that we would disturb the meeting of the General Secretary and members of National Executive Committee (NEC) members. When we reached the door to the office, we saw a journalist coming out of the Office of the General Secretary and this assured us that the meeting was over and the National Executive Committee members had left. We went in and l requested that l travel with Auster, one of the change team members. Auster was the head of the Workers’ Education Department that had a budget line for Education and Training, whereas my department of Gender had a budget line for gender related activities. My main goal was to go and hold meetings with learners, Teachers and Parent-Teacher Committee Members of that particular school. Actually the aim was to make it a pilot school that can give us strategies of how to fight and stop SRGBV in the province. We were granted permission to travel to Southern Province and without wasting time Auster and l went to prepare ourselves for the journey.
On Tuesday morning of March 2017, Auster and l arrived at Katondu primary school in the South of Zambia. It was outside the Headteacher’s Office, when l was greeting and asking the deputy Headteacher of the School by the name of Mr. Chintu to direct us to the Headteachers Office, that a girl appeared, her name was Jane. Jane looked very lonely and unhappy. At the same time Herbert, the change team member appeared and pointed at the girl saying “that is the girl.” When Jane heard the voice and saw Herbert, she came running in such a way that Auster and l thought she was either a daughter to the Deputy Headteacher or to Herbert or a relative to one of them. However, when she came closer, we realized that the girl was trembling and had tears in her eyes. Before she could be asked anything, Jane shouted, “Sir, they have done it again, punish them, punish them.” l looked at the Deputy Headteacher and then l turned back to Jane, she was still shouting and trembling, “Punish them, punish them” This caught the attention of the other learners who were walking to their classrooms on the foot path that comes from the netball pitch. They looked concerned but they did not say anything to us or to the girl, but kept on walking and talking among themselves in low voices. l believed, they were asking each other questions about what was happening.
At this point, Mr. Chuntu the Deputy Headteacher, Herbert, Auster, Jane and l, went to the Headteacher’s Office. We all sat down before Herbert asked the girl to narrate the story about what had happened. The Headteacher did not seem to be very concerned about what was happening considering the fact that this involved a small girl in grade 5 and not even a teacher. However, our presence made him sit and listen to us and the little girl. He even told us that such cases are usually handled by the office of Senior Teacher, not even the Deputy Head teacher because there were issues of young people. l then thanked him for giving us his time to meet in his office so that we could discuss matters affecting the learners, the Teachers and his Office as Head of the School so they could have a good free and safe learning and teaching environment. The Headteacher thanked me before asking the Deputy Headteacher to get the little grade 5 girl to narrate her story.
Jane then narrated that when she went to the school pit toilet and was sitting nicely over the pit, she heard the voices of two grade 6 boys laughing and saying “we have seen everything, we have seen everything,” She then quickly stood up, pulled her pant up and her skirt down and walked out of the toilet. Meanwhile the boys had already seen her nakedness and followed behind her, shouting and teasing her. With tears in her eyes, Jane went to report to her teacher who also didn’t show any concern but told her that was school life and boys were like that everywhere. As Jane narrated the story, her eyes were full of tears. It was a touching issue even to the Headteacher who had down played it in the first place. There was a moment of silence. I imagined what if it was my daughter or myself in the toilet and a boy or a man came to view my nakedness. I am sure such thoughts ran through everyone who was in the rooms’ mind’
The school was a rural school which only had one old grass thatched toilet for girls from grades 1 to 7 and another similar one for boys from grades 1 to 7. The grass thatched toilets were very old and the grass on the doors was almost eaten up by termites so that if someone was inside and another person stood close by to peep in, they would see the one who is inside. The toilets were 100 meters from the classroom blocks and 10 meters apart.
Auster, Herbert and I then requested to have meetings with the learners and teachers and with members of the community (parents). The Headteacher was now touched and did not hesitate to organize these meetings. We were at Katondu Primary School for three consecutive days. During this period, boy and girl learners, the school as a whole and the community they live in, were sensitized on the negative effects of SRGBV on the victims. Forms of SRGBV were discussed as was the need to stop such.
Learners appreciated the meeting and many other girls confirmed that it was a common habit of the boys in that school to peep into the girls’ toilet. Many of the older girls in the upper primary missed classes when they were menstruating because they couldn’t use the toilets to change their sanitary towels as going to the toilet meant exposing one’s nakedness to boys. The girls also mentioned that this matter was not taken seriously whenever it was brought to the attention of teachers. It was being taken seriously only when it came to the attention of Herbert, a member of the SRGBV change team. The meeting changed the mood and attitude of the learners and some teachers who were present because l had asked to attend to listen to what we were discussing with their learners.
After that meeting, without wasting time, we went to meet members of the staff at the school. They welcomed us and were eager to hear more about this thing called SRGBV which almost every learner was talking about. As the meeting progressed l could see some teachers looking down as if they were guilty, others nodding their heads, and others looking straight into my eyes as if they wanted to ask a question. The Headteacher kept swallowing as if he had a dry throat. At the end of the day l and other members of the change team had achieved our goal because we managed to sensitized the learners, Teachers, and school administration.
I advised the School Management to organize a meeting for the Parent-Teacher’s Committee and the general members of the community who were parents. The Headteacher then sent notices of the meeting to the parents through the learners. He told the learners that each one should come with their parents when they reported for school the following day. At 6am, l was already at the school and l was very excited to see almost every child coming in with their parent. By 07:30 am our meeting with parents started. My colleagues and l informed the parents that we were from the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) and that as a Union our duty is to end school related gender-based violence so that schools become safe places to learn and teach. I explained what SRGBV is and the forms it can take. Finally, we told them the story of Jane and the toilets. Parents were touched and one parent who was a business man volunteered to construct a toilet for girls. Then a resolution was made that the community would take up the responsibility of building toilets for the school. Everybody appreciated this and promised to work towards ending SRGBV at the school. It was a successful mission.
Two months later, l travelled to Southern province for a different program but l decided to pass through Katondu school to confirm the good news l was getting from Herbert, and also the promises l heard from Teachers and parents. Indeed, it was good news. l found very good toilets constructed of blocks and iron sheets. With wooden doors, and a nice floor. Finally, the school had five modern toilets. Three for girls and two for boys. They were located 50 meters apart with different foot paths leading to and from classrooms. This brought dignity to the learners especially the girls. These toilets were constructed out of community voluntary work spearheaded by the School Parent-Teachers Committee. SRGBV cases can be reduced, if not stopped, when dealt with.
Deal with any form of SRGBV now! Make the school a safe place for learning and teaching.
The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.