By MARTIN NYIRENDA
Childhood is hard-hitting for many orphans in Zambia. Orphan Medical Network International (OMNI) is working to empower those Children by providing health care, education, and community development.
As one of the most AIDS-ravaged countries in the world, Zambia has an overwhelming 1.4 million orphans in a population of about 14 million.
Children in Zambia are at greater risk of social exclusion and exploitation with more than half of the total population living below the poverty line, rising to 80 percent in rural areas.
According to recent details documented by UNICEF’s Zambia’s Child Protection programme, at least a third of children lose one or both parents before they reach adulthood, with 19 percent of orphans losing both their mother and father.
And 1.2 million children are orphaned and one in three of these orphans are living with a grandparent.
It is against these glaring scenarios surrounding the plight of orphans and their access to quality education and health services that Orphan Medical Network International (OMNI), a non-profit organization, has embraced an array of worthwhile activities that promote children’s right to access health care and education in all areas of the world despite geographical circumstances.
“We first seek to provide health care to vulnerable and orphaned children and their communities, secondly assisting in education and community development to provide hope for their future,” OMNI founder and president Karen Throckmorton begins.
“We believe that our care must be aligned and respectful of indigenous cultures, and supportive of religious or national sensitivities,” Ms Throckmorton goes on.
In 2003, OMNI built a school, OMNI Community School, on 17.4 hectares of land, which is located off Ndola/Kitwe Dual Carriage way. The land was donated by Motor Sport and Ndola City Council.
The school, fondly referred as OMNI Children’s Village by the locals, offers free quality education to children from less privileged households. With supporting staff of 22 people, including eight trained teachers, administrative officers, general workers, the school also offers daily hot meals to learners and members of staff.
A home feeding is provided for severely impoverished families as learners’ growth are consistently tracked and medical needs given to those in needs.
Tuition is provided to several students with special needs in a number of communities, including those visually and hearing impaired.
The school has well-over 280 students currently enrolled from grades one to eight with the increase of enrolment to include grade eight this year.
Future plans show that OMNI intends to increase to two classes each year in the next coming years as soon as all logistics have been put in place.
It is interesting to note that the Ministry of Health has recognized the good deeds of the school through regular visits to the learning facilities by its officers.
OMNI’s campus includes classroom buildings, a cafeteria, an administration building, a grinding mill, and a guard office and that the school is already is certified by the Zambia Community Secretariat, and teachers are certified by the Colleges of Education, both of which are affiliated with the Ministry of Education.
Ms Throckmorton, flanked by Derrick Kalinda (OMNI Director), told this author, as we surveyed some of the developments taking place at the facility, that the school has put in place a deliberate policy to complete child home profiles on each student on an annual basis, adding that school uniforms are provided to the students bi-annually.
As the school expands, grade eight learners have been admitted and a construction of two chemistry laboratory completed, thanks to a USA donor.
One of the classroom additions was constructed at OMNI School in memory of Morgan Harrington of Roanoke, Virginia, United States, a 20-year-old American Virginia Tech student who disappeared from the John Paul Jones Arena on October 17, 2009, while attending a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville.
The school also provides chlorine treatment for home water purification and that chemically treated nets are provided to all students and staff to prevent malaria – the number one killer in Africa. Four bore holes have been installed to ensure clean drinking water even in the ugly face of cholera outbreak.
In response to the cholera outbreak this month, the second ablution block was earmarked to be constructed to accommodate 10 toilets and 10 sinks for both female and male learners. By the time of going to print, the foundation box had been constructed in two days!
Ms Throckmorton, who is the founder of the facility, attests that the school has developed a strong bond with the communities such that when a learner has a bereavement, the school authorities mobilizes itself to offer financial assistance during the funeral by providing food for mourner and transport.
To entrench the chief advantage of access to education and health care to learners, the school offers evening adult literacy classes especially to mothers from surrounding communities so that the idea to inculcate the spirit of equipping learners with appropriate educational skills was enhanced.
The literacy programme seeks to enable parents help their children respond positively to educational needs, helping them answer homework. This is the school plan to generate legacy among households for learners to be inspired to succeed in life.
“Children have no legacy in most cases which enhances the need to introduce adult legacy classes for mothers to help their children read their school work,” chips in Ms Throckmorton.
Ms Throckmorton put it that OMNI plans to ensure the vision of the school remained sustainable hence the project to rear of 200 layers has already started to improve the feeding programme at the facility.
She said other future plans revolve around the ambitious vision to set up a training facility to operate parallel the school where trade courses and other entrepreneurship programmes would be introduced to enable the local communities were equipped with skills to participate in the overall development process of the country.
“My love is to share what God has given me by giving back to communities and children of Zambia. Vulnerable children have no voice and through the school, we are trying to provide that voice so that the children can go into life successfully,” she confessed.
And that confession explains the depth of the positives accompanying the vision of OMNI to serve the interest of the less fortunate.
This squarely explains the truth about the good things that OMNI was doing is only the cry of all the communities benefitting from activities of the school.
Mr Kalinda said the school was also providing sewing, agriculture, and HIV education classes which are taught weekly and that the learners were also provided with recreational activities such as sports.
He saluted the partnership and support that the school has developed over time with Ndola Teaching Hospital and Arthur Davison Children’s Hospital in as far as access to health care for members of the community with limited ability to access quality healthcare.
Mr Kalinda also acknowledged the support and partnership that the school enjoys with Ndola Rotary Club on developing the school campus. Addionally the school cultivates crops such as vegetables and maize, which has improved the feeding programmefor the students.
OMNI-approved medical team from the US travels to Zambia each year and provides professional medical care to nearly 4,000 patients at remote tribal regions and further explained
that the patients served at the school clinic were unable to afford medical care.
During my visit to the school, I found OMNI medical team members from the United States offering medical services to the students and I was informed that the team provided their own funding for the mission trip. Dental clinics, among other health services, are also provided to learners annually.
Mable Kalubemba, a single mother of George settlement, says her child was a student at the school and that OMNI should be commended for uplifting the welfare of members of several communities in the catchment area of the school.
TeneshiMulopwe, an unemployed father of six children, says she has no means to send his children to school and was very grateful that OMNI was providing free education for some of her children and hoped other well-wishers could come on board to help support the facility with funding so that more communities could benefit..
Good enough too, the 7th graders have achieved a 100 per cent pass rate on the national exam for the past seven years. And five Zambian children sponsored by OMNI have received reconstructive foot surgery in the US.
As I left the school, the atmosphere of Christian faith overshadowed my findings, which offered much hope to so many vulnerable children of Kapepa, Baluba, George, Kasongo, among others, who also have been dedicated visitation time by OMNI health team to improve their health welfare.
On the whole, the OMNI agenda was helping to reverse the lack of integrated family support services which continues to double the vulnerability of children in any society.
Through OMNI, as English hymn writer Arthur Campbell Ainger puts it: “God is working His purpose out as year succeeds to year.”