Susiku’s passion for HIV mitigation and education

Susiku Mwana’gombe has led an extraordinary life since embarking on a programme to help people living with HIV and orphaned children in Zambia’s tourist city, Livingstone.

Susiku Mwana’gombe has led an extraordinary life since embarking on a programme to help people living with HIV and orphaned children in Zambia’s tourist city, Livingstone.

Mwana’ngombe, who is 40 and based in Ngwenya township, has turned her home into a centre to educate orphaned children at an early age and later takes them to other schools for higher education.

She also provides nutritional care for people living with HIV.

She said: “I came here in 2006 and discovered that a lot of households were run by very old people and adolescents because many adults of my generation had passed on, mainly due to HIV related illnesses. This created a gap which saw the aged not being able to look after the young ones, due to lack of strength and government support. So I decided to start the Tutalike Life Begins project, focusing on early education, nutrition and healthcare for people living with HIV and AIDS.”

The name “Tutalike” means “Let us start” in the local Tonga dialect. The project is occasionally assisted by government but depends on a local tour operator, Zig-Zag Lodge, for funding.

Mwana’ngombe said that through the project she enables some households to buy food, because she does not want to break the family bond by taking children into orphanages.

“We believe in providing for the needs of the vulnerable families as opposed to taking children away,” she said.

Education empowers children

The project assists about 550 households and 105 children, who are educated in their early grades. Later, Mwana’ngombe sends them to other schools before they can join colleges.

“Fourteen orphaned children are at Rainbow School of Kings, a private school, because we believe a vulnerable child should be empowered with an education,” she said. “It is better than feeding them or taking them to a community school which will never change their lives. So to make a difference in future for the children we empower them with a quality education.

“We also strive to re-introduce children as old as 14, who may have stopped going to school, back into the educational system.”

According to Mwana’ngombe, Tutalike Life Begins goes a mile further, even providing shelter to elderly people who have no children to support them. “We build houses where needed as we believe in restoring any situation,” she said.

Illegal bars hamper HIV response

Mwana’ngombe says that although Livingstone has recorded a drop in prevalence, from 32 per cent to 25.3 per cent, efforts to reduce new HIV infections in the township are hampered by brothels and illegal bars, known as shabeens. Meanwhile, the children of Ngwenya do not have access to recreational facilities as most land space is taken up by shabeens.

She said: “This community has a lot of shabeens and the council has failed to regulate them. There is a lot of noise pollution and children find it very difficult to concentrate on education, due to the noise. A lot of children are found engaging in bad vices such as misuse of drugs and alcohol because there are no recreation facilities for them. The only places they are able to go are bars.”

Mwana’ngombe said in order to keep the girls busy and active, she has formed a choral group and an entertainment group of majorettes.

When Livingstone City Council was asked what they are planning to do about the issue of shabeens, public relations manager Emmanuel Sikanyika said the government will soon carry out a raid to close down unregistered guest houses and bars trading without liquor licences.

Read about the progress Zambia is making in the HIV response