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ambia Workshop - Chishawasha Students' Portrait

Below you find some background information to each one of my twelve students... they are all wonderful individuals!


Thokodzile Kauma was born to Jane Mulenga and Nelson Kauma. She doesn't remember much about her father who died when she was five. By the time Thoko was twelve, her mom developed “a swollen leg that just wouldn't heal,” leading to her death in 2001. A friend of Thoko’s family brought the girl’s situation to the attention of Kathe Padilla who had just started an orphanage. She was the first child to move in with Kathe, when 'Chishawasha’ was merely a rental residence in Lusaka. At Chishawasha, in school and during our workshop, Thoko stands out as mature well beyond her seventeen years of age. She has a gentle, private demeanor, especially when she speaks English. As soon as she speaks Nyanja, her voice comes down two octaves and displays an inner force that fully explains her easy and mischievous smile. Her self-described hobbies are "making people happy, playing sports, reading, mixing with everyone, singing - though I can't sing very well - and listening to Gospel music.” Thokodzile says of her aspirations: “I really miss my parents very much. When I do very well in school, I wish they could see what I am able to do as their only girl child. I would like to study law. This is the profession that - in my heart - I think of most of the time."

Mary Paxina Makunda is fifteen years old at the time of this workshop. Having spent five years at Chishawasha gives her seniority. She knows how to navigate her multiple roles: teenage girl, group leader, soon-to-be independent grown-up. In 1995, her dad Mwelwa, a pilot, fell sick while visiting his parents. He never returned home and died in their care, in all likelihood of AIDS. Three years later, his wife Patricia, a secretary, died as well. Relatives took in Mary and her brother John as a pretense to gain control of their inheritance. They took most of the property and sold the family house. This is not an uncommon pattern, which can leave even “better-off” Zambian orphans with little to nothing. So Mary knows what’s what by now. She likes her “school time, especially English, history, science, French and religious education.” She doesn't like: "playing, because I don't benefit from it." Thank God for her hobbies then… they are dancing, modeling and listening to Zambian and Gospel music. Mary is inspired by journalism. "I like the way they inform the world on what is happening in other countries. I also hear that journalists speak proper English. I think that I am one of those".

Charles Chikuni is a hard worker. When an assignment makes sense to him, he projects confidence and wants to be in charge. His favorite subjects are math, science and English. He likes reading books about technology and has a real knack for recycling electronic parts. CD player fragments wildly wired to batteries, stripped-down radio speakers held in place by remnants of electrical tape - all suggests he runs an intensive electronics workshop from his second story bunk bed. At eighteen Charles has now lived at Chishawasa for four years. His brother lives with a wife and children in Lusaka. Charles lived with them for two years following the death of his mother, but Chishawasha was an appealing educational opportunity for Charles, as the organization attempts to fund higher education for students who excel academically. Charles’ soccer buddies know him as an excellent team player, but the girls I paired him up with during our workshop were telling a somewhat different story. He much preferred calling the shots. Perhaps he is simply more comfortable behind the camera - not in front of it. He surely means well and I suspect he will soon outgrow this peculiar stage in a young man’s life.

Peter Sakala Lunghu attends Chishawasha's school, and so do his brother and sister. They are double orphans, but live with their aunt and her two kids in a nearby village. At eleven years of age, Peter has fond memories of his parents and misses them a lot. They left behind a large but somewhat spread-out family. Peter's a bright kid and very diligent at school. He is good in math and sciences; at home he likes shepherding his goats and building toy cars of wire. He wants to become a teacher, a scientist or a soldier. That's because he doesn't like quarreling and believes the world needs more peace. Peter's aunt works as a cook for a member of parliament, but her small cinderblock house is as overcrowded as the next one, with one of the rooms rented out to make ends meet. English was Peter’s biggest challenge during our workshop. Zambian kids are expected to defer to adults; when in doubt they tend to just say, “Yes.” So Peter’s understanding of our workshop assignments wasn’t easy to gage until I saw the first mystery results coming in. After providing him more translating help, Peter stuck it out and took some excellent photographs. He “enjoyed learning something entirely new “to him and “found working with cameras and film an encouraging thing to do.”

Mwewa Mwamba’s parents are deceased. His father was a copper miner when a shaft collapsed on him. His mother, a businesswoman, took good care of the family until she fell ill and died. She left behind two daughters and her seven year old son Mwewa. Their grandma took him in. She’s widowed and sick today. Five of her seven children have left the household, but now she cares for Mwewa, one of his sisters and two more cousins. Two dogs watch over their property. According to Mwewa, the mom of one of the dogs “committed suicide,” but that's another story. At age thirteen Mwewa is a true extrovert. His go-get-it attitude make him quite different from most kids in my group. He’s man enough to wear hot pink girl slippers for soccer, showing no concern over the barefoot village boys' teasing. Guess who will have the last laugh - outrunning them! Seeing how Chishawasha kids eat healthily, wear well-kept clothing and live family style, Mwewa made it his pet project to become an honorary resident during our workshop; eventually he had to be sent back home with some determination. Mwewa's workshop photography is just like his personality: inventive and flexible. He much enjoyed teaching others and is very eager to continue taking photographs.

Bobsisa Saubateli is overcoming TB at the time of our workshop. Treatment is tiresome, and at age thirteen he's equally weary of waiting for the physical changes a boy his age wants to see. He is ready - and he'll surely get there before too long. Bobsi would like to be a journalist some day: "What inspires me is the way they collect information." So let’s see what we can do here… Bobsi's father and his mother Sarah died from AIDS-related complications. Bobsi’s brother and a sister also died. Some years back, Bobsi's grandmother was one of the few people who came out to the community, announcing she had AIDS. Zambia's current and public retroviral drug programs are making inroads, but AIDS is rarely called by its name. After Bobsi’s parents died, his Grandmother took him in. Bobsi’s cousin Anastasia was in the same boat. Unfortunately both were frequently beaten by a family member; at some point Bobsi was thrown out and told to never come back. Chishawasha first took Bobsi in, then Anastasia. Bobsi calls her his ‘sister’. This makes sense considering their shared fate, but is also symptomatic: Within Zambia’s greatly overextended families, an understanding of the various blood relations requires true investigative journalism. Go Bobsi!

Amos Chindalu has been at Chishawasha for less than a year. He was born to Veronica Tembo and Paul Chindalu. He can remember the time when his father became sick and died, but he doesn't know what was wrong with him. He had a sister who also died. After his mother's more recent death he stayed with his uncle's family for a brief period of time before coming to Chishawasha. At age thirteen, Amos still enjoys being the cute little boy he is. He wears his heart on his sleeve and one can tell he's on his way to become a thoughtful and gentle teenager. But he’s also quite aware of the advantages a junior position brings within Chishawasha’s family-style groups of ‘siblings’ and their caretaker ‘mommies’. He can pull a truly hilarious “I’m only a little boy” number whenever it might serve his needs. Amos doesn't like fighting, so it’s only a good thing he knows how to fully employ his charms. Amos’ professional aspirations are diverse but not exclusive of each other. "I want to be an accountant. I want to learn how to count money. I also want to learn how to fly a plane. I have also learned how exciting it is to work with cameras. I think it is very challenging. Glad to work along with you." Same here Amos - same here!

Nicolas Banda is an old soul in a thirteen-year-old boy’s body. Unless you see him on the soccer field, where he is fierce, he has a heart of gold, quietly looks out for others and rarely demands a lot of attention. Nico’s aspirations are a good match to his caring demeanor. He hopes to be a pastor one day, heal people and teach them. His self-professed hobbies are reading and writing. According to a little questionnaire the workshop students filled out, Nico likes “schooling,” doesn't like “playing,” and what he misses most (I suppose while playing) is “learning.” Does that sound like an over-achiever or what? Nico doesn't remember his mom - not her name nor a reason for her death. His dad followed her soon. At the time, an uncle took in Nico and his two cousins Annette and Charles. All of them now live at Chishawasha. Nico’s remaining family live at Ng’ombe compound, one of the typically poor Lusaka neighborhoods, a tightly parceled collection of mud roads, mud brick dwellings and corrugated steel. We visited them during a workshop assignment that explored the student’s local family ties. Nico’s uncle lives with his wife and several children in a somewhat new small cinderblock house. Their relationship with Nico seemed to be mutual, outgoing and supportive.

Annette Banda was born to Charles and Iris Banda. Her father died when she was a small child, so she remembers only her mother who died by the time she was six years old. Annette’s older brother lives with their grandmother in a different town and her older sister lives with an aunt in Lusaka. Annette is also Nico's older cousin. Nico and Annette have a common aunt and uncle; they live with their son and two daughters, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren - all in one dwelling at Ng’ombe compound. At fourteen years of age during our workshop, Annette is one of the most consistent and visually mature workshop photographers. She makes every assignment count and projects a calm competence that makes her a popular assignment partner. Annette enjoys school even though she dislikes having to sit still every day. Her hobbies are dancing, singing and making friends; she pursues it all with a personable style and much talent. Annette would like to learn a profession that can benefit the poor. More specifically she's interested in learning how to make magazines. She much hoped her workshop photos would be seen in a magazine - an aspiration fully realized when our photos were published in Smithsonian Magazine! One aspiration down, two more to go…

Monica Phiri’s head may be in the clouds at times, but she’s a sweetheart with her own sense of direction. Monica was born to Isaac Phiri and his wife Lontia. Both died of reasons unknown to her. She remembers them well; she used to study the Koran with her father. Her grandfather who is also a Muslim, is a homebuilder by profession. His white beard and a white hand-knit skullcap make him a very handsome man. When we visited her grandparents’ home in Ng’ombe, Monica surprised us with their affectionate relationship. This was encouraging to see and not at all the rule when it comes to the family ties of orphans. For obvious reasons, many carry heavy baggage from painful experiences with less caring relatives. Monica’s younger cousins - at least four of them in number - are cared for by these two elderly grandparents. Even though Monica is well adjusted and much liked at Chishawasha, she misses living with family. At only twelve years old during our photography workshop, Monica spreads around lots of sunshine. Like many of Chishawasha’s kids, she is an amazing dancer. Whenever she’s dancing she becomes her own senior by at least three years. Monica hopes to work with orphans one day or to become a professional nurse helping the sick.

Charity Nduluvu’s sister Peggy arrived at Chishawasha in 2001, maintaining that her mom had suddenly died and that there were no siblings. She lived with Kathe - the weird white woman - for some months until she found it a safe place for her younger siblings Sharon and Charity. A family of ten when their latest baby died of AIDS, Charity’s parents were forced to realize they were HIV positive. Charity's dad died soon thereafter. Then her mom fell ill. Foreseeing her fate, she sent Charity off to an orphanage. Eventually she died. Charity only found out well after the fact and was reluctant to accept the circumstances of her loss. Even today Charity quotes “high blood pressure” as the reason for her mom's “sudden” death. It's hard enough to lose both parents, but Charity also feared losing her ties to her siblings. She refused to return to the orphanage and lived instead with her brothers. However, she was the only girl at home and soon wanted to join her sisters at Chishawasha. It took two years before Chishawasha gained the additional capacity to take her in as well. Charity loves babies, and taking care of them gives her comfort and pleasure. At 14 years of age one can see her ‘play baby’ with dolls. Inspired by an aunt of hers, she hopes to be a nurse one day.

Faustina Kumuenda shares readily about her private life. She is talkative and has an endearing way of stretching her English vowels. At age thirteen, Faustina is not an orphan, but her story is a sad one nonetheless. Her mother Florence gave birth to seven children - only three of whom survived. When Florence became ill with epilepsy, Faustina's father abandoned the family for a new wife. Suffering now from schizoid episodes, Florence imagines Faustina to be one of her more recently deceased daughters. Florence lives in the care of her sisters and brothers, in very poor conditions. When we visited their home she was weak and wary. No doubt the aunts already have children and family to worry about. One of Faustina’s aunts took her children and left after her husband had taken to beating her. Faustina's two brothers live at home. They don’t attend a school. No one makes them go – no one pays for their school materials or uniforms. Understandably, Faustina really tries to figure out how much trust she can put into her newfound home at Chishawasha. Will they be there for her no matter what may happen next? Faustina's hobbies are singing, dancing and reading. She would like to be a doctor one day, or maybe a teacher - some profession that can help other kids.

All text and images © Copyright 2009 by Klaus Schoenwiese - Usage by permission only

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