Postcard From Africa: Poor work to pay off the West

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The Independent Online
THEY name businesses after proverbs in Zambia. To find Joyce Besa, you thread your way down the alleys of Misisi shanty-town in the capital, Lusaka, until you find the Jealous People Never Win hairdresser. Turn left and next look out for the Change Is The Key hardware store. Just next door is the tailoring centre where Joyce works as a seamstress.

Materials are provided by the Dutch Reform Church, which buys the duffel bags made by the young women at the training centre. Joyce, a young widow, was trained there for two years, but now she is one of the staff.

She makes enough to buy her family one meal of rough maize porridge a day. But there is not enough to pay for clinic fees if either of her children is ill. Nor is there enough to pay the fees for both to go to school.

Five years ago these services were free, but charges have been introduced by the government under an IMF-inspired economic structural adjustment programme (SAP).

The school fees are around pounds 8 a year, payable in advance. That's three months wages for Joyce. It took her five years to save enough - with extra for uniform and shoes - to send her eldest daughter. But this year the 12-year-old started in the class she should have joined when she was seven. Her sister, like 70 per cent of the children in the compound, has never been to school. "The situation is getting constantly worse," says David Gwenani, a volunteer Justice & Peace worker with the Zambian Catholic Church.

Like activists all over the country, he collects statistics about what people eat, the state of their health and their education, then forwards the figures to the Church's SAP monitoring project.

Ironically, it could not operate without being funded from the UK by the Catholic aid agency, Cafod.

Partnership is essential in these matters. Perhaps it should change its name to another local proverb: You Can't Crush A Louse With One Finger.