Thandiwe Chama – Women in History

Thandiwe Chama – Women in History

Thandiwe was born in John Howard, one of the oldest and most populated areas in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia on February 15, 1991. Due to the numerous amounts of people living in the compound, poverty was very rampant, and there were very few resources. Zambia was also suffering from internal political turmoil, with a lot of people going against the then-sitting leader Kenneth Kaunda, who was later on ousted after the people of Zambia united against him. After Kaunda was removed from office, the country was left in state of poverty and turmoil, primarily due to the corruption that was prevalent in the last government’s regime.

Thandiwe was born to a poor family that had to work more than the intended hours just to survive in a day. Even at a young age, Thandiwe had to already learn how to work so she can help her mother and father in earning money. Life was very difficult, but Thandiwe’s parents made sure that Thandiwe would not suffer the same fate as they did by ensuring that she was able to go to school. And even though they had to sacrifice a lot to send their daughter to school, Thandiwe’s parents constantly encouraged her to study, even though she did not like doing it because she saw for herself all the hardships that her parents were going through for her to have education.

Back then, Thandiwe did not fully understand yet why her parents were willing to suffer so much to get her educated, but the moment she got enrolled into a local school, Thandiwe soon realized and understood the importance of having a proper education. Through being educated, Thandiwe witnessed the reality that children who were uneducated were most likely never going to escape the life of poverty and labor, especially in developing countries such as hers.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, Thandiwe studied rigorously, backed by the desire to get her family out of poverty and suffering. Soon enough, Thandiwe became among the best and the brightest students in her school, and was often praised by her teachers for her hard work and diligence in studying. Even back then, Thandiwe already exhibited the traits of being a leader by speaking in various school events and leading her classmates through various activities that the school had. As she went further in her education, Thandiwe became more and more secure that she was on to a brighter future.

The Protest for Education a Success

But in 1999, tragedy struck. When some teachers from her school was reported to have died from HIV, the school was closed down due to having a lack of teachers. It was truly a trying time for Thandiwe and her fellow classmates, as the school which she saw her future being molded in became an empty shell of broken dreams. Thandiwe knew that if she did not do something, there was a huge possibility that she would grow up to become just another housewife who knew only cooking and cleaning, which would open a door for abuse and mistreatment.

Not wanting to suffer the same fate as most of the women in her country, Thandiwe courageously stood up in the midst of the problem and encouraged her fellow classmates to fight for their right to be educated. She led a group of sixty students in a protest march so they can find another school. The protest was a success, and soon enough the students found hope after being transferred to the Jack Cecup School, a learning institute that was originally designed for orphans. When she was interviewed many years later, Thandiwe recalled this moment:

“When I was eight years old, I learned an important lesson: it is important to fight for your rights. At that time, our school was closed down because there were no teachers left. I couldn’t believe this, so together with 60 other children from my school, we went off on foot to find a new school. I said that we wanted to be schooled, and it worked. We were all admitted to the Jack CECUP School.”

Initially, Thandiwe and her classmates had difficulty in studying in the Jack Cecup School because of the lack of resources and places to study. The place was not very organized, and the students were forced to sit outside, ‘burning’ in the hot sun because there were not enough rooms for them. Not wanting this kind of suffering to continue, Thandiwe garnered support from her classmates and the teachers of the school so they could request for a new building to be set up. She said in an interview:

“After having seen the extent to which I could influence our environment, I went to a government official to plead for a new building, so that the children did not have to study outside in the hot sun anymore.”

Fighting for the Rights of People with AIDS and HIV

The plea for a new building was a success, and soon enough the local government made preparations for the construction of a new school building. Realizing the influence that she had because she was willing to stand up for her rights, and the millions of other children suffering the same fate as she did, Thandiwe birthed a desire on the inside of her to fight for the rights of other children. From that time on, Thandiwe started helping other children by working with local organizations that promoted the rights of children, as well as through setting up various learning sessions with kids who could not afford to go to school.

For the next decade, Thandiwe tirelessly studied and helped other children at the same time. Realizing the effect of HIV and AIDS on children, Thandiwe and a friend wrote and illustrated a booklet which they entitled “The Chicken with AIDS”, which told both adults and children of the dangers of HIV and AIDS. Thandiwe has also joined several organizations that fights against HIV and AIDS and has spoken in numerous events to adult audiences for them to understand just how deadly these diseases are. In fact, Thandiwe was actually known to speak to churches about the topic of HIV and AIDS, something that most churches are not so free in discussing.

International Children’s Peace Prize Winner

In 2007, Thandiwe defeated twenty eight other nominees worldwide and won the International Children’s Peace Prize, which was presented to her by Betty Williams, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and Bob Geldof, the initiator of Live8. The awarding ceremony was broadcasted in Holland through various news agencies, which brought Thandiwe to the attention of the international media. In fact, when she returned to Zambia, the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation was already at the airport awaiting her arrival. She gave several interviews, where she expressed her hopes that more land would be given for the construction of more school buildings in the country.
A Library in Honor of Thandiwe

Upon her return to Zambia, Thandiwe was honoured and given an award by the government for her undying efforts in promoting education for children in the country. She was also invited to speak at an event where the Zambian Minister of Youth, Sports and Child Development was going to attend, where Thandiwe discussed on the important issues about children’s rights and education. The minister was moved by Thandiwe’s speech and promised to make sure the government hears of these issues.

Sometime also in September 2008, after the speech Thandiwe gave to the Children’s Peace Prize ceremony, two companies made a pledge to build a library in honor of Thandiwe and the Jack Cecup School. Biblionef provided the books, while Z@ppelin gave the school a television set and a DVD player. That same year, Thandiwe was invited at the Global Youth Peace Initiative in Norway as a guest speaker. She was also invited by UNICEF as the Zambian representative during the youth forum that they initiated, entitled “SPEAK AFRICA.”

Today, Thandiwe continues her fight for the children of her country. She knows that there is still a lot of work to be done, but is confident that as more and more children are educated, more of them will stand up and become society changers, building a brighter future not just for Zambia, but also worldwide.

Thandiwe’s attitude towards life is an inspiration to all of us who seek to do something significant in this world. The key is simple: know what is worth fighting for, and stand for it.

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