Joseph Zulu’s Story of Resilience & Hope

Joseph was one of our first students in sponsorship, joining our program in 2010. He lives in the Matero compound in the city of Lusaka. At the beginning of 2020, Joseph discovered that he had failed his grade nine exams. Every grade nine student is required to pass this government-issued exam to continue on and finish high school. According to UNICEF, 55% of grade nine students pass their exams throughout the country. If a student fails his or her exams they have the opportunity to retake the exam or dropout of school. Many students choose to end their educational career and enter into a struggling economy with very high rates of unemployment. In Zambia, for people who don’t have the opportunity to attend any form of higher education the chances of finding a steady job with sustainable wages are low. It becomes difficult to hope for the future.

In many societies, success is completing their high school education, going to university, and finding a job. When a student fails grade nine his or her ability to achieve that perceived “success” is stopped. There is now a major obstacle in the way. Not being able to continue towards society’s standard of success can be disheartening and discouraging. Joseph felt all of these things, leaving him with one question: “Where do I go from here?”

Our Guidance Counselor, Dai, talked with Joseph about another way forward: trade school. Joseph was willing to give it a try. Even after experiencing failure, he was able to take on a new opportunity of learning and growth.

Entrance of Dzithandizeni Trust Trades School

Joseph started a 12 month program at Dzithandizeni Trust Trades School learning about carpentry in May 2020. He chose this trade because he felt like it was the only trade that he could manage. His first day of class he found the course difficult and doubted “Am I going to manage?” He was close to not even coming back. 

Inside of Dzithandizeni Trust Trades School

However, Joseph’s professor at trade school, Mr. Tembo, was someone who saw his potential. He pushed Joseph to want to do better because Joseph knew that someone was watching out for him and that someone cared. After one week of classes, Joseph was excited to learn and engage with the material.

In the coming months, Joseph would learn how to construct furniture, such as tables and chairs. He gained confidence in using tools and creating items out of raw materials. Dai was able to see him grow as a student and as an individual.

In July of this year, Emily, Arise’s Creative Director, and I (Molly, the Sponsorship Director) went to the Matero Resource Center to meet with Joseph. Joseph had completed his carpentry program at the trade school and found a job, meaning he had officially completed our Sponsorship Program! Joseph was soft spoken and had a pretty serious demeanor. We presented him with a tool set and a new work uniform. Later in the afternoon Dai arranged for us to go to Dzithandizeni Trust Trades School to see where Joseph had attended his classes. As we pulled up into the workshop, Joseph immediately hopped out and began walking around this place that he was so evidently familiar with. You could see it in his body language, he felt comfortable and at home there. Joseph led us through a run down but colorful work environment to his studio. He began searching for the chairs and table that he created for his final project. Once again we could see his newfound excitement. He put on his new work uniform and beamed as Emily took photos of him standing next to the items he had created. 

“I’ve never seen him smile like that.”

Dai, Joseph’s Guidance Couneslor
Joseph Zulu, 2010
Joseph Zulu, 2021

We said goodbye to Joseph and watched him leave wearing his work suite, new tools in hand, and a sense of pride in who he was and who God had made him to be.

Joseph failed grade 9. He had many reasons to lose hope. God had bigger and better plans for his life. He said yes to new opportunities even if they weren’t the choice that society would have made for him. Joseph now has a job in a workshop, run by Mr. Tembo, the teacher that saw the potential that Joseph didn’t originally see in himself. God defines success in different ways and Joseph is a perfect picture of that!

Trade school is an opportunity for students to be equipped with skills that allow them to become responsible, independent, and self-sustaining individuals. God has big plans for our students’ lives. From pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medicine to learning about carpentry, God is purposeful and present in each path. 

Interested in playing a part in a student’s trade school or university experience? Click below to meet our graduates and see how God is impacting their futures!

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