A glimmer of hope when times are tough

For 13-year-old Natasha, attending school and gaining an education means the hope of a better life.

Back to all stories | Posted on 27 January 22 in Zoom Into ZambiaChildren's stories

Natasha dreams of one day becoming a teacher, just like the ones she looks up to at her primary school in Zambia.

Like many other children enrolled in school feeding programmes, the classroom is a safe haven for Natasha as she is guaranteed a daily nutritious meal, fuelling her drive to learn.

“I like coming to school because I want to learn,” she says. “I want to lead a better life. I want to become a teacher because I look up to my teachers.

“I get to school at 10:00. I enjoy the porridge at break time and I’m no longer hungry after eating it. I feel better.”

Life outside of school is not without its challenges for Natasha. She has sickle cell disease; an inherited health condition which causes her legs to swell and gives her constant back pain. Most of the time, Natasha can live a normal life, but the condition causes her to have serious attacks – her most recent attack was last year – meaning she can sometimes miss out on school. The illness also means that she requires medical attention in hospital where she receives blood transfusions.

Natasha never knew her father and was orphaned at 10 months old when her mother passed away, so she lives in a two-roomed flat with her grandmother.

Food is scarce. On her return from school, Natasha collects water while her grandmother prepares supper. Other days, they beg for food. To be able to afford maize, Natasha and her grandmother sell tomatoes, vegetables and charcoal. Natasha also washes plates for her neighbours at the weekend to make some extra money.

Natasha says: “I wake up at 6:00am, sweep the house, fetch water and clean plates. Then I eat some porridge. Sometimes, when we have enough money to buy maize, I’m sent to the grinding mill to grind flour for mealie mill. Sometimes, I come to school without eating anything and it’s easier to concentrate after the porridge.”

Natasha is one of the hundreds of thousands of children who is served Mary’s Meals at a place of education in Zambia. Their daily bowl of maize and soya porridge, which is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, gives them the chance to unlock a better life where they can learn and grow without the struggles of hunger and poverty.