Literacy and agroecology campaign trains 700 peasants in Zambia

With the objective of covering 10 thousand Zambian peasants, this first phase of the Campaign plans to conclude with 2000 literate people
Literacy and agroecology campaign trains 700 peasants in Zambia. Photo: Iris Pacheco

By Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade
From the MST Page

The graduation of the first groups contemplated in this first phase of the Fred M’membe Literacy and Agroecology Campaign took place Saturday, November 27th. It was a sunny day in the community of Mshekela, in the municipality of Kasenengwa, where the official political graduation ceremony was held.

The groups formed mostly by women, arrived excited, singing in one of the Zambian languages ​​and dancing in celebration of the journey to this great moment. Everyone there had a single certainty, in addition to rekindling internationalist solidarity, hope and resistance among the African peoples were reaffirmed. Altogether, about 700 peasants from the Eastern Province region completed this first phase.

The political event was attended by important Zambian authorities. Among them, the president of the Socialist Party of Zambia, Fred M’membe, who pointed out the great challenge that is in the continuity of this initiative.

“For us it is a moment of joy and at the same time a moment of sadness. Joy that we are graduating our first students in the literacy campaign. Sadness in the sense that this is a drop in the ocean, there is still a lot of work to be done. You cannot be illiterate in this century and expect to have a normal life as a human being. It’s sad that our people are still illiterate today, can’t read prescriptions, can’t even send a basic electronic ID message or otherwise,” he reflected.

More than 50% of the Zambian population cannot speak, read or write English. Even though the country has more than 72 languages ​​originating, above all, from the Bantu migrations that gave rise to the diversity of peoples existing today in its territory. However, literacy in English is necessary so that the population can access services and basic rights in health, education and citizenship, among others.

With the objective of teaching 2,000 rural and urban workers to read and write in the country’s official language, English, the Campaign is coordinated by the Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade of the MST and by the Socialist Party (SP). Based on the method of speaking, reading and writing words and the world, it took place in three provinces of the country: Lusaka, Eastern and Western.

The national leader of the MST’s International Relations Collective (CRI), Cássia Bechara, commented on how symbolic this moment is to take place in the centenary of Paulo Freire, whose legacy guides the construction of the Zambian literacy method.

“It is very symbolic that the campaign started and ended its first classes in the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of our master Paulo Freire. She said: “It would be naive to expect the ruling classes to develop a form of education that would allow the oppressed classes to critically perceive social injustices.” So this is a very historic moment: the ceremony of the first 5 classes to graduate through the campaign! But we cannot and will not stop here! We have to complete all the classes on the spot and mobilize hundreds more next year!” she pointed out.

It’s always time to learn, it’s always time to teach

Created in 2018, with the contribution of many hands from Africa to Brazil, the Literacy and Agroecology Campaign started at the end of 2019, but the official implementation of the method began in 2020.

For almost two years, just in the Eastern Province, 48 classes were organized, with classes in 11 of the 18 municipalities in the region. They are: Malambo, Chipangali, Luangeni, Nyimba, Chadiza, Chasefu, Vubwi, Chipata, Mkaika, Petauke and Kasenengwa, where the graduation ceremony took place.

Pointing out these elements, Eastern Province campaign coordinator Serah Lungu stressed that “graduation from these five classes is symbolic of the graduation of all the other 48.” And she pointed out the challenge of expanding the initiative in the region in the next period. “Going into 2022, we hope to expand the program in these and other municipalities, which are quite vast. To achieve this, more and more teachers will need to be trained in the implementation of the method”, she said.

More than the graduation itself, it is essential to understand the process as a whole. Zambia, like most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, bears the structural impacts of a violent European colonization, associated with late liberation processes from the 60s and 70s.

The deficit in formal education affects mainly women. According to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), only 10% have completed secondary or higher education, 7% lower than that identified among men. Altogether, 54% of its population lives below the poverty line, and only 46% have access to clean water.

Considering the different realities, having the reference of initiatives by left-wing organizations in other countries and continents is essential to apprehend the lessons and challenges of building a specific method for the territory.

In this perspective, Paula França, MST activist and coordinator of the Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade, recalls that education is one of the areas of struggle in the history of the working class and is not disconnected from the construction of a new project for society that permeates production and reproduction of rural life with the production of healthy food.

“Based on lessons learned in campaigns carried out in Cuba and Nicaragua, but also in more recent ones such as Venezuela, and Bolivia, and even those of the MST as carried out in some parts of Brazil, in 2020, we started the campaign in Zambia not only to teach our people to speak, read and write words and the world, but also to modify our food production system with pesticides from the conventional capitalist way to healthy agroecology practices”, she highlighted.

It is important to face the class oppression and the inequalities that the capitalist system imposes on human beings, not only in the sphere of education, but in all other forms of struggle that take place to face the power of the ruling class. This is the case of the agroecology discussion, part of the Socialist Party’s effort to promote an improvement in the lives of the poorest population through healthy eating and income generation.

Agroecology is the way

According to official data from the Ministry of Land, 90% of land in Zambia is considered traditional land occupied by different peoples. At least more than 50% of its population live in the countryside and are the most affected by the structural social ills created by capitalism. Among them, climate change, in which temperatures and changes in rainfall can have serious repercussions on the livelihoods of this population.

In this sense, providing the peasant population with the discussion on agroecology as one of the central pillars of the Literacy Campaign is essential to transform the production and reproduction of life in these territories.

Graster Mundi, from the coordination of the Socialist Party’s agroecology front, said that having this axis in the campaign is “an opportunity to harmonize the struggles against the injustices inflicted on the poor by capitalism and its local agents, we sadly learn that the communities most affected by illiteracy are dominated by peasants who, in our opinion, deserve the attention of both literacy and agroecology.”

Therefore, creating development strategies based on a long-term look at possible scenarios to achieve an adequate and efficient model from the people and for the people is a way out.

The agronomist and MST activist, Priscila Facina Monnerat, shared how much the Landless Movement has transformed their territories through the agroecology. “We have transformed our lives and territories through agroecology, producing a large amount of food, which guarantees our livelihood and allows us to share with other people who have no land to plant and who in this moment of crisis are starving. Unlike capitalism that sows death, we sow life.”

Priscila also stated that one of the greatest symbols of life and our great heritage are seeds. And as part of the mistica and recognition of the effort of each student present at the event, the MST delivered a variety of Brazilian seeds so that the Zambians can plant and reap good results, as well as the initiatives of this great campaign.

Bikes for Zambia

During graduation, the first bicycles were also handed over to the Fred M’membe National Literacy and Agroecology Campaign Coordination to continue its work in the peasant territories of Zambia.

The bicycles delivered were acquired from the International Solidarity Campaign “Bicycles for Zambia”, whose objective is to support the literacy process and access to school in the country, an initiative that is also linked to training in agroecology, through peasant family farming.

Cycling is one of the main and most popular means of transport in Zambia and is essential to ensure the movement of the population across the country. However, those who do not have one, often need to walk between 15 and 30 km daily to get to school. The Bike Campaign for Zambia is on the move to benefit more than 10,000 Zambian peasants.

Zikomo kwambiri! Thank you! The feeling of gratitude on both sides that builds this great initiative of internationalist solidarity is mutual. “We will not rest until every human being in this country and around the world is free from illiteracy and we are grateful to the MST for the support given to this project, for the sacrifices they are making, for the solidarity that is being expressed in this. As we learn, as we gain experience in conducting literacy campaigns, we will also extend it to all of humanity,” concluded Fred M’embe.

Check out some photos from the end of this first stage (photos Iris Pacheco):

*Edited by Fernanda Alcântara