As a teacher at a government school, Emily Nswana had a secure, well-paid job – an important achievement in Zambia – but she wanted more. She wanted to look after her students’ bodies, minds and morals as well as their multiplication tables.
“I worked in Zambian government schools for 20 years,” Nswana said. “In my first appointment, I thought I would do better if I had my own school, because I wanted to reach the whole child.”
So in 1993, after eight years of researching and planning, Nswana opened the Luwi International School.
Nswana spent two days in classrooms at Linwood Public School. She was supposed to be presenting at a conference in Bermuda this week, but she could get only one Canadian entry visa. If she left the country she couldn’t return, so she ended up with a longer stopover in Canada.
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Nswana stayed with friends Gordon and Heather Martin, who she met two years ago at a conference in Germany, and shared her story with the students at Linwood PS.
Nswana grew up in Zambezi, a town in the northwest part of the country, and moved to the city of Chingola in the Copperbelt province when she married her husband.
The Copperbelt is the copper mining area of Zambia and was the backbone of the country’s economy until copper prices collapsed in the 1970s. Now Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 68 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, according to United Nations figures.
On top of its economic troubles, HIV/AIDS and malaria are huge problems in Zambia.
A year after opening her school, Nswana lost her own husband to malaria, leaving her a widow with three young children. Some people told her she should move to another town, because she had lost everything, but that would have meant closing the school and starting over again.
The word luwi means “God’s grace,” and Nswana bases her life around her Christian faith. After she was widowed, she kept thinking if it was hard for her when she lost her husband, how much harder life must be for widows who didn’t have jobs.
In 1998, she started the Luwi Community Orphan Scheme to help widows and widowers, orphans and the vulnerable. There are 16 orphans housed in an orphanage on the property, and 68 children receive financial assistance to go to school. There are also programs to support widows and widowers, teach skills to young people, and raise money for the orphanage by gardening and raising chickens.
From 80 students, the school has grown to 265. They’re in the process of building an addition to expand the school to 10 classrooms from four. Nswana has been getting e-mail updates while she’s away; the building has been painted, and they were putting in the windows this week.
Nswana said her biggest challenge is funding. In the beginning, all expenses were paid out of her own pocket. Today there are other private donors and sponsors, but Nswana decided all the money from sponsorships would go to the upkeep of the orphanage, and not to be touched by the school. That makes it difficult to pay her teachers well and pay a stipend to Luwi’s volunteers.
In spite of the struggles, Nswana believes her work is too important to give up. She stresses the importance of turning negative into positive and raising children that that have a purpose and a goal in their lives.
“I feel I’m more than a teacher,” Nswana said. “Not for one plus one only, but to reach out to people’s lives and give them hope.”
The grand opening of the school’s new addition is Aug. 21, and Nswana said everyone is invited. For more information, they can e-mail the school at firstname.lastname@example.org.