When Elizabeth passed with the highest marks in the whole of Nyimba district during her Grade 7 examinations, her parents couldn’t have been more proud of their daughter’s achievement. All was set for her to attend an all-girls boarding school in Chipata, Zambia, but what started as a business trip from Nyimba to Lusaka for Elizabeth’s mother took an unfortunate turn when she was involved in a road accident. “My father used all the money he had reserved for my school to foot my mother’s medical bills, as she had sustained several internal injuries. This took a toll not only on our family’s finances but my education, too,” she said. Not only did Elizabeth report late for school, but due to financial constraints, she couldn’t afford groceries and quickly developed health complications due to poor nutrition. When her young sister qualified for secondary school two years later, her father could not afford to pay for both girls. Fearing she would have to drop out of school, Elizabeth moved to Lusaka where she lived with her uncle and continued her studies.
But her new school was not what she expected. The girls there were in constant competition with each other which made Elizabeth grow timid. She thought she could never fit in with the others, and it affected her self-esteem. She shied away from speaking up in class even when she knew she was right. Then, an afternoon visit to a Lubuto Library near her home changed everything. DREAMS facilitators were recruiting girls for the DREAMS mentoring program at the library and signed her up for DREAMS. After attending the DREAMS mentoring sessions and learning about self-esteem and what it meant to be assertive versus passive or aggressive, the change was evident. Soon her teachers noticed that she was speaking up more and she had become more confident. “I found inspiration to speak up in DREAMS books like ‘I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World’ and ‘I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’,” said Elizabeth. “I constantly ask myself, if these young women took a stand and changed history why can’t I? I still remember when we went to Parliament on a DREAMS field trip. I saw a woman working there. I asked myself, if she made it why can’t I? I believe where I’m coming from doesn’t matter; what matters is where am going,” Elizabeth added.
Elizabeth is determined to share what she has learned with other girls and young women in her community. Elizabeth’s sister fell pregnant and won’t be able to sit for her examinations this year. Her parents believe there’s no point now in continuing to pay for her schooling. This makes Elizabeth sad, but she hasn’t given up on her sister: “As a DREAMS peer mentor I am now determined to go back home to Nyimba and share what I have learnt in the DREAMS program with the girls there, especially my sister who needs to go back to school. I want to teach them about resilience – about them getting back up when life knocks them down. When you have knowledge there is no point keeping it to yourself, I am ready to go back home and take a stand.”