Zulu Lyford

Village Social Worker SOS Children’s Villages in Zambia
Photo: Alexandre Pires Moreira Rocha

Walking on the positive side of life. A story about quality care in Zambia.

During my early days in SOS Children’s Villages Zambia, the village social worker briefed me about one child in the family house who had no interest in school, his academic performance was very poor, he was fond of bullying other children, didn’t like doing his house chores and was giving his mother a hard time. The counselling which he was being given was not yielding any positive results. I visited his mother so that I could get more information but there was nothing new. I decided to come up with a way of linking up with this youth so that he should not see me as an authority but as a peer and role model.

One day while I was visiting family houses, I saw Katongo1 playing chess with his friend. I immediately decided to grab the opportunity by walking over to them and asking if I could join them. I told them that I was feeling very bored at the office and that I was looking for a way to pass the time. They welcomed me and, after playing a few games, they discovered that I was very good at the game. This made Katongo very happy and he asked if I could play chess with him more often. This was a very big breakthrough for me and marked the beginning of our journey.

You orphan …!
I subsequently discovered that Katongo was a highly gifted football player and I started following him to the football pitch. Then one day while playing football with the children from the surrounding community, Katongo injured one of them and he told Katongo, ”wanchena wemwana wanshiwa iwe.” Meaning, ”you orphan, you have hurt me.” This drove Katongo mad and he started fighting with the boy. I was forced to run onto the pitch to separate them. I took Katongo to my office and gave him water to drink. After he calmed down, I asked him what made him react like that. He responded by asking me if it was his fault for losing his parents. I assured him that I did not think it was his fault and that his friend was insensitive and weak-minded to think that his situation was better than Katongo’s.

Despite having both parents, his friend was living in a crowded house with no electricity and no flushable toilet and his parents could not afford to provide decent meals or clothing or send their children to school. I told Katongo that as much as I sympathised with him, there was nothing he could do to bring his parents back. I encouraged him instead to develop a positive attitude and look at the house, brothers and sisters, the mothers, father, uncles and aunties and, above all, the education as a great advantage over his friend’s situation. I tried to make him understand that he was less vulnerable than his friend.

The golden opportunity
One day I heard a knock on the door and went to check who was knocking. I was so surprised to find that it was one of our famous sports journalists. However, he seemed very angry and told me that he was looking for Katongo’s uncle. I became worried that my youth might have committed a crime. I told him that I was the uncle and asked him if I could be of help to him. He explained how he had watched Katongo during a football tournament and became impressed with his talent. He was however, very disappointed by the boy’s lack of interest in becoming connected to one of the big local football clubs. He gave me some names of players in the national team whose talents he had identified from the grass roots. I saw this as a golden opportunity for the young boy in our care and assured the journalist that if he could come back the following day, I would convince Katongo to take up the offer.

Uncle I am going to surprise you
In the evening, I sat down with Katongo and tried to make him understand that this was a golden opportunity for him and that he should not hesitate to grab it. He just answered that he did not want to play football but wanted to focus on his education and go to college. I decided to be very frank and reminded him that he was not very gifted academically. I gave him examples of people who were very successful in life despite their humble education. He just smiled at me and said, “Uncle I am going to surprise you by passing my high school final exams and getting my college certificate”. I assured him that I would be the last person to be surprised if he completed his education and went to university. I told him that I knew of many people in this world who had become very successful despite the whole world not having imagined that they could succeed. I said to him, “If going to college is what you want and you are determined to work harder, then you have my full support”.

One day I noticed that the light was on in the living room because I used to live in the same house with the young people. I went to check and found Katongo reading his book. This was not the first time I had noticed him studying after midnight. He always spent longer hours reading than the rest of the young boys in the house but his performance was always the poorest. So I asked him to relax and go to bed. After 30 minutes, I noticed that the light was still on. I went back and asked him to switch off the light. He just said, ”If it is the electricity you are worried about, you should take it from my allowance.” I said, “Switch off the light, go to bed and we will talk tomorrow.” When I saw that he was reluctant to obey my instruction, I just switched off the light and he went to bed.

The following day in the morning I tried to greet him but he just ignored me. Then I noticed that he was taking his frustration out on the other young boys. After we finished our supper, I asked him to come to my room. When he came, I asked him if he was upset with me. He told me that he was not happy with the way I had treated him the previous night. He said that he couldn’t understand why I could not allow him to study despite his assurance that he would pay for the electricity. I said to him, “I did not see you studying but saw you panicking.” Then I decided to share some techniques with him to help improve his memory.

Was it a wrong decision I made?
Unfortunately, when the time came to write his final examination, he was unable to get the necessary grades to enable him to be admitted to college. This affected him very badly. He told me that he felt as though he had made a terrible decision by choosing education over football. I assured him that I was convinced that he had made a very good choice to follow his dream. I was able to encourage him to repeat and give it another try. He repeated and sat the exams again. Unfortunately, he still failed to get the required marks to go to college. However, the marks were better than the previous ones. I then encouraged him to apply for a trade test at our vocational training centre. He agreed to be enrolled and managed to graduate. He subsequently used his trade test certificate to enter college and graduated after two years with a craft certificate in power electricals. He is currently working as a freelance electrician and is happily married.

1 Original name has been changed to maintain confidentiality

Zulu Lyford

is Village Social Worker at SOS Children’s Villages in Zambia and is based in Lusaka.

Lyford has always been committed to improving the wellbeing of disadvantaged people and his work has been the realisation of this passion. He finds it fulfilling to know that his actions have a positive influence on people’s lives.

Lyford is married with two sons. He makes sure he spends quality time with them because he knows what it means for children to grow up without their parents. Lyford is a soccer fan and loves going to the stadium to watch local football teams at the weekend. He also has a passion for books.

Lyford lives in the capital city Lusaka, a city that constantly grows due to rural exodus. This has led to increased numbers of street children. Zambia is a vast country filled with wildlife, rivers and lakes. It consists for the most part of a high plateau, with an average height between 1060 and 1360 meters above sea level. It is the home of the Victoria Falls which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.