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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Mwangala

Meet Agnes : Our Small Win Amidst Big Needs.

We recruit girls in our after school feeding and tutoring program with the help of local teachers and the consent of guardians. Last school term (September - December 2023) we went to another local school to ask for at least 40 girls who were having a hard time in class from grades 5-7th and we came back with 65 girls. At this school, over 500 students are enrolled in grade 1 and this school year, only 32 students made it to grade 8, and maybe 10 will make it to high school. Going to this school is our attempt at helping our community get more girls to high school, then college.Transforming this community begins with getting as many girls as possible educated.

One of the 5th graders we got from the school is Agnes, 12 years old and the first in a family of 4. We lovingly call her Aggie, when she first came, she had a shy smile, looked down when asked a question, a girl of very few words, yet so charming and easily lovable. She wants to be a Doctor when she gets done with her education.

One particular day our interns were walking around the community and they met a little girl carrying a small bucket of zitumbuwa (fried cornflour and ripe banana fritters), she was selling these. When I meet such girls, I know immediately that school has taken the back seat in their life. She was selling these for K50 each ($0.029 - I don't even know what this is in cents), the target was to sell at least 50 of these, which would make $1.5 for her family to use for all their needs that day. This little girl was our Agnes.

We decided to go visit her home and it is among one of the most extreme poverty households in our community. We met Agnes' mother, a young woman herself (34 years old), in poor health, pregnant with her 4th child at this point could barely make a coherent sentence. Her other children stood by her like a loyal army outside their poorly grass thatched mud hut, with no doors or windows. We tried to get into the house and it was so dark you could barely see anything, there was half a wall to separate the mom's room to the kitchen/livingroom/children's room that's barely functional when it rains because the roof leaks and muddies up the whole place. We found out it is because of the mother's condition that Agnes has carried the burden of selling these Zitumbuwa to take care of the home. What a little warrior! When business is bad which is often, they sleep on an empty stomach, sometimes even for days. The way her children looked malnourished easily gave this away.

As Agnes started opening up to us at our program, she started sharing that all her life she has been looked down on and been told that she would never amount to anything by the people in her life which demotivated her and led her not do well in class. She was told that going to school is a waste of time when she could use her body to make money. When we met her she was repeating grade 5.

During the end of a school term, students write examinations and on closing day they are given their academic results for that term. Our staff go to be present for the girls in our program because it is a heavy day for most, but it's also our way of seeing the difference that our after school tutoring is making. Teachers will compile how each student perfomed in the various subjects they learn at school and then rank them from the highest to lowest. This day our staff had gone to Aggie's school, as they sat there following as names were being mentioned class by class of the top performing students, guess whose name was mentioned as the most improved student in grade 5? Yes, our Agnes! from being the bottom of the class to one of the top performing students.

When they were coming home from school that day, their jubilation got home before they did. Agnes had our staff and peers cheering her on, being carried up so her feet don't step on the ground because she was royalty this day. Her shy smile had turned to this huge bright ray of sunshine. Everyone was shouting for me to come out and see this, and as I embraced Agnes and asked her how she felt, she confessed that she now knows that she is smart, she matters, she is happy, she wants to succeed and help other people in the future.

Meeting children like Agnes is very conflicting. The need is too much even in just one home that sometimes you wonder if you are doing enough by feeding and supporting just Agnes' education for instance and excluding her siblings. Sometimes you think, maybe you are better off building a house for the family than just feeding one child, but what do you do with limited funds? Sticking to the mission is hard, yet somehow we find the courage to just do what we can do in a particular season.

Do you ever feel that overwhelmed with too much need and feeling that you aren't supporting enough? May you find joy in the small things you are able to do day by day, because they pile up and become the big things.

You can watch a brief Agness video below:

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