I used a Christmas gift card to pick up, among other things, Stephen Lewis’ new book, Race Against Time. The book is based on Lewis’ Massey Lecture series from 2005 at the University of Toronto. It’s a fascinating read, full of some troubling annecdotes, but also some heartwarming stories. One of the more optimistic stories comes from Zambia.
A residential school in the Zambian town of Lusaka is a pioneer in education in Africa. The school is called Umoyo, and is relatively small (about 60 students attend). Umoyo is unique in that it is strictly an all-girls school, and all of its students are chosen by their communities to attend. All of the girls are between 15 and 19 years-old, and all of them have been orphaned by AIDS.
Umoyo is reknowned for its positive environment. In Race Against Time, Lewis praises the excellent student-to-teacher ratio, and describes all of the staff members as “uniformly first-rate.” Lewis writes: “The entire atmosphere is resolute and loving.” During a girl’s stay at Umoyo, her first two months are spent recovering from the traumatic period she just endured – the death of a parent from AIDS. Next, she is given time to get used to her new school, surroundings, and peers. Academics make up the final eight months of her stay at the school. Umoyo is known for its first-rate education, and its students consistently score high on nation-wide tests.
The supportive environment at Umoyo is invaluable to its girls. Females between the ages of 15 and 19 are most at-risk of acquiring the HIV virus. At Umoyo, girls become more self-confident, and also more aware. They learn that it is okay to say “No” to sex. They learn that they are allowed to insist on the use of a condom. And they learn that there is nothing wrong with reporting sexual violence. As Lewis writes, Umoyo proves that prevention “consists of the kind of affirmative action for girls that undoes all the cumulative damage done over time, to their perceptions of themselves, their egos, their self-confidence, their sexuality.”
Stephen Lewis is not alone in his praise of Umoyo. None other than Oprah Winfrey has made the school a recipient of grants from her Angel Network.
Check out this link for a short article on HIV/AIDS in Africa, and the role that Umoyo is playing in Zambia.