Against All Odds – This is Suwilanji
Suwilanji is a bright, talented, and hard-working student in our sponsorship program. She lives in the Ng’ombe community with her mother and has 3 younger sisters. Two of her sisters, Olipa and Natasha, go to Arise Christian School. Miracle is the youngest and is not in school yet. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Suwilanji’s mother, Esther, used to work in a salon as a hairstylist. Suwilanji’s biological father died when she was just 2 years old and her mother remarried a few years later. Her stepfather works as an electrician. The meager income her stepfather brings home is what has helped the family have a meal every day.
Suwilanji joined the Arise Africa sponsorship program in 2015 when she was in grade 5. She is now in grade 10 at Pestalozzi Education Center. Before going to Pestalozzi, Suwilanji attended school at Arise Christian School in Ng’ombe. She excelled as a student at ACS – was always top of her class and got the highest score to go to grade 8. Our team decided she could handle a more challenging learning experience at a private school. She was both thrilled and nervous about the opportunity. She accepted and left home to live in the boarding halls at Pestalozzi to begin her 8th grade in 2018.
When she first moving into boarding, she faced a few challenges that she now looks back on as sweet memories. “I left home to join a school with students from different African counties speaking different languages. It was hard for me to understand most of them because they spoke English that had some French or Portuguese dialects. I also couldn’t speak good enough English to have long conversations with other people. I used to shun my classmates just to avoid speaking English.” Because Suwilanji is smart, she decided to start diverting focus on reading books and also learning how to deal with boarding school life.
Suwilanji recalls times when it was lonely because she was away from family for the first time. She missed her sisters and would worry about how her mother was able to do all the house chores by herself when Olipa went to school. Her mother also narrates how hard this transition was for her. Suwilanji is the first child and would always help with house chores and taking care of the house when her mother went out to look for odd jobs. “It was hard for me because I had to start doing all the other house chores on my own while helping my husband make money to sustain the family.” She also says her neighbors discouraged her a lot because there was a myth that when a girl goes to boarding school they return home pregnant. Esther recalls, “Allowing my daughter to go into boarding was a tough choice. I had neighbors that told me she would get pregnant. However, I sought counsel from my pastor and other Christians who told me about the benefits of having her go to a better school.” She is glad that she sent her daughter to Pestalozzi because she is now a shining star and helping her neighbors with school work. “Most of my neighbor’s kids come to Suwilanji to ask for help with school stuff. They come to her because she has a much better learning experience than most kids that go to a government school. She has the necessary material for learning and I am thankful to her sponsors for making this possible for her.”
As the first term of 8th grade was coming to an end, Suwilanji had started gaining confidence to start conversations with other students. Her English had also improved and she was fluent. She made friends with Blessing, Lazarus, Juliet and Edna. All her friends were in the 9th grade and they helped her with getting ready for her first 8th grade end of term examination. Edna was the smartest kid in the school at the time. She challenged Suwilanji to beat all her past scores and she managed to beat all the scores all the way to 10th grade. While at Pestalozzi, she grew an interest in doing student leadership and she has been representing her class in different in-house school competitions.
Private school has encouraged Suwilanji to think outside of the box and take initiative. She shares, “Being a student at Pestalozzi has helped me become innovative and more focused than I was in the past. I don’t just rely on the material given in class to study. I go on the internet to look up new information and also from former students that I made friends with before they graduated.”
When asked about her best times at school, Suwilanji said she loves it when School Visits Days, where family and friends are able to visit students in boarding schools. “I love it when it’s Schools Visits Day because I get to see my mother and sisters. I also get to interact with my friends’ families. This teaches me the importance of family life even when I am not home.” Since Pestalozzi is a few miles away from the Arise Africa head office in Zambia, the school calls Megan when needs arise. “The school calls Aunt Megan when I get sick to ask if they can give me any medication. This makes me feel special because I know that even when my mother is far away I can still get good care from people that love me well.” Suwilanji shares.
Due to COVID-19, the government of Zambia announced that all schools should close on March 20th. Pestalozzi closed their boarding halls requiring all students, including Suwilanji, to move out. Suwilanji moved back to her home in Ng’ombe with her family in the middle of the school year. Pestalozzi continued to provide their students with an online learning experience, but Suwilanji was faced with challenges having to find the resources to continue her learning. Her home in Ng’ombe does not have reliable power or any source of water. This is a very difficult learning environment that Suwilanji had to endure. With the help of her sponsors Alex and Eric Holloway, Jennie Hart, and Arise support, Suwilanji bought a laptop and home Wi-Fi in order to be able to access her online classes. She was even able to access videos to help her sisters with school while they have been at home. Suwilanji shares, “When I am done with my school work, I help my young sisters access YouTube channels that help them learn Math, English, and Science.”
When she was asked about what she enjoys most about learning online, she said, “It’s easier to learn because you can watch the recorded class videos at any time and you can pause or rewind if you do not understand. There are times when I have to watch some videos over and over again. Also, because I have to help with house chores now, I can catch up with class whenever I am done with every other task that I have for the day.” Suwilanji has been helping her family take care of the house while her mother and stepfather go out to do odd jobs. “Learning online has also given me an opportunity to teach my friends who have not been going to school because most government schools do not have online lessons. They love coming at my house in the afternoon and I share what I learn from school. We also read some books from the school online library and it has been a fun thing to do.”
Some of the challenges she has faced are power outages. When there is no power, she is not able to access Wi-Fi so she has to wait until it is restored to learn. “There are times when the power is out the entire day and I have the whole day’s workload to finish when power is back. The good thing is I always have enough time to catch up with all the recorded videos and the assignments posted.” Zambia has faced a lot of power outages in the past years and it has greatly affected communities.
Suwilanji’s mother and stepfather have recently begun going through a separation. It has been a very difficult time for her mother and has a great impact on Suwilanji and her sisters. Suwilanji shares the difficulties of these events, “If I was at school, I wouldn’t have known what is happening at home and it wouldn’t have disturbed my studies. This has affected how I study because most times I get lost in thought thinking how my mother and I will survive without my stepfather’s help. My sisters are very young so they do not understand what we are going through so it’s just been me and my mother encouraging each other.”
Despite having all these challenges, Suwilanji still has a dream of finishing high school, going to college, and finding a better job so she can take care of her family. “Before going to Pestalozzi, I had a dream of becoming a journalist or pharmacist. Over time, I have grown an interest in Agriculture and Business Administration. Given a chance, I would want to study all these things and have multiple skills.” she says. Her mother dreams of her becoming a pharmacist. She believes Suwilanji is very smart and would make a good pharmacist. Esther says, “Suwilanji has a big heart for other people. She cares too much and she is smart. I would want her to study to be a pharmacist because she has always wanted to be one. I know she keeps having other dreams but she would make a good pharmacist. I would want her to serve in the community differently by making sure she helps people get the right medication. She loves helping people so this would not be a hard thing for her to do.”
Suwilanji loves spending time at church and sings on the worship team. Even though churches have been closed, this foundation of her faith enabled her to find a lot of the positive motivation she needs during this time. Her pastor and friends have encouraged and prayed with her over a lot of different things. She also spends time hearing from God through quiet time and reading the Bible. She says there are times when she has had nothing to say to God but she gets comforted when she reads Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
We are so encouraged by Suwilanji’s determination, focus, and pursuit for a better life for her, her mom, and her sisters. Through her experience at a private boarding school, we have seen her confidence grow. She has beautifully accepted her role as the leading sister of the home and recognizes her need for Christ. She asks for prayer for discernment to know the right people to surround herself with and to find strong, wise, and loving spiritual mentors.