First Australia Awards Alumna in Zambia successfully advocates for quality education to disadvantaged children

For Harriet Miyato of Zambia, the saying “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” speaks volumes about her life. She is a living example of what one can achieve for oneself, as well as one’s community, through the DFAT Scholarship.

Having been the first female African recipient of an Australian Government Scholarship in 1993, Harriet began her studies at Deakin University, Burwood Campus, Melbourne, Victoria, to pursue her Masters of Education studies with specialisation in Social Sciences and Environmental Education.

In 2003, Harriet was approached by the Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) Board of Governors and Management to take over the Position of Director. Her roles included providing visionary leadership over orphans and vulnerable children (OVC)’s rights to quality education through policy engagement with policy makers, empowering communities with advocacy skills to enable them to participate in these processes and influencing policy change in favour of OVC.  She also had to build the capacity of her technical team to be community-focused and to fulfil her vision of assisting vulnerable communities, whether urban, peri-urban or rural, to be proactive in providing educational opportunities for vulnerable children, particularly single and double orphans and the elderly that are struggling with the burden of care for OVC.

Harriet’s thesis, which was based on a needs assessment for nutrition and health education in Zambia, was recognised as one of the best in 1995. She attributes this to her hard work and determination, as well as a positive influence from her supervisor, Prof Marjory Martin of the Education Department at Deakin University.

While working on her thesis, Harriet travelled back to Zambia to undertake field work for data collection in support of her thesis. She cast her net wide and also used her time in Zambia to present a draft proposal that she had written up in her spare time to her Minister in charge of the Trinity Congregation of the United Church of Zambia. The proposal was for provision of community education and skills to orphans and vulnerable children, as she had predicted serious setbacks on poor Zambian families, which would be compounded by the negative impact of HIV and AIDS on children.

She proposed creating networks between the Christian Council of Zambia – now known as the Council of Churches in Zambia – and the Council of Churches of the Uniting Church in Australia for financial support to this OVC Education project. This was also meant to practically demonstrate the Australian saying of “doing what we say!”

“Since my return to Zambia in 1995, I was seconded by the Ministry of Education into the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – Zambia, under the Education Section. As a National Education Program Officer within UNICEF, my role was to propagate a community schools strategy for Zambia, which was aimed at providing a supplementary and complementary education program with community participation, which would take care of vulnerable children affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and poverty,” says Harriet.

While in UNICEF, and according to the situational analysis that she carried out on the education problems of OVC and children with disabilities, especially girls, there were 200,000 children of school-going age that were not in school. The only organisation that was working with communities in addressing this issue was ZOCS, which had four such schools in 1994. Therefore, ZOCS became UNICEF’s contact organisation, and also took the lead in working with other community groups, faith-based organisations and the Ministry of Education towards community mobilisation and the implementation of this strategy for Zambia. Little did Harriet know that one day she would be working for ZOCS.

By 1996, the number of community schools had increased to more than 55 registered community schools countrywide. “Currently, Zambia has about 3,000 community schools registered under the Ministry of Education, looking after 565,000 OVC under the supervision of 8,054 volunteer untrained teachers,”  she said.

Harriet says she hopes that the Australian Government will continue to support these initiatives that have helped to bring about a positive change to her community.

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