St Albans man takes over as chair of trustees helping orphans in Zambia

St Albans resident Garnet Mulomo has taken over as chair of trustees for Zambia Orphans Aid

St Albans resident Garnet Mulomo has taken over as chair of trustees for Zambia Orphans Aid - Credit: ZOA

A St Albans man is "honoured" to have taken over as chair of trustees for a charity helping orphans in Zambia.

Zambia Orphans Aid (ZOA) was founded by Dr Shimwaayi Muntemba as a response to the AIDS crisis that hit the country and left many children orphaned.

Garnet, a British Zambian who was born in Chingola, said that he is “honoured to have been invited” to lead ZOA's response and praised the hands-on approach that the organisation takes.

With his mother and many members of his family still living in Zambia, Garnet has maintained strong links with the country and has been working on expanding his Zambian network.

Having previously worked with a different organisation which also helped Zambian orphans, Garnet was introduced to ZOA and the work they were doing resonated with him, as he felt they were going "to the heart of the problem".

Through his experience in construction, Garnet, who has a masters in Construction Management from Leeds University, has already played a major role in the work of ZOA since he became a trustee three years ago: working on some of ZOAs infrastructure projects, including the building of vital toilet facilities and boarding houses at schools in Zambia.

The St Albans resident has echoed this focus on education since taking on his new role, identifying it as “one of the most sustainable ways we can support an orphaned child” and as having “the biggest long-term impact”.

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In Twavwane School, Garnet explained, there are 100 children crammed into a 5m by 6m classroom, so work is being done to build new classrooms.

He also recognises that the approach taken in giving access to education is diverse and gave an example of a successful menstrual hygiene initiative which was run 18 months ago.

Garnet explained that the programme was educating “not just the girls, but the boys and community leaders to increase understanding that it’s not taboo, that it’s just natural” and that since the initiative “there’s evidence that the girls who were staying at home at that time of the month are now coming to school”.

He also identified international development charities, such as ZOA, as being vital in reversing the first rise in global poverty since 1998, which has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "A story that touched me came from our partner, Twavwane School. The kids are supposed to come to the school for education but they also they come to be fed.

"A little girl of about six always kept her egg that she was given as part of her breakfast at school in the morning. The teachers noticed this and tried to get to the bottom of it. They found that the girl was taking the egg home for her little brother because he didn’t have anything to eat at home and was too young to go to school.

"Hearing this story really tugs at my heart strings and shows how far reaching we can be. The impact isn’t just directly on the ones at school but the help is reaching into their homes."

Looking forward, Garnet wishes to help in a sustained way, “supporting the children in the long-term until they can stand on their own two feet”. In Chibolya, Kafue, a community school has built a vegetable plot and started fish farming, which ZOA are helping with so that they can begin to support themselves and do not have to rely on the aid of others.

Through this process of helping in a sustainable way, he says, there is a tendency for the children who have been helped to want to give back.

Upon stepping down as chair after 15 years, Garnet’s predecessor, Lord Turnbull, said that he has “witnessed the difference that going to school has had on the lives of the young people we work with” and that he knows “that Garnet will continue to help change the future for many more children in Zambia".

In 2019/20, ZOA supported 2,000 children through supplying uniforms and books, tuition and exam fees, nutritious school meals and helping school leavers find vocational training opportunities.

Garnet said: "I'm taking over at a time when we have some real challenges ahead of us. Because of the coronavirus pandemic we're seeing the first rise in global poverty since 1998.

"But I believe that small international development charities, like ZOA, are absolutely vital in reversing this trend."