This Sunday, February 21, is International Mother Language Day which was designated by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999 as part of a broader initiative “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.”
For 2021, this year’s theme is: Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society” which reflects UNESCO’s belief that “education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning.”
At Bread and Water for Africa®, we could not agree more.
We have seen such learning begin years before children are old enough to attend school at our partners’ children’s homes including the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya, the Kabwata Orphanage and Transit Centre in Zambia and the Lerato Children’s Village in Zimbabwe.
There, these orphaned and abandoned children — before they can read and write — first learn to speak in the language of their siblings and fellow tribal members.
Through speaking their mother tongue at the youngest age, they learn to ask questions, tell their caretakers what they need and, perhaps most importantly, express their feelings, whether they be of joy or sadness.
Among the focus of this year’s initiative is on early childhood education and care, which UNESCO defines as “the foundation for learning.”
And as we have seen first-hand many times through the work of our partners in sub-Saharan Africa —You are never too young to learn.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued travel advisories for Americans considering traveling to Zambia and Zimbabwe where Bread and Water for Africa® partners the Kabwata Orphanage and Transit Centre and the Lerato Children’s Village, respectively, operate.
Of course, we doubt that many Americans are planning on traveling to those two countries any time soon, it is worth noting that the CDC has given them it’s highest ranking, Level 4, meaning very high risk, and states “Travelers should avoid all travel to” Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As of February 1, the number of confirmed cases in Zambia is more than 56,000 with nearly 800 deaths, and more than 33,000 cases, and more than 1,200 deaths in Zimbabwe.
While those numbers may seem minuscule compared with other countries around in the world — including the United States — they are deceptively low.
For example, The Financial Times reported January 31 that “Covid deaths in Africa higher than official count, Zambia study suggests” which states, “A study of corpses in a Zambian morgue suggests that deaths from Covid-19 may have been routinely undercounted in the country, and by extension possibly elsewhere in Africa, challenging the view that the continent has avoided the worst effects of the pandemic.”
According to official records, just over 90,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Africa, which equates to about 4 percent of the global death toll in a continent that makes up 17 percent of the world’s population.
While several explanations have been advanced for Covid’s apparently low impact, including the continent’s youthful population, research by the Boston University School of Public Health suggests “that many Covid deaths simply have not been registered” casting doubt on the view that the coronavirus has “somehow skipped” Africa, reports the Financial Times.
“If our data are generalizable, the impact of Covid-19 in Africa has been vastly underestimated,” the authors of the study wrote.
At Bread and Water for Africa®, we are well aware of the devastating impacts the pandemic has had — and is having — on our partners there who are struggling with skyrocketing inflation causing prices for basic food staples to increase on practically a daily basis, making it a challenge to keep the orphans and abandoned children in their care fed.
But thanks to our supporters, we have been able to provide emergency funding for food to Kabwata and Lerato necessary not only to keep them from going hungry, but also safe and healthy and protect them from this unseen, and deadly, virus.
At the Kabawata Orphanage and Transit Centre in Zambia, our longtime partner Angela Miyanda. Its founder and director, is caring for 62 children –36 girls and 26 boys – all orphaned or abandoned and brought to her by the country’s Department of Social Welfare.
Among them is Amon, a 13-year-old 8th-grader who arrived there when he just 5 and began primary school the next year, likely highly unlikely for him without the love and dedication of Angela, and the financial assistance from the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa®, and who now has big dreams and is determined to make them a reality.
“When I finish school, I want to be an accountant,” says Amon. “So, I study very hard in all my subjects – especially in Mathematics!”
Like any teenage boy, he tells us he likes to play football (soccer), as well as read as many books as he can get his hands on, and even adds, “I also like to work.”
“The Kabwata orphanage has helped me a lot,” he said. “I have learned a lot of things like good behavior, respecting elderly people and loving the people who are around us.
“Here at Kabwata everyone is treated equally, and we are given everything we need like food, clothes, blankets and other things.
“I love this place because everyone is cared for and we live happy.”
And as for Angela who has transformed this young boy’s life as he transitions into successful adulthood:
“Kabwata is home to children in need and those who have no one they can depend on like Amon,” says Angela. “Today, our vision is beyond my grandest imagination because of the assistance we have received thanks to the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa®. Our home has become a place of refuge and also a ladder for them to step up on to achieve their dreams.”
“You have given hope to those in seemingly hopeless situations.”