by Robert and Margaret Muir
Mission work commenced at Mambilima in the Luapula Province of Zambia 120 years ago. From small beginnings in an overgrown jungle area on the banks of the Luapula river, the work has progressed significantly. We joined the work in 1998 to assist with the centenary celebrations. Having seen the work and the need for help, we concluded that the Lord was leading us to assist at the mission.
Mission work was established at Mambilima in 1898 with the permission of the local chief, Kazembe. William Lammond, a Scottish missionary, first arrived there around 1906.
In 1910 the dreaded sleeping sickness struck the Luapula valley and the whole area was evacuated to Kalemba, many miles to the north. When the Lammond family returned to Mambilima in 1922, William began developing an educational programme that grew to include a school for children who were blind or disabled.
The culture and influence of witchcraft pervaded the whole country. As a result, children with physical disabilities were subject to superstition and hidden out of sight. William’s wife, Betty Lammond, and her sister, Meryl Shepherd, saw a great need to care for the children. They built teaching and residential accommodation, took the children into care and provided them with an education. Such were the attitudes at the time, that the villagers would not come near the premises and shunned the children.
Providing an Education
We are pleased to say it is now very different in the village. Work at the hospital was revitalised and a building programme commenced. There was a basic school built for children with physical disabilities. About 70 boys and girls, drawn from a 200km radius, lived in residential accommodation. The work at the mission is largely responsible for integrating all children and giving them an education according to each child’s ability. In the last two years, the schools have expanded and physically able children have been added to the classes. At present, 170 children attend the primary school, Grades 1-7, of whom around 70 have disabilities. The secondary school, Grades 8-12, has 350 students and 50 of those have physical disabilities. Only those with disabilities are boarders; all others are day scholars.
The inclusion of able-bodied children alongside those who are less able is working well. The children with disabilities need lots of physical assistance with wheelchairs, walking frames, splints and other aids. The children with no disabilities help those who are less able with their mobility. The residential care, especially of the younger children, is more demanding. There are many needs, including providing help with feeding and washing, and the array of equipment needed to overcome the physical obstacles they face. It is a big but important challenge for everyone involved to learn for themselves, and educate others in, all aspects of the physical, personal and educational needs of the children.
The spiritual needs of the children are catered for through an atmosphere where the love of God is demonstrated…
Meeting the Children’s Needs
The spiritual needs of the children are catered for through an atmosphere where the love of God is demonstrated, the Word of God is read and prayers are said. The Bible is taught in the curriculum and Sunday school is attended each Sunday. It is a great experience to be involved in such activities, to hear the children, despite their limitations, recite portions of Scripture to the whole church.
Their educational needs are met by following the national curriculum. Examinations are taken in accordance with national requirements. The results for the secondary school are in the top percentile for the province. Practical skills are taught to meet the needs of those less academically able, including cement work, chicken rearing, cookery, gardening and dress making.
Over the years the physical care of the children has been extended in a number of ways. Surgical operations have been performed in a variety of situations. We are grateful for the services of Dr Peter Gill, who visits the hospital at Mambilima and performs corrective surgery, often dealing with deformities of the feet and hands, and amputations. These children may then be taken to a limb-fitting centre on the Copperbelt to have an artificial limb made. There is a physiotherapy department at the school, where exercises and training are carried out with the children. These treatments make it possible for a number of the children to go home and attend a more local school. However, some prefer to remain at Mambilima as there is great value in continuing in the security of the residential environment.
The school maintains healthy standards and a balanced diet. Three daily meals rich in pulses and maize meal porridge are supplemented with rice, ground nuts and green vegetables. Meat, fish, bread buns and fruit are in short supply but they are given as and when they are available and the children are healthy.
Learning Through Play
Like all children, they love to play and their recreational time is special. Although toys and equipment are limited, the children find creative ways to have fun. They blow up a balloon, cover it with polythene and wrap it with pieces of string to make a football. There is great excitement as a game is played, crutches and all. Play is a wonderful learning tool. Once a year, a number of the younger children are chosen to go for an exchange week to Chengelo school. The social differences between the students in the schools are immense and there is a steep learning curve for students from both schools. For the first time, the Mambilima children are taught canoeing, rock climbing, swimming and other activities. This is as beneficial an experience for the Mambilima children as it is for the group of children from Chengelo who visit Mambilima in return.
Although toys and equipment are limited, the children find creative ways to have fun
Over the years a number of the students have been able to go on to higher education and progress in life, even holding high posts in the country. John Kalaba is the deputy head of Mambilima Primary School. As a young child, he had polio and both legs were paralysed. John was brought to Mambilima as a child, cared for at the mission and attended the school. He trusted the Lord Jesus and went on to higher education at degree level. He is now approaching retirement. Brian Musonda completed his education at Mambilima, took a course in Applied Arts and Sciences and then obtained a BA in the Sciences. Brian is in Australia finishing his Master’s degree. After leaving the school, Grant Chisapa was also able to go on to higher education and he is currently working with UNHCR and Mohammed Mulenga progressed to become a lawyer in private practice. We give God thanks for the men and women who have been educated at the school, given their life to the Lord and gone on to serve their communities and country. It is a privilege and blessing to have been a part of this work. We look back over the last 120 years since the work commenced at Mambilima and give God thanks for all that has been achieved. Vulnerable children have been cared for and given hope in life. The general health of the community has improved. Many have entered into life eternal and the Lord Jesus has been honoured and glorified.
Pray that Mambilima may continue to be a source of hope, changing attitudes and providing opportunities, not only for the children with disabilities but for the wider community. Pray that they will continue to serve God, bringing blessing and salvation to many and help to the country.