Our work in Zambia is focused on improving economic and educational opportunities for women and girls. Part of our project is offering business management workshops. While the workshops are aimed at women, men are also welcome. We believe that when men study alongside women, they are more likely to become their allies in the struggle for female economic empowerment upon graduation. The following story is about Simon, a young man working towards a brighter future.
Twenty-seven year-old Simon Banda lives in the Katete region of Zambia. When he was in the second grade, he had to drop out of school because his family couldn’t afford it. Today, this determined young man is finally learning how to read and write.
Simon enrolled in a basic literacy class–a decision rooted in the conviction that through his own talents and intellect, Simon could change his life for the better. He is one of only three men in his class, the rest are women—they range from young to old, and incude many mothers breastfeeding their babies. Some in the community smiled and laughed at the sight of adults attending basic literacy classes, exclaiming that “adults were too old for primary school!” For Simon and his other male classmates, the ridicule was twice as great, for instead of working, they sat alongside women with notebooks and pencils. This hasn’t prevented Simon from pursuing his goals.
Simon’s dream is to open a business. He knows that if he —can’t read or write, he will be unable to manage the finances and purchase inventory. If he can’t manage his accounts or pass a personal audit, banks will refuse to give him a start-up loan. Without the loan, Simon would be forced to stay where he is today: underemployed with a bleak future. His motivation for studying is strong, although he recognizes the path before him is long and difficult.
In November, Simon met with our colleague Pavel Cedivoda. To show Pavel their appreciation, the Simon and the other students in the program prepared a series of speeches. In groups of three, each member took their turn speaking. Simon was so overcome by nervousness, he ended up not saying a single word.
When the program ended and people began to say their good-byes, Simon ran up to the front of the room, exclaiming that he wanted to give public speaking another try. It was obvious to everyone in the room how difficult it was for him to stand up and face his fear for the second time. He was praised and applauded, not just for his performance, but for his tenacity, courage, and determination.
Possibilities for women and men
Simon has now learned to read and write in his native language. He is currently enrolled in an English course designed specifically for students planning to start their own businesses. Simon says his neighbors no longer smile and laugh at him. Those involved with the project deeply believe in the power of education; they are working with Simon and his classmates because they have a vision of a Zambia where women and men will have equal rights and opportunities—a place where anyone can chase their dreams and work towards a brighter future.